Monday, April 27, 2009

Setting the Record Straight

Making the rounds through the interwebs is this story about a flight attendant, Lisa Ashton, who has been fired from her job at BMI for refusing to wear an abeya and walk behind her male co-workers which is also known as going to Saudi Arabia. Heh. Welcome to my world.

Ms. Ashton "was told that in public areas in Saudi Arabia she was required to wear a black robe... an abaya... She was told to follow her male colleagues, irrespective of rank." The flight attendant "was worried about security in the country, refused to fly there, claiming the instructions were discriminatory." Oh yeah, they were. She said, "It's not the law that you have to walk behind men in Saudi Arabia, or that you have to wear an abaya, and I'm not going to be treated like a second-class citizen." Good for you, Ms. Ashton.

Let me set the record straight for you: You do not have to walk behind men, here. I don't know when that rule applied [the dark ages? oh, wait...] or when it was changed, but that is not required. The abeya, on the other hand, while not "required" is required. You don't want to leave your home without one. Unless you are looking for a run-in with the local religious police. If that is the case, then by all means, go out sans an abeya. You are sure to create a bit of a stir. You can, however, be fairly certain that they won't whip your ankles with their sticks. That - the punishment of having your ankles whipped - for the most part, is meted out only to Arab women.

Last week - a former neighbor of ours - she lived next to us when we lived in the townhouse - went to Rashid Mall where she was admonished by a member of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, known as the Religious Police, for not covering her hair. Terry stuck up for herself and brazenly told the man that she was a Western woman and that she was not required to cover her hair and walked away from him. Seconds later she witnessed a Saudi woman get her ankles whacked for not covering her hair. They're out there in full force, these men, protecting the masses from having to see a woman's hair. I know. It sounds ridiculous. But such is life, here, in The Sandbox.

Back to the abeya. Umm. Yeah. It is not required, but it is. "Saudi experts and companies that recruit women to work in the country say it is a 'myth' that western women are required to walk behind men. There is no requirement for them to wear the abaya in public..." Oh, really? Then why was I chased through Rashid Mall for not wearing one? I was dressed conservatively - jeans, tee-shirt, long blue "work" shirt over everything which covered me, and gave me the same shape as SpongBob SquarePants. There may be no law that says Western women have to wear one - but most of us do.

The garment does have its advantages. You can go out dressed in bike shorts and a tank top, or your underwear if you want, and no one will know that you're not dressed, unless of course, you are standing in front of a light or in the sun - and then someone could maybe see that you're not dressed. There are abeyas that are fairly light-weight cotton - mine is - but many of them are heavy polyester and you cannot see through that fabric.

Imagine if this matter were reversed. If BMI fired a Muslim woman for not taking off her head-scarf... A lawsuit would ensue immediately. And BMI would have to pay that woman a gazillion dollars. The reverse, though? Nope. Lisa Ashton lost the battle. Ms. Ashton has gone on to bigger and better things. She is a singer in the band, Looby.


  1. Thank you thank you thank you We dont know each other but I have been working with ms Ashton on this case that bmi DID NOT WANT TO BE EXPOSED. There is a lot more to come out..A LOT MORE..thank you for your words, she has beome overwhelmed with support.
    She was finalist last year in the BBC Radio 2 "New Song writer of the Year" and wonders why she ever spent her time trying to do a good job for those at bmi words cant express the contempt we hold for them, the press they are getting is well deserved. The other matters have not come out yet, but they will

    Once again on behalf of Lisa Thank you and to quote a famous man " may your god be with you"

    God blessx

  2. Will look forward to more of this coming out in the future, Looby. I suspect BMI didn't want this exposed - what airline would in this economy. I've never flown BMI and now, never will.

    Give Lisa my regards and tell her that she is going to want that abeya if she ever decides to visit Saudi. Unless she likes the feeling of having everyone that she comes in contact with undressing her with their eyes...

  3. I just found your, did your husband lose his job in the U.S.? I am a FA in the U.S.

    I love the internet, the information is flowing!! I am thankful to be a woman born in the U.S. Thanks for posting, great blog!

  4. The airline DH was working for [Midway] went out of business after 9/11. Shortly afterward, he made the decision that he didn't want to start over at another airline - you know the whole seniority thing, back at the bottom as far as pay, etc. - and he headed to Saudi to fly. I joined him seven or eight months later.

    Thanks for coming by, Flying Pinto. Do come again. "Buh-bye."

  5. Amazing. Especially since I've NEVER seen a Saudia flight attendant in an abiya when I fly out of Riyadh. The female attendants even wear *GASP* fitted uniforms.
    Side note here:
    Did you catch the articles in Arab News about the womens' gyms being forced to close because they couldn't get licensing? The very next day there was another article about women...they MIGHT get the right to vote. All I could do was laugh. Close the gyms but let women vote? I think not in my lifetime.

  6. Linda - What nationality are the Saudia flight attendants? Just curious. What I find amusing is the amount of black that is seen boarding planes, here, and the amount of black that is tucked away as soon as the plane takes off.

    Yeah, I read how they were going to close the gyms. Good move. Does anyone think, here? Great place for women's rights, here, don't 'cha think? They can't drive. They can't vote. They can't travel without permission. But. But. But. Women are SOOO important!

  7. Not taking an oath here on the nationality of the Saudi attendants, but they appear to be Filipina and Maylasian. I do know they ARE NOT Saudi. Can't have the women mixing with strange men now can we?
    Amusing anecdote.. my DH and I were flying to the States with a stop over in Zurich. Don't know about you, but I avoid airplane 'facilities' at all costs, if possible, so the very first stop off the plane is the Ladies. Lots of black on this flight. DH was waiting for me and as I vame out, there was a MASS exodus from the Ladies room. Most all tarted up in makeup and clothing I would not allow my daughter to leave the house in. DH asked me where all those women had come from. He about fell over when I said "our plane".


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