Women on the Oil Frontier: Gender and Power in Aramco's Arabia
Wu, Xiaoyu (Linda)
This paper was written in Dr. Nathan Citino's history seminar, America in the Middle East (HIST 436).
The Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco), which controlled the world's largest crude oil reserve and was once the largest American investment overseas, often claimed that its petroleum extraction activities contributed to the modernization of Saudi society. Scholars have critiqued Aramco's narrative of enlightened self interest by showing how the company clung to a racialized labor hierarchy and repeatedly eschewed reforms. This essay continues that criticism by examining Aramco’s policies on women and the family. Using internal memos and publicity materials released between 1940 and 1970, this study reveals how Aramco’s American owners used gender to understand, manage, and Orientalize their Saudi employees. In its public image, Aramco claimed to be liberating Saudi women from an anachronistically oppressive society. Yet in the jobs it did (and did not) offer to women, as well as the housing options it gave to Saudi families, the company’s policies demonstrate a similarly patriarchal logical work.