The article I wrote about in my last post is not that unique. Everyday we see new articles that test the social and political boundaries of our culture. What interested me in this article is that I view it as a prime example of these boundary testing articles and what is more important than the article is how the public receives it. The first impact can be measured in the comments written on an article’s webpage. This particular article had the most comments for the day it was published. The Al Watan newspaper has a time limit on when you can post a comment so all the comments were written on the same day the article was published. There were 199 according to the site’s count but my count was 195. That could be due to comments being deleted before my count.
The article chiefly deals with women issues, funnily though the majority of the comments were posted by men. 69% of the comments were under male usernames, while only 19% were posted by women. 12% of the posts were under unisex usernames.
Over half of the posts were written by men objecting to and belittling the author. Some of these include remarks that go as low as to say that educated women are usually ugly and that’s why they don’t care for the abaya. One guy wrote that women cannot be raped unless they want to be. Another hinted that the rise of sexual harassment might be because of the restrictions on the muttawa (vice cops). Many of the men wrote that the numbers the Ministry of Interior Affairs released concerning harassment and rape cases is marginal compared to the numbers of the same cases in the west (especially USA).
Of the 19% of women posts, 12% agreed with the author. Um Hala wrote this is what we should expect since we raise our sons to discipline their sisters and require mothers to sit in the backseat of a car if she is riding with more than one son. Um Abdullah expressed astonishment on how this culture treats perpetrators like victims and criminalizes true victims. She also wrote that the pre Islamic tradition of killing newborn daughters is more merciful than what we are doing to our daughters.
These comments reveal our society in a way that’s mostly inaccessible to outsiders. If the abaya topic was raised in a social gathering here in Riyadh, the arguments above would be the most likely to occur.