Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Fighting for the right to drive a car

You may or may not know this, but in Saudi Arabia women are not allowed to drive a car. Apparently it's not law, just custom.

A 24 year-old Saudi woman, Areej Khan, recently completed her MFA thesis at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. Her project "We The Women" is a campaign to spur debate (and dialog) about Saudi women's right to drive a car.

Part of her project are little downloadable "speech bubbles" that women can download and print out, then write in their thoughts and post them publicly. Car windows, utility poles, etc.

Her project is getting a lot of attention. Here's a blog post on The New York Times. In it the author quotes another story by the English-language paper Arab News:
"...most women believe it is their God-given right to drive."

Let me start out by saying this: I feel that the oppression of one group by another is a blight on humanity. More to the point it's just cowardly.

I find the notion that driving an automobile is a "God given right" a bit perplexing. But that's just my perspective from the "bottomless bike culture" of Portland, Oregon. I've never felt that a driver's license was a right; it is a privilege.

I see so many ills associated with autos: traffic jams, road rage, pollution, the ruination of neighborhoods, and the current dire financial troubles of the US auto manufacturers (because people stopped buying so many cars).

It makes me feel a little sad that women in Saudi Arabia are clamoring, not just for freedom of choice, but to don the yokes of automobiles that their men have had around their necks for so long.

No no no... I'm not insinuating that women are somehow better off without the "right" to drive. I'm thinking laterally here.

Maybe the women of Saudi Arabia should look to the bicycle for liberation. After all, that's what happened here in the USA in the late 1800's.

Susan B. Anthony is credited with saying that the bicycle had "...done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world."

The bicycle added fuel to the "women's movement" of the late 1800's and enable women to take control of their lives in a way previously unimaginable. The effects rippled through society. Notable was the effect on women's fashions: as more and more women adopted cycling as transport (and even sport-- Here's to you, Annie Londonderry!) the impractical multilayered dresses and restrictive corsets gave way to more practical "cycling clothing" and forever changed the way women dressed.

So I'm all for women in Saudi Arabia taking control of their own lives and "driving" their own destiny.

But I wonder if there might not be a way they could just sidestep the male domination altogether and not try to wrest "rights" from men, to not play that game, but instead to take their ball and start a new game on their own-- one in which they set the rules.

Maybe the bicycle could be their vehicle.

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