Gender & Identity, Life

Saudi Arabia’s gender segregation only means more people secretly break the law

In a country where even traveling with non-mahrams is not allowed, it’s actually shocking to see the amount of teens that are able to sneak out on “dates.”

Segregation.

The oh-so-familiar word if you’re living in Saudi Arabia.

Segregation is implemented keeping laws and Islamic traditions in mind, but what was once started with good intentions is now having an aftermath that’s leading to severe desperation. Teens and tweens that live in Saudi are raised with the idea that speaking to the opposite gender is wrong, and that intermingling that’s not a mahram is absolutely forbidden. In fact, it’s seen as a horrible, horrible sin, and is the most frowned-upon thing in most, if not all, communities.

Almost all the schools and colleges have different female and male departments, and co-education is synonymous with taboo. In an ideal world, maybe this could work. Maybe you could keep young adults from venturing into the scary world of the opposite genders, but in an age where social media exists to bridge all barriers between communication, who are we really kidding here?

The result of all this separation and strictness from the communities is an entire generation that’s inherently desperate. They’re fascinated by the opposite gender, and are in constant communication, albeit online.

Once two people have started talking a lot, and there’s significant mutual interest, you know what the next step is: meeting. In a country where even traveling with non-mahrams is not allowed, it’s actually shocking to see the amount of teens that are able to sneak out on “dates.”

To the outside world, there’s a perception of extreme strictness and no interaction between Saudi citizens.

However, the reality is quite different from that stereotype.

I’ve seen girls in malls throw numbers at guys and guys throw numbers at girls. I’ve gone to coffee shops, and, countless times, have been in an awkward situation where almost everybody a table is a young couple, and by young, I mean they’ve got school bags with them. Like, go study for your A-levels, kids. What the hell are you doing trying to get yourself in trouble? That’s not half worth the punishment that’s in store if there was a spontaneous check-in by police.

Segregation does not stop anything.

If anything, it creates desperation that only gets worse with time. Instead of being able to normally talk to the other gender, you’re raised with the thought that engaging in conversation will only lead to sexual attraction.

Assuming that these kids study outside of segregated locations, how will they learn to be normal? Unless their parents have raised them with the normalized idea of men and women being normal people, rather than only being created as potential spouses, how will these kids actually choose a life partner? To them, almost every person who’s not their gender is a potential partner, which won’t amount to anything productive.

In 2008, Facebook had just started to become popular in Saudi, so all my friends joined it. Most of my friends talked about which “friend requests” they were getting, and the obvious gossip that followed if it was a guy. Sending a friend request meant the person wanted to talk to them, and wanting to talk basically meant they were interested in the other person.

Simple as that.

A friend of mine had just started talking to one of the senior guys from high school. We tried to warn her to be careful, but at the time, she felt like he was the one for her. He was nice, messaging her first, and really “cared” about her – online only, of course. She wanted companionship and he wanted action. She’d tell us how she was sure they’d go to the same universities and end up getting married.

Too early to be thinking so far ahead in the future, she was on the road to disaster. I remember trying to talk her out of sneaking out to meet him alone. She was in love, and he was her boyfriend – she just had to meet him.

They dated for a while, but once he graduated, he cut off all contact because he got busy with university life. She, on the other hand, still had two years to go before college. She did not cope well with this breakup. It was too upsetting, and she felt like she’d given too much of herself to him.

Why?

Because her whole concept of him taking time out to message her, meant that he has really serious about her. To someone who hadn’t had prior interactions, she was too naive about her secret relationship.

Mentioning anything of this sort to her parents was just out of the question, because girls and guys from “decent families” didn’t talk to random people or even people they knew from the opposite gender. Families deny any hints of communication and wholeheartedly agree with the segregation in the country, believing it leads to a “good environment” for the kids.

Bullshit, in my opinion.

If I compare this reality to my friends who studied in co-ed schools, their approach to guys and dating was completely different. They treated them like any regular person would, instead of gushing about the friend requests their classmates sent them. They weren’t as naive when it came to talking to the opposite gender, and did not instantly confuse someone approaching them or talking to them as a hint that there was any sort of attraction.

When it comes to growing up segregated, the reality is that these teens end up falling for the wrong person. They fantasize and sexualize the person, and when the other person is only there for the physical aspects, the end result is heartbreak and a shitstorm of messed-up emotions.

It’s high time we called things out for what they are, rather than joining in with the Saudi majority who fail to realize that the rest of the world functions perfectly fine without the need for segregation – and the resulting ridiculous sexual fantasies.