Dubai is Hot, but Paris is Not!

To avoid getting arrested in Dubai during the three-week filming of the new season of Paris Hilton’s My New BFF, the popular heiress hired a team of “Middle Eastern cultural experts” (as though the entire Middle East is one monolithic culture) to keep her out of jail. In the United Arab Emirates it is a crime to swear or appear intoxicated in public: two things that were apparently common occurrences for Paris and her former BFFs.

Before leaving the States, Paris made an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live where she joked about creating a Paris line of see-through burqas. (Har dee har har.) Then, after arriving in Dubai, she even made a public promise in her first interview with members of the UAE press to adhere to the country’s legal and cultural regulations. She said, “I’ve definitely studied on the culture here–on the rules, on what happens here–because I wanted to make sure that everything was okay, and I just wanna respect everyone here.”

Guess what happened next?

“Paris had made a big public speech, saying how much she loved the Middle East and respected its culture. But the following day she was prancing around on the beach in her bikini and posing provocatively,” reports The Daily Mirror.

Awesome. I love it when Americans travel abroad and show the world what egotistical, ethnocentric assholes we can be. Now, it’s not illegal to wear a bikini in Dubai, but one can be issued a ticket for dressing too provocatively. Skimpy clothing will almost certainly attract stares, as the cultural norm is to dress modestly in an abaya and headscarf.

Paris’s actions are particularly problematic in a city whose population is just 18% Emiratee (the remaining 82% are wealthy expats and South Asian migrant laborers), which causes a significant amount of ethnic tension, and maintaining cultural identity is a prominent struggle.

Some people have congratulated Paris for showing her body, saying that her actions are speaking up for women’s rights. But here’s the thing: it’s not her place to determine what is best for the women in Dubai. By eschewing cultural norms, Paris not only asserts her Western, white, and ridiculously upper-class privilege, she also undermines the agency of women in Dubai determine to what is best for them.

Thanks Paris! You’re, like, totally a Goodwill Ambassador for your country.

by Mandy Van Deven
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16 Comments Have Been Posted

"saying how much she loved

"saying how much she loved the Middle East and respected its culture."

Is the culture of the Middle East the same as the culture of Africa?


Why is it such a problem that she hired cultural experts? At least she made an effort, which is different for her! Hopefully she DID learn about the differences in the region!

Also, wearing a bikini in Dubai is acceptible, as long as it is not worn outside of the beach/pool area. The people of Dubai recognize that people of many cultures travel there.

So essentially--what is Bitch complaining about? We Feminists have bigger fish to fry!

Slightly off topic, but...

<i>We Feminists have bigger fish to fry!</i>

At what point does an issue become "big" enough to merit commentary? It's not only the big things that oppress women, it's the small things that happen on a daily basis that contribute, bit by bit, to systematic oppression. I'd argue that people should speak out about oppression, no matter whether it's perceived as a big deal or not.

PH = Human Rights Icon... NOT!

The video this post links to discusses how PH is actually standing up for human rights because she's sporting a bikini and not covering up. But how liberating is the bikini, or "western" beauty standards anyway? People often act like the burka is so oppressive, but the modern bikini, stiletto, or other fashions don't seem any less oppressive. If stilettos can cause major foot problems, and breast implants can explode - requiring surgery to remove them, then how liberating are those things? Both are steeped in sexism, they're just at opposite ends of the sexist continuum.


"But here's the thing: it's not her place to determine what is best for the women in Dubai."

You are completely right because obviously it's the place of a repressive male dominate religious culture and ideology to set the standard for women in these countries. These women are brainwashed through threats and religious dogma that this is the correct way to live.

I know Paris is an easy target but she isn't the one who really deserves the criticism. It's the oppressive nature of many if not all, middle eastern cultures who allow religion to rule every aspect of life.

oppressive middle eastern cultures?

As opposed to what? The non-oppressive West?

Women's liberation in the UAE (or any other nation) must be indigenous in order to be truly anti-oppression. The movement must emerge from and be led by women who are a part of the country and culture. There are many Arab and Muslim women, many who identify as feminists, who are doing this work. In doing so, they are struggling against accusations that they are pawns of the West. Cloaking Paris Hilton's culturally offensive actions in (Western) feminist rhetoric only serves to undermine these Arab women's liberation movement. And calling Arab and Muslim women brainwashed just shows your own bigotry.


Couldn't have said it better.
I am so sick of this western mentality that our way is the only way to live, and that if you just stick a half-naked Paris Hilton down the street in dubai, that they are going to realize- what? What they've been missing? (oh gee why wear a burka when I can be flaunting my body like a piece of meat?!)
These are people, women with brains and human will, and we are no better then them because we are westerners who have some kind of screwed up idea of a freedom we want to force on parts of the world to whom it may not fit. That kind of mentality is ridiculously bigoted, and ignorant.


It's perfectly normal to wear a bikini whilst being next to a pool in Dubai. I did it plenty of times when I was there. I also wore a short skirt to the mall. I didn't stand out one bit. I think the only reason why Paris stood out had to do with her celebrity, rather than her choice of dress. While local women don't usually wear bikinis in public, the majority of the population is comprised of expats and the Emiratis are realistic about the fact that people's dress is going to differ wildly. Dubai is a colourful mosaic and pretty much everything is represented, from the salwar kameez to shorts and fanny-packs. The many different types of face-veil alone that you'll see over there are representative of a wide spectrum of style even among very conservative Muslims. The diversity is what makes Dubai so interesting.

I think if Paris had been photographed while stumbling around drunk, that would have been a different matter entirely (not that people never stumble around drunk in Dubai, but I think it is much more frowned upon than any skimpy outfit). If she had crashed a sports car, if she was found dry-humping someone on the beach, etc... That's the type of behaviour that is bound to have your hosts distressed.

But a bikini? Today, it's as much a part of the cultural norms of Dubai as is spending. I feel odd that I'm defending Paris Hilton, since I'm not a fan of hers or anything, but she didn't do anything out of the ordinary. I am willing to bet that outside of the frame of that shot, there were other hotel guests in bikinis as well.

which begs the question...

why did Paris go through the trouble of hiring "cultural experts" and make a big public media production of how she was going to respect "middle eastern cultural norms" if she was just going to dress like the entitled American that she is? It's not about whether she did something out of the ordinary for expats in Dubai (and as you point out, it could have been a lot worse), it's about being critical of Paris' saying one thing, yet doing another.

To address the other aspect of this issue, though there is certainly diversity of dress in Dubai, that doesn't mean this isn't a contentious issue. Check out that <a href=" Times piece</a> I linked to in the original post. Here is an excerpt relevant to what you're talking about:

<i>For decades the emirate, part of the federation of seven principalities that make up the United Arab Emirates, has sought to broaden its economy by welcoming foreigners and their investment dollars, turning itself into a shipping hub, a regional business hub and more recently a tourist hub with luxury hotels and resorts.

The city’s openness, limited corruption and stability have helped spur economic growth and development, with wide swaths under construction and more projects in the works. The boom has brought big-city problems like inflation, a rise in crime and divorce rates and snarled traffic.

But beyond that, it has taken a toll on local culture as many young Emiratis have begun looking abroad, abandoning many traditions and even marrying foreigners. With only about 250,000 citizens, out of a total 1.2 million residents, the demographics are daunting, said Abdulkhaliq Abdallah, a professor of political science at United Arab Emirates University.

“Usually minorities assimilate into the majority,” Mr. Abdallah said. “But we don’t want to assimilate into the majority. We want to preserve the localness, the Emiratiness of this city.”</i>

Yah know, I've never

Yah know,

I've never understood how PC came to dominate certain aspects of the feminist movement to the exclusion of glaring civil rights violations. Sure, different cultures deserve respect, but only so far as those cultures do not trample universal human rights defined by international bodies like the UN. Iran's rural culture says that its okay to execute homosexuals, and its government denies that any even exist within its borders. That's not acceptable by any definition of human rights. And no one can compare stilletto heels and bikinis to burkhas, because there is not a law requiring them to be worn. Anything can be turned into a vehicle of oppression, but it can also be taken back, and turned into a symbol of empowerment and individuality. Sex was once the wifely duty in western society, and it became a tool of empowerment during the revolution of the 60s. No one is forcing a woman to get breast implants, if they're comfortable without them, I fully support it, but if a woman that had her breasts removed during cancer treatment wants to have that feeling back, there is nothing objectionable about her getting them. Women like Audrina Partridge and Paris Hilton embody everything that's wrong with bikinis, high heels, and fake boobs, because they allow themselves to be define through them. Women that choose to wear burkhas should not be chastised or made to feel like they are victims, but the second a woman chooses not to wear one, and is forced to, a line of rights has been crossed, and there's no room for defending it as a particular culture. After all there was an entrenched culture in the South, that treated people as property, and that certainly wasn't acceptable either. As to the idea that its glaringly wrong to get a middle eastern cultural expert to consult, because it lumps the various societies into one lump, yes it ignore the cultural subtleties of different ethnicities and tribal groups, but it does cover the common cultural heritages common to all peoples of Arab descent, just as a western european cultural expert could demonstrate that extending a middle finger in public is just as disrespectful in the far side of Bosnia as it is in Ireland.

entitled American...?

Suggesting that Paris was acting like an "entitled American" is an over-simplification. You might as well be say that my Dubai neighbours were acting like "entitled Russians" because they wore short dresses outside, or my friend was acting like an "entitled Filipina" for wearing shorts to work, or that some guy is being an "entitled Irishman" while having a beer at some restaurant after work.

Everyone who comes to Dubai ought to read up on local laws and what does and doesn't get you into trouble - drugs are a big issue, as is excessive PDA or public intoxication. I'm sure that Hilton's "cultural experts" told her just that before she arrived. But clothes? Dubai authorities insist that women ought to be allowed to dress as they please with no fear of harassment. There isn't anything entitled about Hilton's choice of bathing costume, because she was doing exactly what she was invited to do. Sure, the "I'll respect cultural norms" was a bit of pageantry on her part, a way to give the show a new angle. It was shallow, but the bathing suit was not a broken promise either.

Many in Dubai's local community do feel alienated from their own society. This was the trade-off that was made by their government when it was decided that Dubai is going to rapidly become something extraordinary - a major Middle Eastern hub for finance and tourism. The place isn't without its dark sides, and the alienation is coupled with major issues such as labourer abuse. Paris Hilton, however, should not be held responsible for this rift any more than some other foreign woman in Dubai - be she Lebanese, Indonesian, Australian, etc.

However, it isn't as though there is some sort of culture war going on in the streets of Dubai, far from it. Even the picture used to illustrate this blog - of two women in abaya checking out a woman in a sun-dress - is misleading. The picture was taken at the races where, once again, many different styles of dress are on display. I'm willing to bet good money that those women were probably wondering where she bought that dress, instead of seething about the erasure of old-school dresscodes, especially if you consider the fact that the dress looks conservative compared to some of the other stuff that people wear at such events.

I also don't like that picture because it's been used to suggest that the woman in the dress isn't a Muslim or isn't Middle Eastern, when she may be both of these things.

The press loves to stoke culture clash stories in Dubai because they sell. However, Paris's bathing suit doesn't even qualify, I believe. I think it's easy to single her out, because she's a celebrity we all love to hate, but in this instance, I think the criticism is unfair.

My point is...

that PH (and others) wouldn't be so readily willing or able to do these things if she didn't have two kinds of privilege/protection: money and a cultural background that is at the top of the global power hierarchy. Obviously PH didn't cause this or other problems in Dubai. That doesn't mean, however, that she should be let off the hook for her contribution. Nor should the problems be shrugged off because those in government decided they preferred money at the expense of cultural cohesion. Nor should the cultural struggle itself be ignored or downplayed because <i>some</i> emiratees don't have a problem with bikinis. In the 17th century, a lot of people in power in the US didn't have a problem with slavery, and that doesn't mean it was the "right" thing to do or that it wasn't a problem for a lot of people. Sure, there's internal disagreement about what is and what isn't "middle eastern culture" and there is certainly a plethora of diversity in the middle east. Those issues were addressed in the original piece, of which the thesis is the duplicitous nature of PH's public statements about "respecting everyone in Dubai" while demonstrating a lack of respect for the emiratees who find this type of dress in opposition to their cultural norms. PH is catering not to <i>all</i> emiratees, but to a particular group of emiratees; this distinction is important when reflecting on the disconnect between PH's public statement and subsequent choice of dress precisely because one should recognize that not only is "middle eastern culture" not monolithic, but that PH's wearing a bathing suit in public is an expression of her choosing sides in an cultural struggle that is not her own, which reflects her own cultural background and its global influence, for better or worse.

Didn't see this before

... So, many apologies for my reply being, oh, over a month late - but I'm surprised to see you comparing clothing to slavery, Mandy.

And Paris Hilton wasn't "choosing sides," you're giving her way too much credit there. Respecting local culture in Dubai doesn't extend to dressing up as a Muslim when you're not, anyone who's been there for an extended period of time will tell you that. If anything, I think it's way weirder to adopt some sort of glam "Middle Eastern" look for a day while taking promotional photos. Even though she looks good in it.

beyond the surface

I think it's clear I'm not comparing clothing to slavery, Natalia. If you think that's the entirety of my point, then you've completely missed it. I'm showing the flaw in your arguing that one should gloss over the feelings/opinions/rights of X group because Y group thinks it's okay to do something and Y group wields more power. It seemed a US-centric example was necessary.

Respecting local culture <i>does</i> mean adhering to local standards, particularly when (as is the case here) one goes out of one's way to give public assurances that one will respect those standards. Does this mean Paris needed to wear an abaya in Dubai? No. There are plenty of other ways to dress that still abide by cultural standards of modesty. (And once again, it's not her place to be the one who "breaks the rules" to rebel against those cultural standards.)

I completely agree with you that Paris' "Middle East glam" is problematic as well. Contrasted with her lack of adherence to local customs, it positions traditional dress as nothing more than simplistic fashion devoid of any personal, cultural, or political meaning.

I have to say something to

I have to say something to rescue her reputation, but I know that it's hard to do.
It's not a big secret that the end of june is really one of the worst times of the year in Dubai she could ever choose to film her tv show. Just because of the weather! It's practically above 100 degrees during the day.
Could this fact be a little excuse for her behavior?

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