Driving Forward In The Kingdom

It’s June of 2018.  And as of Sunday, June 24, women in Saudi Arabia are finally legally able to drive.

p06byymkIt’s astonishing when you think about it, but until yesterday the kingdom of Saudi Arabia had maintained a ban on women driving — the only one in the world.  It was one of the most visible elements of differential treatment of men and women in that country.  The decision to finally allow women to drive is part of an effort by the Saudis to liberalize and modernize their benighted internal policies, which have received a lot of international criticism over the years.  And, as is so frequently the case, the move also has an economic component.  The Saudi economy has taken a hit because of oil prices, and allowing women to drive is expected to increase the employment of women and allow them to make more of a contribution to the gross national product.

Not surprisingly, many Saudi women took to the streets in cars to celebrate their ability to do something that women the world over have taken for granted for more than a century.  “I feel free like a bird,” one woman said.  “The jubilance, confidence and pride expressed by Saudi women driving for the first time in their country, without fear of arrest, brought tears to my eyes,” another one wrote.  And Saudi women posted videos of themselves driving on social media.

But let’s not get too excited about the loosening of repressive policies in Saudi Arabia, because a number of activists who strongly advocated for great women’s rights have been jailed and remain behind bars, even as the ban against women driving has been lifted.  Some believe that the jailing is intended to placate the ultra-conservative religious leaders who remain a significant force in the country, and also to send the message that only Saudi leaders — and not activists advocating for changes in Saudi policies — can produce reforms in the kingdom.

It’s a sign that, while lifting the ban on women driving is welcome, Saudi Arabia has a long way to go.  And it’s also a reminder that, in 2018, there are still a lot of repressive policies out there against women that still need to be addressed.

Women’s Hair, Men’s Hair

I get my hair cut at one of those unisex hair styling salons by the Platinum Stylist.  Kish gets her hair done there by the PS, too.  It’s a nice place with friendly staffers, conveniently located about halfway between the office and our house, and the Platinum Stylist always does a terrific job.

Because I go to a unisex salon, where about two-thirds of the clientele on any given visit are female, my appointments give me a brief exposure to the trends in women’s hair through the big posters that are always advertising women’s hair care products and styles — like this one that was hanging in the front window yesterday.  The posters always feature sultry, heavy-lidded women with vaguely haunted looks whose hair is carefully arranged to look . . . well, unarranged.  It’s as if some women want to go to the stylist and come out looking like they haven’t been there at all.  For most men, though, the goal is the exact opposite.  We want to get a clearly noticeable haircut, whatever style or amount of barbering we might choose, so that the whole process facially justifies the cost.

The words used in the women’s hair care posters inevitably are different than what would be used in male-oriented ads, too.  Sure, “effortless” would appeal to both men and women, but I’m guessing men would define it differently.  For women, an “effortless” coiff might require ten minutes of curling, claying, molding, brushing, shaping and spraying.  For men, an “effortless” style means something that can be toweled off after a shower and put into place with no more than ten seconds of diffident combing.

I’m not sure most men would be attracted by the promise that a certain product would leave their hair looking “touchable” or “tousled,” either.  I’m not particularly keen about anybody touching my hair; in fact, I don’t particularly want to touch it myself.  It’s hair, after all.  My basic hair goal is the opposite of the “tousled,” just rolled out of bed look.  Instead, I want to at least appear to have tried to do something to attack the stupid cowlick that always pops up on the crown of my head.  And whereas women’s hair ads always seem to be talking about “texture,” that seems like a lost cause to me.  When the word that best describes the “texture” of your hair would probably be “grizzled,” no “texture tonic” is going to help.

Into The Clothing Danger Zone

Yesterday I got one of the endless number of emails trying to sell me something that bombard my inbox.  This one was trying to sell me “Barbie PJs.”  The picture showed what looked to me like standard PJs that were pink with a silhouette of a Barbie head on the top.  “Hmmm,” I thought idly, “I wonder if Kish would like those, or hate them.”  And then I hit the delete button.

newthumb_3__3I wish I could effectively communicate to that company, and others that try to sell me women’s clothing, how absolutely unlikely I am to buy anything they’re offering.  I haven’t bought Kish any kind of garment — or footwear, hats, you name it — for more than three decades, because I long ago learned that I have no sense of fashion and really don’t know what she likes and what she doesn’t like on the apparel front.  In short, if an item can be donned or doffed, I’m far out of my depth.

This profound condition of clothing cluelessness became clear when I tried to buy Kish some clothes one long-ago Christmas, and each purchase — boots, a blouse, a winter cap — was a miserable failure that she looked at quizzically.  “How did you happen to buy purple boots?” she asked after opening one of the presents.  “I thought purple was your favorite color,” I stammered in response.  “No, it’s green,” she said.

Fortunately, I had retained all of the receipts for the ill-advised gifts, so she was able to return them and get some things she really liked and wanted — and we moved forward with the implicit understanding that I would never again try to buy clothes for her.  In fact, I’ve always suspected that the “returns” department at stores was created by a department store proprietor who, after totally flubbing some gift for his wife or girlfriend, realized that there was a desperate need for a special area where puzzled women could discreetly return the reckless clothing purchases of misguided males.

So don’t try to sell me “Barbie PJs,” or poofy fashion scarves, or knee-high boots.  Those kinds of purchases fall entirely into the “Kish self-purchase category.”  I’ll happily buy her objects, or even perfume if I receive sufficiently explicit instruction that can be communicated to the helpful saleswoman at the perfume department at Nordstrom’s.  Attire, however, is in the danger zone.

Rain-Soaked, But Still Fearless

On this dank Friday morning in lower Manhattan, I endured the raindrops for a few blocks for a brief morning walk.  When I’m on the road I like to check out the environs and see if there is anything interesting.  This morning, my goal was Fearless Girl — the sculpture positioned directly opposite the iconic charging bull down by Wall Street.

“Fearless” is a good description of the young girl, but “defiant” or “resolute” might be even better.  She stands fists on hips and legs firmly anchored, chin raised and ponytail fluttering in the breeze, but her face is very placid, without a trace of emotion except, perhaps, a slight smile.  Fearless Girl is ready for anything.

Fearless Girl apparently has become something of a tourist attraction — although nobody else was around on this rainy Friday morning — but some people question what message is intended by her placement across from a bull ready to charge.  The naysayers wonder is the juxtaposition is supposed to convey that women oppose rising stock values, or that Wall Street is anti-woman, or some other quasi-political/economic message.  I don’t know about the intended message, but I did like the portrayal of a girl calmly facing down a dangerous bull that seems to be made wary of by her very presence and determination.  It makes for a very cool picture.

Carrie Fisher

Carrie Fisher’s death yesterday, a few days after she suffered a heart attack on a trans-Atlantic flight, came as a terrible shock.  Fisher was only 60, and she had so much to offer to the world as a writer, actor, and advocate on mental health issues.

Fisher was great in The Blues Brothers and When Harry Met Sally, and she wrote a number of funny best-selling books, but of course she will always be remembered by many — including me — as Princess Leia of the original Star Wars films.  I’m sure that Fisher often bridled at her association with that gun-toting resistance leader with the fantastic and iconic hairstyle, but I’ll always believe that her depiction of Leia Organa was one of the things that fundamentally and forever shifted the kinds of roles that women played in Hollywood films.

Of course, women had always had some meaty roles, but in action films or sci-fi films women typically were the objects around which the action revolved, rather than the proponents of the action.  Not so with Leia Organa!  From the first moments of Star Wars she was the key driver of the plot, setting R2D2 off with the plans for the Death Star, standing toe to toe with Grand Moff Tarkin and Darth Vader, recruiting Luke and Obi-Wan Kenobi and Han Solo to the cause of the resistance, getting tortured and firing blasters and trading insults with the best of them.  (“Could somebody get this walking carpet out of my way?”)  Princess Leia was as far from the damsel in distress as you could get.  Sure, she ultimately fell for Han Solo — who wouldn’t? — but she was always ready to strangle Jabba the Hut or blast a squadron of imperial storm troopers on a moment’s notice.  Not every actor could pull off such a role, but Carrie Fisher did it flawlessly and convincingly.

Lots of people make movies that achieve enormous popularity, but then fade over time to the point where their roles are only dimly recalled and people wonder what all the fuss was about.  Not so with Carrie Fisher.  She was a true trailblazer, in her acting, in her writing, and in her frank and always humorous discussions about her struggles with her condition, her addictions, and her weight.  She touched more people than she perhaps ever realized.

Mysteries Of The Opposite Sex

  
Last night I passed this sign on my way to dinner, and it stopped me in my tracks.  What is “eyebrow threading,” I wondered, and how does it produce the promised “unique shape”?  Perhaps, I thought, it involves something like threading a needle.

Alas, the storefront of the business provided no ready answers.  It featured a video of an eye being subjected to a complicated eyebrow-related procedure involving what looked like a rubber band.  It also appeared to be a painful operation for the disembodied eye, frankly.  I hurried on, disturbed by the Daliesque quality of the video, which looked like an outtake from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

Why would anyone go through a potentially painful procedure to achieve a unique eyebrow shape?  If the eyebrow had become unacceptably unruly, why not simply trim it?  Beats me, but then I’m a guy who can’t keep straight the difference between eyeliner and mascara.  The realities of eyebrow threading will just have to remain one of the many  curious mysteries of the fairer sex.

Dying For A Butt

In Philadelphia yesterday, a woman named Padge-Victoria Windslowe was convicted of third-degree murder.  Her crime was injecting nearly a half gallon of industrial grade silicon, cut with saline in a home blender, into the buttocks of a 20-year-old British woman named Claudia Aderotimi.  Aderotimi’s heart stopped, and she died.

Windslowe, who has no formal medical training, called herself the “Michelangelo of buttocks injections.”   According to Windslowe, she performed underground “body-sculpting” operations on thousands of woman who wanted larger butts or smoother foreheads or plumper cheeks.  The women paid $1,000 to $2,500 for these “treatments.”  Trial testimony said that Windslowe would arrive at hotel rooms and “pumping parties” with a bottle filled with silicon, needles and syringes, and Krazy Glue to close the wounds her injections left.  One of those injections killed Aderotimi.

Medical charlatans are as old as medicine itself, and for every quack who claims to have discovered a magic elixir or a miracle cure there will be desperate people who want to believe and are willing to drink, eat, or do just about anything in furtherance of their belief.  And Windslowe was not alone; news reports say that black-market buttocks injections are becoming more popular, and they are causing other health problems, including infections, disfigurement, liver and kidney problems, and the death of a woman in Texas.

It’s tremendously sad, isn’t it?  Can it really be that so many women have such devastating body image issues that they would willingly travel to anonymous hotel rooms and pay thousands of dollars for injections of unknown substances by unknown people armed with needles, quarts of silicon and other materials, and Krazy Glue?  Since when did having a bigger butt become worth those kinds of absurd risks?