Muslim women buying lingerie forced to deal with male staff

By somayya | December 19, 2010
Muslim woman hanging lingerie

I was recently reading an article on the Huffington Post website regarding women in Saudi Arabia having to deal with male staff in lingerie stores. A group of women over there decided to stage a boycott of lingerie stores that only have male staff. There are only a very small number that employ women, but clearly not enough if this boycott was needed. As many lingerie stores don’t employ women, the ladies over in Saudi Arabia have to go into such stores and be served by men, including being looked up and down to determine their size!

I cannot even believe such a thing would be allowed in a country like Saudi Arabia. Wouldn’t it be un-Islamic to look at a woman in that way? Apparently the reason why mainly male staff are employed is for male customers, so they do not have to deal with female staff. But did anyone consider the female customers in this situation? There is no reason for a man to be working in a lingerie store, there needs to be female staff so that they can measure female customers with no embarrassment caused.

Even in the UK, which is considered a liberal Western country, only women work in the lingerie departments in stores. I think if men worked in lingerie departments in the UK, women here would probably stage a boycott too! A lot of women in this country even prefer to have a female driving instructor when learning to drive, so not everything bad that is said about the UK is true. Clearly some women believe segregation in some situations is a good thing. Gyms are another example. Many hold women-only sessions.

Saudi women walking in Riyadh

In the shopping malls of Saudi Arabia, religious police are present, on the lookout for men and women interacting. This is also why many religious hard-liners don’t want to see women working in malls, they see it as a mixed environment. The important thing to realise is when salespeople deal with customers, that is all the customer is, just a customer to be dealt with formally. Sometimes we have to interact with the opposite sex, as long as it is done in a formal manner and you are not alone with someone of the opposite gender, then there really isn’t a problem.

All these women in Saudi Arabia are asking for is a female-only environment when they are buying their underwear, that is really not a big deal at all, as men won’t be shopping in such stores anyway. Women want to be able to go and get measured by a female, and hear advice about such matters from a female. If you switch that situation around, it would be highly embarrassing.

In my volunteer work obviously I have to serve male customers. That is all they are to me, and I find having my head and body covered commands respect. A man sees you as an actual person if you dress modestly.

I don’t see it as a big deal for women to be working. Sometimes it has to be done anyway. What if you have grown up with not a lot of money in your family? That means even if you want clothes, you will have to work for it. Even after getting married it may not be a simple situation either. What if his salary does not bring in enough to support you and a family? There is a danger if we as women become too reliant on men for absolutely everything, if your father or husband dies before you, or you get divorced, it will render you utterly powerless and literally a damsel in distress.

I am looking for work myself, as I recently passed my driving test, and if I want to be able to pay for a car, insurance, tax, petrol etc, then I will have to work for it. I hope if you are one of those women who has never had to work to support yourself, please don’t take it for granted. You should be very thankful that Allah has provided for you and your family. Some people struggle everyday, and they have no choice but to work.

I must also mention what one woman said in the Huffington Post article, when she asked about women working in lingerie stores. This woman said that bad things happen in stores with female only staff, when asked why, she said they can sneak a photo of you changing on their mobile phones. I would actually be more wary of men in this situation, and I can’t help thinking this woman has clearly got the wrong end of the stick. Perhaps in such a patriarchal society such as Saudi Arabia, some women will have picked up on such things from males and then become wary of females working in stores.

Women have rights in Islam, we shouldn’t have to hide away and feel embarrassed like this. If you read the Huffington Post article, you will see one women even travelled away from Saudi Arabia in order to buy her bridal lingerie with zero embarrassment.

I hope the ladies boycotting male-run lingerie stores are successful. It’s time something was done about it.

6 Responses to “Muslim women buying lingerie forced to deal with male staff”

  1. kjjF Says:
    December 22nd, 2010 at 4:51 am

    An interesting article. When I was in Libya recently, I also discovered that shopping can be an embarrassing and intimidating affair. Equally when I was shopping in Saudi when I went to Hajj I didn’t appreciate being served by a male. A modest woman does not wish her size to be measured by the male eye. It maybe that women have not stressed their need to have stores purposely structured to meet the needs of women and our young vulnerable teens.

  2. mango Says:
    March 30th, 2011 at 4:32 pm

    Hmm i see what you’re saying here. I’ve seen the same situation in Iraq when i went during the holiday and they woman can’t work alone in the store because it’s dangerous (robbing, harrasment ect) but they have a half for the men in the front and a half for woman at the back where a woman serves the counter so it has gotten better but this is not the case everywhere sadly.

  3. nasrine Says:
    May 3rd, 2011 at 7:32 am

    even here in lebanon, if you want to buy ladies lingery you maust deal with man? why? how can we buy something for ourselves or daughters and they are looking at you with big eye and even proposing you what you should take. this is unreal and so wrong

  4. wael Says:
    May 4th, 2011 at 9:18 am

    I smell a business opportunity. A lingerie shop owned by women, run by women, for women.

  5. Hussain Says:
    July 20th, 2012 at 1:37 pm

    I think you are not aware of those ladies-only malls and stores where men are not allowed. These are where most saudi women go but expatriates women hesitates as to deal with linguistic problems,,

  6. Aisha Faiz Says:
    January 17th, 2013 at 12:03 pm

    Nice article, Somayya! The UK seems to be better than the US in this regard. I never saw this before but was shocked to hear that a male relative worked at a lingerie store.

    As for the working, I totally agree with you. Sometimes I hear the more “religious” family members speak about how a woman is meant to be a stay at home mother. They make it seem as if all women CHOOSE to work, while this isn’t true. Even if a woman gets an education so that she may become a professional in the future, I don’t see anything wrong with that. Who’s to tell me that I’ll for sure get married? Or that my future husband will be righteous? Or that he will make enough money? Or that we won’t get divorced, or that he won’t die before our children are adults? You get the point, lol. I advise every woman to prepare for her future. If she does not need to work after she is married, then great for her. At least she’ll have the peace of mind knowing that she can work if she needs to.

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