Yesterday, a couple dozen Saudi women drove their cars in the Kingdom. The sky didn’t fall down, the ground didn’t open up to swallow them, and even the Saudi police did not exercise their prerogative to hunt them down and arrest them.
That was yesterday. Presumably, the women will continue driving today, and tomorrow… Their tactic to do so spordically, and not en masse—as was attempted in an unfortunate campaign on the streets of Riyadh in 1990— surely helped keep their profile low. I question, however, their wisdom in posting videos on YouTube, and putting their faith in the international community for support of their goal.
I also question their double standard in using social media—which is international in character—while at the same time asking non-Saudi women to refrain from joining them. If they want their effort to arise from Saudis only, they should look towards Saudi men, not international social media. I’ve noted that many Saudi men, even some who are quite influential in affairs of the Kingdom, support the initiative to allow women to drive. This support made yesterday’s event possible.
Saudi men will be the key players here, and Saudi men will determine whether or not Saudi women will gain the right to drive. There is no shame in this, nothing that takes away from women’s determination or desire or obvious need to obtain their driving rights. The fact is that Saudi Arabia is a patriarchal society, and that women are under the control of men, and that outward rebellion guarantees nothing but punishment. The country is not built upon democratic ideals.
In the West, we have an historical tradition of social struggle, and of oppressed people seizing what has been denied them, and of suffering the consequences. We honor the notion of heroic self-sacrifice by certain individuals who act as catalysts for social reform. Some Westerners think that Saudi women can lift that template and apply it to the oppressive conditions under which Saudi women live. I suggest that Saudis have no need of borrowing the historical traditions of other societies. They have their own social dynamics, and need to work within them.
Oh, sure, they may eventually get their right to drive, even if they ride like American cowboys into enemy territory, galloping full-speed ahead with shouting and screaming and the intention to take by force. I can only imagine the collateral damage that would be exacted by such a strategy.
As much as they might hate to appeal to their men for something their men have denied them, Saudi women have already gained the respect and support of some men. Let those men work towards influencing other men. Let this issue become an issue of men and women working together. If Saudi men and women work together on this important task, maybe they can work together for the betterment of other conditions that put artificial barriers in front of women’s autonomy. Then, we might see some genuine improvement in the ability of Saudi women to develop themselves, take better care of their families, and contribute in new ways towards the prosperity of their country.