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Nov 05 2013

‘But Saudi Women Like Being Oppressed!’

There’s been a big push to allow women in Saudi Arabia to drive, coming primarily from women there, of course. Ahmed Abdel-Raheem, a poet, actor and apparently sometimes teacher, offers a transparently ridiculous argument for why it’s okay not to allow them to drive.

If you read any western coverage of the recent protest of Saudi Arabia’s female driving ban, you probably thought, “finally, the kingdom is waking up”. But the problem is, that’s not what many Saudis think, including Saudi women.

The Saudi economic newspaper El-Iqtisadiah ran a front-page news story suggesting that women’s driving is just a luxury rather than a necessity and that protesters against the ban seek to undermine the kingdom’s stability and create sedition.

That wasn’t just propaganda. I conducted a survey of my former Saudi female students at Al-Lith College for Girls (at Um al-Qura University, Mecca). They helped me distribute a large-scale questionnaire to their colleagues from different departments of the college and to their female relatives and friends. It wasn’t exactly scientific, but their responses are worth considering. I offered them anonymity in their answers, but even so, some wanted to be recognized.

To my surprise, 134 (out of 170) respondents said female driving is not a necessity and that it opens the door for sexual harassment and encourages women to not wear the niqab under the pretext that they cannot see the road when driving. Some also fear that it gives husbands a chance to betray and agree with the assertion that it creates sedition in society.

So let me see if I have this straight. In a society where women can be beaten by their husbands and can be punished if they get raped, a society where the prevailing ethos that allowing women to drive is seditious, a bunch of women whose identities you know told you that they support the prohibition? Imagine that. Did you think they would tell you if they didn’t, under those circumstances?

And even if every one of those 134 women was telling the truth, so what? That they have internalized their own oppression is not a rational argument for why other women should be denied even this tiny step toward equality. I’m sure there were slaves who were okay with slavery, who had grown so accustomed to their lot in life and so fearful of change that they had accepted it. That doesn’t make slavery okay.

17 comments

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  1. 1
    John Pieret

    Darwin had a similar experience:

    “He [Captain FitzRoy] seemed to me often to fail in sound judgment or common-sense. He was very kind to me, but was a man very difficult to live with on the intimate terms which necessarily followed from our messing by ourselves in the same cabin. We had several quarrels, for when out of temper, he was utterly unreasonable. For instance, early in the voyage at Bahia, in Brazil, he defended and praised slavery which I abominated, and told me that he had just visited a great slave-owner, who had called up many of his slaves and asked them whether they were happy, and whether they wished to be free, and all answered ‘No’. I then asked him, perhaps with a sneer, whether he thought the answer of slaves in the presence of their master was worth anything? This made him excessively angry, and he said that as I doubted his word we could not live any longer together.

  2. 2
    eric

    To my surprise, 134 (out of 170) respondents said female driving is not a necessity and that it opens the door for sexual harassment and encourages women to not wear the niqab under the pretext that they cannot see the road when driving.

    If they feel that way,they don’t have to drive. A change in the law won’t force any woman to put themselves in that situation. It will simply allow the women who want to “risk” driving to do so.

  3. 3
    Michael Heath

    Ed writes:

    . . . even if every one of those 134 women was telling the truth, so what? That they have internalized their own oppression is not a rational argument for why other women should be denied even this tiny step toward equality.

    This argument mimics the argument Sarah Palin continually made to justify her opposition to abortion rights. She “felt” women shouldn’t have an abortion, therefore she was anti-abortion rights as a matter of public policy. It’s not just an idiotic argument, but demonstrates how clueless both this yahoo and Palin both are, along with the many millions of other Muslim and Christian fundamentalists who share their social views.

  4. 4
    mudskipper

    If your goal is to curb sexual harassment of women and to keep husbands from straying, I’d suggest that a more effective choice is to keep the men at home and let the women do the driving.

  5. 5
    sinned34

    “If I don’t like something, nobody else should be allowed to like it.”

    Isn’t that a notion that most children hold, but tend to grow out of by the time they pass out of the toddler years (and which they reacquire for some time during the teen years)?

    I don’t like country music, so the entire genre should be made illegal.
    I don’t like Republicans, so it should be illegal for people to vote for them.
    Gambling seems wasteful to me, so poker games should be illegal.

    How wonderful it must be to be just so gosh-darned important and awesome that everyone in the world should think and act in exactly the same manner as you.

  6. 6
    Dave Maier

    #1:the intimate terms which necessarily followed from our messing by ourselves in the same cabin

    Oh, you mean they ate meals together. Gotcha.

  7. 7
    dugglebogey

    My favorite scene from the movie “Lincoln” is when someone says if the 13th amendment is passed “Next thing you’ll want is for women to vote!” No way that will EVER happen!

    Let women drive? What’s next, then you’ll want them to think for themselves? Madness!

  8. 8
    dugglebogey

    Of course, in opposition there’s that religion that isn’t misogynistic. The….uh…wait a sec….I’ll think of it…

  9. 9
    busterggi

    Sounds to me as if at least 134 women didn’t feel like getting beaten to death by their husbands.

  10. 10
    lofgren

    Sounds to me like 134 women don’t have to get driver’s licenses if they don’t want them. Now why are we preventing the other 36 from doing so?

  11. 11
    timgueguen

    I wonder what the social class of those former students is. A group of working class Saudi women might have very different responses than upper class Saudi women

  12. 12
    Modusoperandi

    …I conducted a survey… at Um al-Qura University, Mecca…

    Party school. Total party school.

  13. 13
    Childermass

    “During the past week nearly five thousand women have presented remonstrances to the Congress of their beloved country against the oppression of having suffrage forced upon them.” — Madeline Vinton Dahlgren, Thoughts on female suffrage and in vindication of woman’s true rights (1871)

    Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

  14. 14
    gopiballava

    I understand that English is not his native language. The phrasing is very ambiguous.

    “female driving is not a necessity”

    Necessity for a country to function? Or necessity for a country to be considered free?

    “and that it opens the door for sexual harassment”

    Sure. Leaving the house makes it easier for non-relatives to sexually harass you. Perhaps we should train men to not sexually harass women?

    “and encourages women to not wear the niqab under the pretext that they cannot see the road when driving.”

    The phrasing of this statement is so confusing. It gives women an excuse to not wear the niqab? That would mean they’re looking for one…

  15. 15
    uzza

    there’s that religion that isn’t misogynistic. The….uh…

    the Iroquois, for one

  16. 16
    dingojack

    170 respondents? That’s about 0.0014261542% of the total female population (including non-resident workers). And as for the extremely rigorous method of collection – Well I’m convinced.
    @@
    Dingo
    ——-
    PS: Is distributing oil profits only within your own family “a luxury” that shouldn’t be permitted? And if the crown princelings protested about it would they be “undermining the Kingdom’s stability” and “creating sedition”?
    Whatever next “drapetomania”?

  17. 17
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    That wasn’t just propaganda.

    First sentence of the third paragraph, and he’s lying.

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