Monday, December 22, 2008

Don't try to be sensitive: be yourselves (insensitive)

Western media are at their worst not when they are naturally insensitive, but when they try to act sensitive. Take this silly article about UAE's flight attendants. First, of all consider the silly title, implying that Arab women are doomed unless they fly on UAE's airlines. Secondly, it ignored the most important part of the story: that flight attendants in the Gulf region face horrendous cases of sexual harassment, especially from the royal families who treat the national airline's flight attendants as their own concubines. A British flight attendant who worked in Bahrain told me that all the flight attendants were under management pressures to basically succumb to the sexual pressures of sleazy royals. Usually, an Emir would hold a special party on his boat, and only the flight attendants would be invited. And then the writer said this: "gulf states like Abu Dhabi — which offer freedoms and opportunities nearly unimaginable elsewhere in the Middle East". Freedoms and opportunities? For whom? At what price? How did you measure freedoms? And certainly one can't say that the gender situation in the Gulf is better than Tunisia, say. And she makes a reference to this: "the Lebanese date-filled cookies called ajweh." No, they are originally Syrian, not Lebanese. And did the writer talk to women from Asia who work in the Gulf to evaluate the notion of freedoms in UAE? And then: "Many of the young Arab women working in the Persian Gulf take delight in their status as pioneers, role models." Role models? Please spare us this very American catchy notion. It does not travel easily across cultures. She also reports this: "Some of the young women tell stories of fellow flight attendants who have simply slipped onto planes to their home countries and run away, without giving notice to the airline." Did you wonder why? Did that arouse your curiosity at all, Katherine Zoepf Apparently not.