Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Saudi Woman Beats Up Virtue Cop

For those that have yet to see the story:

When a Saudi religious policeman sauntered about an amusement park in the eastern Saudi Arabian city of Al-Mubarraz looking for unmarried couples illegally socializing, he probably wasn’t expecting much opposition.

But when he approached a young, 20-something couple meandering through the park together, he received an unprecedented whooping...

...the woman then allegedly laid into the religious policeman, punching him repeatedly, and leaving him to be taken to the hospital with bruises across his body and face.
This is a cool story for many reasons, not least of which is the "Virtue Police" totally deserve it and have well and truly made their own bed. Other people will cover the triumph of women's rights [interesting aside: Blogger's spell checker does not recognize the phrase "women's rights". Of course it also doesn't recognize "Blogger's", so don't read too much into that], the pro-feminist aspect, and, I'm sure, the positive effect of American culture on the rest of the world.

I want to point out a slightly different angle, though. Many people will praise this woman for her actions (In fairness: Jezebel also points out that " 'speaking out' is probably the safer, and ultimately more effective, route"), which amounted to beating a man lying on the ground. When was the last time a story reported positively on a man beating a woman, regardless of her current posture?

If this story was just about "rebellion against the oppressors" it wouldn't matter. I suspect, however, that most commentators will put some sort of gender-based spin on it. And the story wouldn't be nearly so salient if it was the woman's male companion who beat the cop. So let's look at it as a gender-based issue. How would this story read if the genders were switched, and it was an oppressed man striking the female representative of an oppressive regime?

Yes, I know; that scenario doesn't exist often outside of genre fiction and comics. Still, this story provides an interesting lens to consider our assumptions about and reactions to gender-based violence.

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