OUTSIDE THE BOX
Daniah Al Aoudah says we need a new Saudi stereotype.
Let’s be honest here: no matter how much I want to believe we live in a world that embraces our differences, the mere fact that I’m a Saudi woman is accompanied by one stereotypical image, expressed via 10 myopic questions. Am I oppressed? Am I educated? Am I allowed to ride a camel since driving is still banned? Do I know anything of modernity and technology? Do I own an iPhone? Do I even know what an iPhone is? Do I live in a segregated community where I’m only allowed to communicate through a veil? Am I allowed to speak and express my mind? Am I allowed to work? Are there even jobs for women in Saudi?
And all of these myopic viewpoints have been circulating – as though on a hamster wheel – for years. It’s a reality all of us Saudis live, when meeting someone from abroad. And no matter how hard I provide evidence to the contrary, my explanations are always received with wry smiles and a comment that goes along the lines of “But the rest of the country isn’t like you.”
What is a fun-loving and educated woman to do in such circumstances?
Well, I resolved not to fight or debate, or even explain, let alone correct the stereotypical image the world has of me. You are entitled to your opinions based on the facts at your disposal, just as I am entitled to mine. Instead, I have embraced the positive mantra “If you can’t beat them join them”, which has given me the freedom to flip myopia on its head and create a new Saudi stereotype for you.
Saudi women can’t drive but they have left their mark on the streets It’s true driving is still banned, but in the meantime Saudi women are dominating the arts scene regionally. Art galleries, with work created by women, are booming all over the sidewalks of Saudi cities; and haute couture fashion pieces by Saudi designers are worn by A-list celebrities sashaying down the streets of Paris and New York. Then there’s Saudi Design Week, an annual, non-segregated event showcasing up-and-coming artists from different fields with keynote speakers from here and abroad, who discuss their work and the blossoming cultural scene in Saudi.
Saudi women are veiled but are unveiling their true talents to the world The black garment you see us Saudi and GCC women wear outside the home might seem like it’s uncomfortable, and sore on the eye to you, but the truth is, sometimes, when we don’t feel like getting ready yet are obliged to go out (ladies, you know what I mean) the abaya is a life saver. We look on-point and on-fleek every single time. You see, Saudi women are proving their passion for any role they take on. You only have to remember the Rio Olympics to see Saudi women are getting into the sporting game. Or consider this: the first woman and youngest CEO in the Middle East to run a regional bank is a Saudi woman. We’ve even been bitten by the foreign office bug too, and are getting ourselves appointed as diplomats in Saudi embassies around the world.
It’s not nightlife as you know it, but Saudis are creatures of the night OK, so not all Saudis are night owls, but most enjoy their outings past 10pm. Why? Well, we just do. Whether it’s hanging out in the desert with a bonfire and good company, going to a comedy show with live DJs playing between acts, or mooching around art galleries filled with talented people. Or dining in restaurants or picking up a burger and coffee from the food trucks run by Saudis (who are certified foodies by the way). Or enjoying family shindigs and weddings till dawn… Nothing stops us from enjoying ourselves and creating fun of our own. And with the new General Authority of Entertainment established earlier this year, we’re expecting other opportunities too, in the near future.
Saudis are born into a rich country but want to prove themselves on their own Saudi is viewed as an oil tycoon, that’s true, yet Saudis weren’t blinded by the wealth it brought. My father strove to give my siblings and me the best in life. Not through luxurious trappings, but through creating our independence. His example encouraged me to seek out and find my own calling, to become self-reliant and secure from it. It’s a little known fact, but many Saudis have made their way to the top because of their passion and drive.
I stress “passion”. It is what got me into the ad industry in the first place, and I’m still here, loving every minute of being a creative in Saudi. Passion is what has fuelled many successful campaigns I have humbly been a part of, and that have gone on to win regional and international acclaim. Passion is the reason behind this article. Passion is how I can pen these lines and offer a glimpse of the new Saudi stereotype. A Saudi is passionately creative.