A Tale of Two Cultures

October 14, 2015

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I recently came across two riveting, in-depth articles in the September issue of Fast Company magazine. The first titled, “What Would Gwyneth Do?” is written by Anjali Mullany who takes a close look at the actress, Gwyneth Paltrow.

Fast Company cover photo

The second one, under the heading Driven recounts the daily challenges of Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud, who is a member of the Saudi royal family. The author of this fascinating piece is Karen Valby.

After reading both articles I couldn’t help but compare these two women who have certain similarities, but live in two entirely different cultures. Both were raised in privileged surroundings, are well-educated and in their forties. They are also divorced and raising children. Both have public personas that center around their controversial, talked-about careers.

The similarities end there because Paltrow and the princess live worlds apart. This one, critical fact makes them interesting subjects to compare.

The World of Gwyneth Paltrow

As everyone knows, Paltrow is an Oscar-winning actress who starred in her first movie Emma at 22 and who, after having children, decided to start a lifestyle blog titled, Goop. That was seven years ago and she’s been moving onward and upward ever since.

Unstoppable Paltrow now has a website and newsletter with nearly one million subscribers that comments on products in rather exclusive price ranges: $300 pajamas and $4,700 juicers. Everything on Goop represents something that Paltrow does or would do in her own life. She is now gearing up for a major expansion with a 25-person team and a new CEO, Lisa Gersh, former head of Martha Steward Living Omnimedia.

The 18-karat gold “kiss” stud on Goop, $275

Her activities also include acting, writing cookbooks, expanding her chain of high-end gyms and launching her first pop-up store in Brentwood, California in May 2014. With no holds barred Paltrow is surging ahead and says, “It’s actually a tricky thing to create a real brand. I feel grateful that I started – sort of unwittingly – with a brand.”

The World of Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud

The princess was recently introduced at a business conference in Los Angeles this way, “She comes from a country where women can’t drive, go to restaurants and can’t socialize.” The princess responded, “I need to correct you. Everything you said about life in Saudi Arabia is wrong except for one thing: we can’t drive.” This may be true, but by Western standards her country places severe limits on women. They must dress modestly and need permission from a male relative to marry, study and travel.

In spite of these restrictions, in 2010 the princess became the country’s first female CEO of Riyadh’s high-end department store, Harvey Nichols. Currently, she is involved in a breast cancer awareness campaign that aims to bring 10,000 women together at a Saudi women’s college on December 12th. In her country “breast” is a taboo word.

Saudi women working at Harvey Nichols department store

Princess Reema believes in working the system until it rights itself.

In 2000 she cofounded a day spa for women and a gym in Riyadh – female gyms are illegal in Saudi Arabia – so it was opened under a seamstress shop’s license. She says, “If the religious police come we tell them the treadmills mean nothing.” Unbelievably, 15 years later they still have a seamstress working on the premises.

Conclusion: It’s very difficult to effect any enduring change in a country that prides itself on resisting it.

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