It is tough to be a woman in Saudi Arabia: Women cannot go outside their home without a husband or a male family member to escort them and famously cannot drive. They have no vote although, again, pretty much no one in Saudi Arabia does. The State Department advises women traveling unescorted that restaurants may refuse them service. Because of the myriad restrictions, most Saudi women cannot work in public places. A 2005 law which would have allowed women to work in public shops remains unimplemented.

But if women cannot work, then pity the poor bra salesmen who must sell lingerie to women in the Islamist kingdom. According to an expose in Hurriyet:

Women in Saudi Arabia have to buy their intimate clothing from male clerks. Such irony … This causes much embarrassment for women customers seeking advice on cup sizes in lingerie stores. The shops are also not allowed to have fitting rooms. And the biggest complaint is that male clerks in general try to guess customers’ bra sizes by staring at their abayas.

This reminds me of a conversation I had in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, back in March 2000. I was chatting with the Talib and recalled those times when I was five or six-years-old, following my mom in a department store only to look up in a panic to realize I was following the wrong person. Fortunately, I could spin around and find my mother quite easily. How, I asked the young religious enforcer, could children identify their mothers in public when they got lost? He assured me that Afghan children had become quite adept at recognizing their mother’s ankles.

At any rate, according to Hurriyet’s story, there could be some change coming to rectify the Saudi bra conundrum:

Shops may hire females. But then again, they must train them and bear the cost of that. They are expected to cover their display windows in order to block the view into the stores. And should pay $930 a month to hire a male security guard. This is all to keep men from entering the shop… Women’s intimate apparel represents 17 percent of the $2.3 billion Saudi women’s clothing market. The owners of lingerie stores resist replacing male sales clerks with women because they argue that this change will result with them losing customers.

Enter Facebook:

Last year, in February, activists boycotted lingerie shops that employ men. Twenty-six women attended a 10-day course on selling women’s underwear held by activist Reem Assad, a lecturer in banking and finance at Jeddah’s liberal Dar Al Hekma Women’s College. The campaign, which began on Facebook and was dubbed “Enough Embarrassment,” received wide support from women and Islamic scholars. It aimed to get rid of men who work as sales clerks in these shops.

Every day, we should be thankful that we were not born in Saudi Arabia. That the Saudi kingdom continues to exist unreformed and unrepentant in this day and age is truly an embarrassment, and that our president bows down to the Saudi king even more so.

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