The Ideology of Control

This is from an article I wrote for the November issue of Relativity Online:

Ultra-conservative Saudi families, and they are a majority, have a general dynamic that few Saudis could deny.  Like old-fashioned western family ideologies, the father is the breadwinner, the mother takes care of the home-front, the sons are served and tolerated and the daughters are the bit of fluff that flutters around the house.

But unlike most other cultures, daughters also have to contend with constant supervision of their every move. A job that some brothers feel falls on their shoulders. No matter what age a woman is, many families believe that as long as she is single, she is a liability. This translates into horrific intrusions of privacy and personal freedom. In one extreme case, a family I know has no locks on any of the doors including the bathroom doors, so that to insure the daughters cannot seclude themselves and do anything inappropriate; pre-approval of clothing, whether at home or when leaving the house, is common.

A friend of mine once told me she had to sit for over two hours in an uncomfortable position because she had pajama pants on and was afraid her father, who had come early from work, would see them. And this is not only with teenage girls, but also adult women… even divorced mothers. So what’s a girl to do in this situation? Many go by the Arabic saying that translates into “a woman has only three places in this world: her family’s home, her husband’s home or her grave”. Read more


Filed under Culture, Gender Apartheid

7 responses to “The Ideology of Control

  1. I really enjoyed reading your article, I really feel for the conservative women here. It must be hard having that ideology. I know its hard for men to have a different ideology that their families here, and I know its even worst for women.

    your article is interesting because I wrote about something similar a while back, but I was focusing on harm reduction.

    feel free to comment on my humble blog entry if you felt it was worthy of your comments.

    thanks for sharing

  2. This post made me sad. It seems that in conservative Saudis’ homes, females’ lives are cut short, incomplete, and they live in fear of so many things that MIGHT happen or be inappropriate that they don’t really get the chance to fully enjoy life – to me, that’s a shame and it makes me sad. I honestly would hate to have to live that way.

  3. Omania

    what makes it more difficult is that it doesnt change when the girl is married. The men are brought up to beleive that its their right to completely control their wives’ lives to every single detail. I am blessed with parents that dont control my every move and are relatively liberal. That makes it difficult for me to get married to someone that wants and thinks its his right to control what I wear, where I go and what I do.

  4. Lynn

    Omania, you are very fortunate that your parents liberalness prevents you from getting marriage proposals from someone who wants to control you. I’d rather be single my whole life than have to live in that prison.

    Susie, you tettering on the edge of that life when your husband forces you to wear a hijab against your wishes, no?

    • Hi Lynn –
      Marriage is full of compromises, give and take. For now I am compromising to wear the hijab because it is my husband’s wish, even though I do not like wearing it. I know that I complain about it at times, but wearing a piece of cloth on my head is not a big battle that I care to make into a war. My husband likewise has made many compromises for me over the years.

  5. Chiara

    Great article and topic! I think though that most highly conservative cultures have this male supervision by fathers, uncles, brothers, cousins. What seems to me distinct in Saudi is the degree of control the law allows/requires, up to and including medical care, and its details. Other countries, even conservative ones, do not have this level of legal supervision over women’s lives.

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