‘But Saudi Women Like Being Oppressed!’

‘But Saudi Women Like Being Oppressed!’ November 5, 2013

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.

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