Let’s talk about why it sucks to be a woman in Saudi Arabia this week.
Now, before you get all huffy about making sweeping generalizations and assumptions, let me say at the outset that there are some great things about being a woman in Saudi Arabia. Some women there, like women (hell, people) everywhere, have happy relationships and loving families. They lead fulfilling lives with real purpose.
I could go on.
But let’s pause for a second and acknowledge one specific reason it really does suck to be a woman in the conservative kingdom right now:
A bunch of men are telling women they can’t drive.
The de facto ban on the fairer sex (eye roll) driving has been in place for a long time, but women in Saudi Arabia have grown increasingly resistant to it.
Which is pretty brave when you consider that being caught behind the wheel of a car can get you prosecuted. Even though, you know, there’s no law on the books against it.
Power-wielding conservative clerics don’t like it, so logic be damned. Basically.
Take Sheikh Saleh al-Lohaidan, for instance. He’s a conservative member of the country’s Senior Council of Scholars, which gets to advise the government about things like whether women should have the right to drive.
Dude has no medical training, but he felt compelled, during an interview with sabq.org, to bestow some (absolutely bogus) science on his lucky listeners.
“If a woman drives a car, not out of pure necessity, that could have negative physiological impacts as functional and physiological medical studies show that it automatically affects the ovaries and pushes the pelvis upwards,” he reportedly said. “That is why we find those who regularly drive have children with clinical problems of varying degrees.”
For real? So, basically he’s saying that when women absolutely must drive, their body recognizes it’s for necessity and there aren’t negative impacts? And since when are women who drive regularly prone to having children with so-called clinical problems? If that were true, a whole bunch of soccer moms in the United States would have ditched the carpool run years ago.
The worst part is that while we can call out the absurdity of his comments from the United States, women there face serious consequences if they so much as intimate that they kinda sorta maybe ought to be able to drive cars. And other clerics have backed up al-Lohaidan and even urged people to harass women who try to drive. How mature.
Despite that, more than 10,000 women signed a petition and took to their cars on October 26 to protest the ban.
“Since there are no clear justifications for the state to ban adult, capable women from driving,” the petition read. “We call for enabling women to have driving tests and for issuing licenses for those who pass.”
It’s still too early to tell if the protest will have a positive impact, but for the meantime, the driving ban is why it sucks to be a woman in Saudi Arabia this week.
Stay tuned for next week’s installment. Unfortunately, there’s always somewhere in the world where it sucks to be a woman.
Emily DeRuy is a Washington, D.C.-based associate editor, covering education, reproductive rights, and inequality. A San Francisco native, she enjoys Giants baseball and misses Philz terribly.