SAUDI WOMEN get their panties in a wad over MALE LINGERIE SALESMEN

“Girls feel uncomfortable when males are selling them lingerie, telling them what size they need… he’s totally checking the girls out! “

It would be bizarre in any country to find that its lingerie shops are staffed entirely by men. But in Saudi Arabia – an ultra-conservative nation where unmarried men and women cannot even be alone in a room together if they are not related – it is strange in the extreme. Women, forced to negotiate their most intimate of purchases with male strangers, call the situation appalling and are demanding the system be changed. “The way that underwear is being sold in Saudi Arabia is simply not acceptable to any population living anywhere in the modern world,” says Reem Asaad, a finance lecturer at Dar al-Hikma Women’s College in Jeddah, who is leading a campaign to get women working in lingerie shops rather than men.“This is a sensitive part of women’s bodies,” adds Ms Asaad. “You need to have some discussions regarding size, colour and attractive choices and you definitely don’t want to get into such a discussion with a stranger, let alone a male stranger. I mean this is something I wouldn’t even talk to my friends about.”
In theory, it should be easy enough to get women to staff lingerie shops, but parts of Saudi society are still very traditional and don’t like the idea of women working – even if it’s just to sell underwear to each other.
Embarrassing experience Nura, an administrative clerk at the same college, says she never buys lingerie in Saudi Arabia anymore. “It’s really embarrassing. They try to give comments -‘this might suit you better than that’ – it’s really not ethical.”

To be fair to the male shop workers, many of them find the experience just as embarrassing as their women customers. They are torn, says Ms Asaad, between trying to do their job as salespeople and not stepping on any toes by doing something inappropriate, that could land them in hot water.
Because physical contact between unmarried men and women in Saudi Arabia is forbidden under strict segregation laws, women can also not be properly measured for their underwear. Worse still, the kingdom’s religious police forbid lingerie shops even to have fitting rooms.

My friend, Sabra, who lives in Saudi Arabia, confirms this story. She says,  re: So if a customer wants to try an item on, she first has to pay for it, and then traipse to a public toilet to see if it fits.’

“That is exactly the way it is. And believe me, I know this from first-hand experience. I wanted a nude strapless bra. Told the salesMAN I wanted x-size. He said, “We do not have that size. This one is the same.” He handed me a completely different size. It was SR500 – about $130. for a bra. Nope. No way. Ever. In order to try it on – I was supposed to pay for it, take it to a ladies room [if there were cameras in the malls’ restrooms I wouldn’t be at all surprised], try it on, and then return it if it didn’t fit. Never mind. I can wear the white strapless one I already have – one I purchased in the States, one that fits, and one that I paid $19.99 for!

I buy no underwear – anything – here, any more. And no make-up either. Men are manning those counters as well and can tell you that the lip gloss you are wearing isn’t as good as X-brand. Really? How do you know?

Actually – I don’t buy much of anything here. I can shop in comfort on-line, or in Bahrain [for the time being – it is changing rapidly to become the “sister” of Saudi, versus its current status as a red-headed stepchild], or during one of our twice / thrice yearly trips to the States. I would much rather give our HARD-earned money to an economy that deserves it. [Not that the US economy deserves anything right now, in its current state…]

Okay. I’m done.”

Check out Sabra’s great blog about life in the sandbox for an American woman: