the role of gossip

When wearing a scarf in the US it is not uncommon for well-meaning people to tell you that “you don’t have to wear that here, you know.” It is usually the start of a longer conversation that goes something along the lines of  ” I do it because I want to, no one is making/forcing me to wear it, the reason I wear it is… etc etc”. And of course defining what is normal, the role of peer pressure and confirming to pop culture (sometimes akin to having no choice, especially when women are younger) is part of the discussion.

KSA is interesting in that many choices are taken away by gossip. A common theme that I have found amongst people living the Saudi lifestyle (either Saudis or expats married to Saudis) is the role of gossip in defining their choices.

People talk and talk and talk about others. It almost sounds like high school in a small town where “did you see what she was wearing? did you see how fitted her abaya was? did you see her hair showing at the mall? did you see who she was with? did you see the men looking at her?” followed by the eternal “no nice/decent girl/woman would do that!” Eventually the whispers reach the mamas/papas/husbands/wives and “corrective action” is often applied.

Interestingly, for the majority of the women I have talked to thus far (young and old), this has been given as the number 1 reason to cover their faces! Not religion, not culture but anonymity- if no one knows who they are, they can do what they like without people gossiping about them. A sad reason to do something if you do not actually believe in the act.