Monday, November 4, 2013

Unleash the Chains

Lucretius said it best, writing On the Nature of Things at the time of Christ. Sympathizing with a potential student, he commiserated thusly:
(hierophants = priests)  
And you, at any moment now, in fear of hierophantic threats will seek to leave me. For think of the endless fantasies your priests devise, that can subvert all reasoned thought, and turn your life to terror and confusion.
I came up against hierophantic threats early in my religious education. For a short but intense period of time in my early teens, I prayed after every dinner, hoping that this would serve as expiation for the fact that I wore different cloths at the same time, didn't spend much time in synagogue, and refused to leave my leather shoes home on Yom Kippur.  Though my parents kept a kosher home, we had no trouble eating buttered garlic bread with spaghetti and meat balls, nor putting parmesan cheese on the meat itself.  As a tween, the disconnect between the rules and our actions was disconcerting.

Then I learned about Biafra, a tiny space in Africa where children were starving to death. Holocaust pictures were coming to life. The stacked, emaciated bodies of Matthausen and Auschwitz were there, before my eyes, on the television set, not in the history books.  Black or white, pagan or Jew, they were victims, non-combatants, lost.

And I wondered why God would care about my eating habits when little ones with distended bellies were walking the planet.  It seemed to me then, and it seems to me now, that there are more important events demanding his attention. I wondered why the Rabbi wasn't asking those questions, too.  It was the beginning of the end of my romance with formal religion.

It's not that I don't believe in a higher being.  I just don't think much of those who choose to be its intermediaries.  Votes to determine Christ's divinity, Jews then and now unable to unite under a common set of rules, Latter Day Saints creating a deity with unusual morals for modern times.... I imagine the higher being's bemused expression as his minions attempt to do his work. I wonder about that expression as Saudi Arabia floats into view.

The Economist  presents us with a prime example:
Sheikh Salah al-Luhaydan, a well-known cleric who also practises psychology, claimed on a popular Saudi website that it has been scientifically proved that driving “affects the ovaries” and leads to clinical disorders in the children of women who are foolish enough to drive.
Foolish enough to drive, eh? It's that pesky trip to the grocery store or to pick up Junior from school which will affect you forever in your lady parts.  It would be laughable were it not being put into practice.  Although there are no laws specifically prohibiting women driving, there are consequences. Detention, intimidation, public scorn... just for taking themselves where they want to go.

Chains don't have to be visible to be real.

I've gotten in the driver's seat to do errands and to run away from home.  I've taken myself to peaceful overlooks, turned off the engine, and thought deep thoughts while caressing the steering wheel. I've rolled the windows down, blasting Gilbert and Sullivan or the Grateful Dead, singing along and not caring who heard.  I've gone where I wanted, when I wanted, on the route I chose.

No woman in Saudi Arabia can say the same thing... not without fear, at least. There's no such thing as a Saudi driver's license for females.  Another cleric, Sheik Nujaimi, is quoted in the New York Times saying that “(t)he learned have banned women from driving cars because of the political, religious, social and economic problems it entails,” 

Apparently, all the ills of the world can be laid at the feet of a woman with her pumps on the gas pedal.

It makes my blood boil, and I am not alone. Motorista, a fellow member of Jean Knows Cars' Group of 7, posted about this last week.  We commented, we emailed, we considered, and we've made a plan. We're inviting you to join, although we're not sure where it's going.

If this kind of repression irks you, if you want to express your solidarity with Saudi women who want to drive, if you need to make a stand but don't know what to do, try this: Send us a keychain.  We have an official mailbox and absolutely no plan at all for what to do with them once we've collected them. Perhaps we'll send them to one of the women mentioned in the New York Times or The Economist. Perhaps we'll create an artistic representation of repression and freedom using them.  Perhaps we'll listen to you, the participants, and find our answer there.

For now, we feel the need to do something.  It's a typical liberal notion - creating a furor without a plan to move forward - but we're okay with that. As I said, we need to do something, to strike while the issue is making news, to acknowledge the hashtag the activists are using - #Nov31Driving - by starting this drive in the month of November... not waiting for the 31st of the month.... which may never come... but which certainly will never come if we sit back and do nothing.

It's another simple way to make your voices heard.  You must have a keychain from a conference or a vacation or an old car lying around in your desk or your closet.  Wrap it so that it doesn't cut through the envelope, put on extra postage if it's heavy, enclose a note of support if you are so inclined, and send it to
4500 Williams Drive, Ste 212
PMB 258
Georgetown, TX 78633
Motorista and I will post pictures and notes and keep you posted on progress and plans.  If you have ideas for putting the key chains to good use, feel free to include them on the comments or in your package.

It's too easy to do nothing.  If you're peeved, here's your outlet.  Let's show our Saudi sisters that they do not stand alone.


  1. What a great idea! I'm just gobsmacked that in this day and age, women cannot drive in some countries. It's appalling and more people need to know about it. I will look for all my extra keychains.

    Thanks for taking a stand on this too! I'm with you.

    Megan xxx

  2. YAY, Megan!! Motorista will be looking for the key chains in the mailbox.
    It's good to be reminded that others don't have what we take for granted. Thanks for joining the cause <3


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