Racism and "Real Men" in Saudi Arabia

Segregation of men and women in KSA in restaurants, schools, universities, work areas (even if not required by the government) is explained on religious grounds- that men and women who are not “mahram” for each other should not be alone with each other (different countries and societies deal with the issue of “khulwa” differently- the topic of a different post!).

A mahram is someone in front of whom a woman does not need to cover and can touch/hug e.g. father, father-in-law, bro, son, uncles, nephews, other women etc. For men the equivalent are: mother, mother-in-law, sister, daughter, aunt, niece, other men etc. Other than the husband/wife relationship, the people within the circle of mahram are people that one cannot marry.

So the question comes to mind that if the concept of mahram is so important that all public spaces are segregated, why is it ok for women to be driven by male drivers?

The answer I have received from several locals is mind boggling and has nothing to do with religion. Apparently the drivers in KSA are not considered “real men” as they are almost all from India, Pakistan, India and the Philippines. “Real men” can only be Arab. The hierarchy is as follows:

  • Tribal Arabs (Saudi or from other GCC countries)- real men
  • Syrians and Iraqis- real men
  • Other Arabs (like Egyptians)- NOT real men
  • Asian- not real men

The racism does not end here. People assume that Saudi women cannot possibly be attracted to non-Arab men. They also assume that all these foreign workers would not DARE approach a Saudi woman. Thus it is “safe” to be alone with them. Non-Arab foreign workers  are thus the preferred nationality for personal chauffeurs, limo drivers and taxicab drivers.

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5 Responses

  1. Brilliant! I always wondered why females could be driven by non-mahram men; now I know.

    Seriously, though, it’s an effective (if not adequate) argument for doing what needs to be done, namely, driving women around. What Saudi man wants to be at the beck and call of his female relatives when they want to go out?

    This is another in the myriad examples of how Saudi Arabia explains away awkward aspects of segregation, when segregation is inconvenient for Saudi men.

  2. Yes, you are correct in your post. I am just trying to figure out how the Saudis know they aren’t real men if they have never tried them before…hehehehe

  3. i know that most saudi men underestimate non-arab men like paki and indian—but i can assure u i know of several cases in which these same saudi women some married others single made these paki and pinoy drivers their lovers and enjoyed da illicit affair!

  4. yep, the affairs happen for sure! my husband once met a limo driver who was going to get married to one of the ladies he had been driving around- their relationship was def not platonic or only professional. there have also been some horror stories related to women being attacked/raped/abandoned by their drivers.

  5. […] That means close to 30% of Saudi women are not married because they are either considered old (over 25 according to some!) or unable to “attract” a husband. When asked about what makes women more attractive for marriage it turns out there is a hierarchy similar to that for men (see earlier post on racism and real men). […]

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