OUT­SIDE THE BOX

Da­niah Al Aoudah says we need a new Saudi stereo­type.

Campaign Middle East - - FRONT PAGE - Da­niah Al Aoudah, con­cep­tual Ara­bic copy­writer at J. Wal­ter Thomp­son Saudi Ara­bia, will be talk­ing on the sub­ject of “Box… What Box?” at the Dubai Lynx

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.

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