Tuesday, October 8: Today I had to sit and listen as one of my Saudi students did a TED Talk presentation about “Manal al-Sharif, a Saudi woman who dared to drive.” My student, a female, criticized this woman, who dared to challenge a society’s rules about women driving. I believe Manal al-Sharif is to be applauded, but I felt sick when I heard this student criticize Manal on the grounds that “the traffic in Saudi is really crazy and a woman shouldn’t drive because it’s not safe, or, that a Saudi woman shouldn’t drive because she should be treated like a queen or a princess, or because our religion says a woman shouldn’t drive.” Hmmm. I didn’t know that cars were around when the Quran was written! My student even went on to say this woman is a betrayal to the Saudi people and to her country. The male Saudi students in the class also agreed strongly with my student that a woman shouldn’t drive for other equally ridiculous reasons that I can’t even remember now.
I highly recommend this TED Talk: TED Talks: Manal al-Sharif: A Saudi woman who dared to drive
Manal al-Sharif says in this TED talk: There was this official study that was presented to the Shura Council — it’s the consultative council appointed by the king in Saudi Arabia — and it was done by a local professor, a university professor. He claims it’s done based on a UNESCO study. And the study states, the percentage of rape, adultery, illegitimate children, even drug abuse, prostitution in countries where women drive is higher than in countries were women don’t drive.
As far as I know, Saudi Arabia is the last country in the world where women don’t drive. Thus this “university professor’s study” has to be talking about ALL the other societies in the world when he cites his statistics.
My Asian students were up in arms with this students’ claims and opinions and had some good questions for the Saudi student: Why did Manal get arrested and thrown in jail if there is no law prohibiting women from driving? Because of tradition, they answered. It’s just not done.
I argued that in Cairo, where the traffic is the most chaotic and horrible of any country I’ve visited, Muslim women drive all the time.
It’s sad and incredibly frustrating to me that even students who have come to America to study still continue to think in such a backward way and have not been even one bit enlightened during their education and stay in America.
All of these arguments, and more equally ridiculous ones, that I’ve heard recently, are all lame reasons given by a male-dominated society to hold on to their power and keep women as second-class citizens. What continues to frustrate me, after living two years in Oman, and now teaching Saudi students in America, is that the Arab women I’ve met from these countries continue to make excuses as to why they allow this subjugation to continue.
At least, after spending two years in Oman, I can appreciate the more progressive thinking of the Sultan in allowing women in his country to have more freedom than in neighboring Saudi Arabia.
Finally, I applaud strong, forward-thinking women like Manal al-Sharif, for trying to break taboos and change a ferociously male-dominated society.