I can’t remember where I first saw Daring to Drive (2017) by Manal al-Sharif, but I knew women had just been allowed the basic right to drive in Saudi Arabia. I was both horrified and fascinated that women wouldn’t be allowed to drive in this day and age, and I wanted to know more.
Al-Sharif was jailed for eleven days in 2011 for daring to drive her brother’s car in opposition to the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia. However, this story is much more than that. I’d say only about one quarter of the story is about driving. The rest is about al-Sharif’s life growing up in Saudi Arabia, how she became a religious extremist, and how her views eventually changed.
Al-Sharif grew up after the Saudi Sahwa movement in 1979 that involved religious extremism and contributed to making Saudi Arabia one of the most conservative countries in the world. Taught these beliefs in school, al-Sharif found herself being more conservative than her parents. (Although her parents did subject her to genital mutilation when she was eight years old). She would police her family for religious infractions, destroying her brother’s forbidden musical tapes and preaching at them.
But she wanted education, and her zealous views became more moderate as she attended college and met others who did not adhere so strongly to such a strict interpretation of her religion. Her views widened even more when she lived in the United States for her job, a place where she obtained a driver’s license and drove freely.
Al-Sharif describes the difficulties of living in Saudi Arabia as a woman. Women always need to be with a guardian (a male relative), and they need permission from their guardian to do anything. In order to get anywhere, they need a driver, who costs a lot and can end up harassing them. One night, al-Sharif was unable to get a driver. Although she had her own car, she could not use it and ended up walking on the street, where she was harassed. She was humiliated and angry that she was not allowed to driver herself, which would have saved her from all that fear and danger.
As far as the argument against driving, it is solely based on controlling and demeaning women. There seems to be an obsession with virgins. “If women were allowed to drive, within ten years there would be no more virgins.” (270)
This was an interesting look into a country and culture that I know very little about. It is hard to believe that this was still happening less than a year ago, and that women still have to live with so little power and freedom today. I was impressed by al-Sharif’s courage in telling her story and standing up for her rights. The amount of shame and denigration she endured to push for the simple right of driving was incredible. I thought her inside look into her own religious zeal and how it changed was also very interesting. Although I sometimes craved more details about her life, her thoughts, and her feelings, this was definitely worth the read.
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