National Geographic : 2016 Feb
FROM THE EDITOR PHOTO: LYNSEY ADDARIO Saudi Women Founded in 2006, Jeddah United was the first Saudi sports league to train and manage athletes of both genders. Above, members of its women’s basketball team practice. Smashing Stereotypes What is life like for women in the most profoundly gender-segregated nation on Earth at a time of fraught change? This was the question that drew two extraordinary journalists—photographer Lynsey Addario and writer Cynthia Gorney—to an in-depth reporting assignment in Saudi Arabia. They returned with answers that show the tyranny of assumptions. Instead of victims beneath black veils, Addario and Gorney met warm, articulate women willing to invite them into their homes and talk about their experiences; women who joke, complain, express anger—and smash to smithereens the stereo- type of the silenced Saudi woman. “I found women willing to argue energetically with me, and with each other, about almost everything,” says Gorney, including “women’s new expectations in the workplace, whether gender-separating rules ought to change in the modernizing nation, and whether a woman’s dignity does or does not demand keeping her face covered in public.” These revelations come to life in Addario’s photos, which depict professional, fashionable, tech-savvy women—images missing from typical coverage of women in the Desert Kingdom. A constricted life persists. As Gorney says, “the litany of ‘only nation in the world’ rules in Saudi Arabia is familiar by now: The only nation in the world that prohibits women from driving cars. The only nation that requires every adult female citizen to live under the supervision of a legally recognized male guardian ... The last nation, other than Vatican City, to grant women the vote.” To Americans, pretty much everything about this picture seems wrong. But as the superb reporting in this issue makes clear, we’d be mistaken to assume that Saudi women want precisely our lives or our version of freedom and empowerment. National Geographic is known for taking readers to places they have never seen, places they may never go. “The Changing Face of Saudi Women” is that kind of piece—a journey through a complex, hidden realm that yields a deeper understanding and appreciation of the world beyond the headlines. Susan Goldberg, Editor in Chief For more of Lynsey Addario’s photos illuminating the lives of Saudi women, go to nationalgeographic.com.