December 14, 2015

A “Fist Pumping” Election Victory for Saudi Women?

In municipal Saudi elections, women cast their votes at a polling station in Riyadh.

With all the buzz over climate change, terror attacks, the U.S. campaign, you may not have heard about the historic election breakthrough in Saudi Arabia. At least twenty woman were elected to municipal positions around the country, having not just run but also voted for the very first time. That doesn’t mean that this photo the NY Times chose to illustrate their story caught the tone exactly right, though.

It’s one of those photos that makes you realize how much the west sees everything through its own frame of reference, it’s own set of terms. It’s one thing to identify with the victory but a whole other thing to project our rituals on their gains.

In America, people aren’t known to hold back. if an achievement occurs or a barrier falls, you often won’t hear the end of it. There are shouts from the rooftops and a fist pump is the norm. And on first pass, that’s what this looks like also — a young Saudi woman giving her best power salute. Until you look more closely. And when you do, what is clear is that this woman in the burka, among a group of others, is merely, quietly, though I’m sure, quite proudly, just dropping the ballot in the box.

(photo: Ahmed Yosri / European Pressphoto Agency. caption: Saudi women cast their votes at a polling station in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in municipal elections on Saturday.)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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