A blog about nothing and about everything

Sunday 19 June

Possibly, one of the hardest things to write about is our emotions…

I have been working on this post since Friday night… There were many attempts. That’s all they were. But maybe with each attempt, I am getting closer to a truth… every attempt ends up with feelings of fakeness and distance.  I was too busy writing what happened with no attachments, whereas moments like these are filled with complex feelings we sometimes tend to ignore.

The story seems simple. Friday at 6 PM, I sat in front of the steering wheel, my brother was in the passenger seat, and I started driving in one of Jeddah’s main roads.  About ten minutes later, a very angry fellow spotted me, called the police, and followed us until we came across a police car. He honked like crazy to get the police’s attention, and we were pulled over. The police was already busy with another car he had pulled over, but I guess pulling us over was much more important and interesting than a speeding maniac.  My brother got a ticket for allowing an “unqualified person” to drive the vehicle and signed a statement that he would not allow me to drive again. I signed a statement that I would never drive a car again. Then, we went home.

But in reality there is more to the story… Our emotional connection with the event is deeper  than the experience itself.

Friday seems so far away. Did it really happen? Is today just another day that has no relevance to yesterday? Truth be told, the male push I received on Friday had a profound influence on my decision to drive.

————————————

I have been receiving many cheers since Friday night. One colleague refers to me as “Riem Schumacher”, and to another as “Riem morror –  Traffic “. But a number of others asked me why I chose to drive? Was it an act to defy the government? Was I challenging authority? Those two questions make me feel like I am some anti-government revolutionary. Whereas I am far from that.

One man asked me, “Why didn’t you wait for a decree or law to come out? Didn’t you know you would get caught?” I would have answered, “Well, don’t you know that purchasing drugs and alcohol is illegal?  I hear you are a consumer. Is that true? So, why are you buying them if it’s against the law?” but I didn’t. Instead, I opted for:  “Yes, I know, but it was worth it and what’s the point of a Saudi female driving if it’s not documented?” 🙂

How is my act of “disobedience” different from all those that break the law on a daily bases? Is it because I got caught? Or because I asked for what is seen as a request for emancipation and libration?

Would he understand how it feels like to be considered unqualified to drive simply because of my gender?  Even though I carry an American driver’s license with a clean record.

Would he understand that a 12 year old baby boy is more “qualified” than a 34 year old female to drive a vehicle?  Who am I kidding? He probably trusts his 12 year old more than he trusts his wife or mother.

How would he like it if he had to give up driving by force, and is subsequently under the mercy of a driver, whose salary he pays. How long would he tolerate being yelled at or even sexually harassed by the driver?  He might just answer “May God help us all” and walk away.

One 17 year old has been driving for over two and half years without carrying a Saudi license. Every time he was pulled over, the police gave him a ticket. A few months ago, he owed around 8,000 riyals in fines. How come no one gave his father a ticket for allowing an unqualified person to drive the vehicle?

——————–

Dear Mr. Angry Guy,

Why the outrage?

Hasn’t anyone told you that reckless driving is not safe? Why didn’t you get a ticket for endangering the lives of others? Haven’t you heard that using the phone while driving is against the law? But in your defense, this was an emergency, and you had to call the police. You were confronted with one of “devil’s helpers” and needed backup.

Has my act of driving threatened your mere existence that you had to go out of your way to make sure we were stopped?

When you saw me driving, did you feel like a knight and shining armor? Protector of religion and morals? And that my brother and I were two infidels you had to remove from the road? Where your wife and children screaming and shearing you: “Go get her!!!” I bet you felt like a hero when you told your friends about your adventure with one of those “damn” female drivers.  Have you asked your wife what she wanted? Or is not important because she is just a helpless woman in need of a man to take care of her. Maybe your wife just wanted to get to her destination without any delays, and all in one piece. Maybe she secretly wished she could push you out of the car and take hold of the steering wheel.

Dear Mr. Angry Guy,

Why are you so scared of me?

I am just a bitter female

———————————-

The moment I held the steering wheel, I felt a sense of reminiscence. I was sitting in front of the wheel, just like I did hundreds of times in LA, only this time I was feeling insignificant and scared inside. At first, I felt like a criminal. My heart was beating fast. The responsible driver in me told me to stop driving if I was going to be shaking and shivering. Another part, the socially responsible, advised me that this had to be done. Otherwise I’d be the hypocrite who talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk. How many Saudi women wish they were in my shoes, but due to circumstances can’t join the drive?

At that moment I had an obligation.

There are moments in life that define us. For me, this was one of those moments.

All my moments wasted on fear, in the last few years, somehow seized to exist on Friday afternoon.  This was one moment that would set part of me free!!

I chose to drive because I could, and had a choice.

I chose to drive and get caught because it would serve as a shocker to those who believe women can’t drive because it never happened…

I chose to drive, even though some consider it breaking the law. So, I will now gladly pay the fine and hang my medal of honor “the ticket and statement” to remind me every day that I defied, not the government, but those who decided to corner me because of my gender.

Will female driving in Saudi Arabia ever be a norm? I don’t know!

But I know that Friday was a wonderful day. Many times, we are taught that men hold us down. Some even radically consider them the enemy, but on Friday, the biggest push I’ve ever received on driving was by men. My brother supported my driving.  So did a good friend. There were also men on the street who sheered and saluted me when they saw me drive.

It’s not that we women need men’s recognition, but having  male support gives hope in a better tomorrow. … It gives hope that many men are choosing to side by women and demand women’s voices be heard.

Ps: Many thanks to my wonderful editor, who couldn’t join the drive, but was a ” dangerous element”  in my choice to drive…

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Comments on: "A Subversive Dangerous Element Behind the Wheel" (13)

  1. You conveyed those mixed emotions wonderfully. I remember going out for a drive in my neihborhood last year, I was having a barbeque and realized i had no charcoal! no driver at home and no men, and I had a few friends over. so i took one of my sisters and drove our car accross the neighborhood to buy charcoal from the supermarket. Such a simple act, but for a few minutes there when I first started the engine, I had to calm my nerves and my shaking hands. I felt like such a criminal! Then I just had to talk myself out of that feeling. That its no big deal we just need a sack of charcoal and no one will see us! Sometimes, out biggest obstacle is fear.
    I salute you for your bravery! and the men around you who supported you.

  2. Gofran said:

    Many Saudis ask “How naive does a Saudi woman have to be to get behind the wheel and thing she is nott going to face consequences?” Well.. If they call it “naivety”, I call it “heroism”. These brave women behind the wheels KNOW that they will get caught and have to pay a fine, but like you Riem, are risking it for a great cause. I loved how you referred to your ticket as your “medal of honor” because that’s truly what it is. On behalf of myself and all the other women who couldn’t drive due to circumstances, thank you so much for taking a stand. One of these days, Saudi women can turn the ignition on and instead of thinking what a criminal they are, can actually think of what music track to play 🙂

  3. nitz magat said:

    Hi,Riem ,i know this is a pleasant surprise for you but i do admire your bravery… far from the Riem i knew when you were just a kid…. .and i salute your brother for standing up for you as well…Go go go…..

  4. Robert Miras said:

    I really feel your emotions upon reading your article. How freak was that man who have nothing else can be done on his day! For me its a shame to him on acting it that way. If it happens to me, I saw a woman driving in a prohibited driving women zone, how would I care, I shall let the police caught u in their own way. I think those reckless drivers are more dangerous to let drive than women.

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  5. I loved reading this. You write so wonderfully. and your response to your colleague who brought up the decree! I hope it doesn’t fly over his head! not the point though. That was the best part for me, it summed up the most of it.

  6. I am for women driving, however let me ask in this way. Do you know what is a right and what is a privilege? A right is something that is given by Allah to people or an individual and no one is allowed to be denied that. A privilege is an opportunity that can be used, and taken away if abused. Put it in this perspective. Is driving a right or a privilege. Mind you this “right” actually privilege is revoked by state institutions everyday against people who abuse. So did Allah give women this “right”? I am not saying men were given this “right” and I know how men drive. However what I would like to see is the posters become a bit more accurate in what they should fighting for.

    Let me ask the question how many of the w2drive folk out there are fighting for women’s justice in KSA in general? For example what are you all saying about the most destitute and most vulnerable in KSA society? I would recommend you look at my comment HERE:

    http://qusaytoday.com/en/2009/08/saudi-maids/

    If that is too tedious, I would recommend these 3 links of mine.

    http://averagejoebodybuilder.blogspot.com/2011/07/local-press-congratulations-your-maid.html

    http://averagejoebodybuilder.blogspot.com/2011/07/photos-of-tortured-maid-sumiati-binti.html

    http://averagejoebodybuilder.blogspot.com/2011/07/indonesian-ofw-abused-in-saudi-arabia.html

    Let me know, again, are you fighting for a right or a privilege? That being the case, what have YOU all done fighting for what are legitimate rights? Or are your priorities MESSED UP?

    • Average Joe,

      i am not sure what the main point(s) of your reply is. are you saying that since driving is a privilege not a right it’s not worth fighting for?
      Surely driving is a privilege but having the choice to drive is a right . If you think the movement is about privilege then you have missed the point of it entirely. i would suggest you read more about the topic or ask questions instead of preaching and judging.

      it sounds to me like you are saying that since there are other issues that are more important than driving that it’s not even worth bringing up? if that’s the case then congratulations! you almost sound like every other person who stood in the way of women’s rights , in general, on the bases that there are more important issues to be fought for. Interestingly enough, they are the ones who end up doing nothing but further support injustice!

      i am not sure who “YOU” is referring to? me personally ? the collective? someone else?

      it sounds to me like you are imposing your own priorities on others and suggesting that these priorities are not good enough because they don;t coin with yours.

      • Like i said, I have no problems with women driving. but let me put it to you, and i mean you personally, have you posted an article about how saudi WOMEN are perpetrating the abuse of foreign maids? let me paraphrase the hadis prophet salla-allahu alaihi wa-salam. those who concentrate on the nawafil but neglect the faraid need to fear the fire. there is a w2drive “organization” is there a maids4reparation organization? which is more important? aren’t you also answerable to allah for not even addressing the issue? this is not a case of my personal taste in priorities. this is a case of something seriously wrong with 50+/- percent of the society making a voice about the need to drive, yet i myself have heard and read and experienced how at least a large portion of the society treats women maids. and even those that are against the treatment speak in hushed tones and don’t want to raise too much of a fuss. so NO i am not IMPOSING. i am just putting the mirror up.

  7. i understand where you are coming from but don’t agree at all with your tactic.

    So women being abused, harassed and have their choices taken away from them to you is a nawafil? well not to me. regardless of what a woman’s background is.

    i wonder how you would react to the harassment of others, tolerate that harassment in order to go to work, or your wife, God forbid, has some sever medical emergency and you can’t take her to the hospital because you are NOT allowed to drive. HUmm.. DO you still think the choice to drive is a privilege?

    Again, you are no different from those who oppose to women’s driving. sure you mention that you have no problem with it and yet so it’s not worth a cause. You, like them, see women’s driving in Saudi Arabia in specific , as a luxury and privilege not a necessity . Just another person who tries to stands in a woman’s way of achieving self-determination ( a God gifted RIGHT).

    i am all with you that domestic help in most cases are mistreated. physical abuse is just the tip of the ice burg. But it seems to me you are suggesting 100% human rights for all or nothing at all! is that the case?
    that topic in specif needs a lot more than just writing in blogs. and obviously you are not aware of the small scale campaigns, not that it’s enough, that have been taken place in the Saudi media. makes me wonder if you do live in Saudi. If you are not , then how could you fight for something when you have the luxury of living somewhere else? again, blogging is NOT ENOUGH.

    What gives you any right to lecture me about what i should and shouldn’t stand for or even write in my blog? you can merely suggest a topic that’s it . DO you even know me or what i do to give yourself such a role??

    • you state
      So women being abused, harassed and have their choices taken away from them to you is a nawafil? well not to me. regardless of what a woman’s background is.

      please READ what i wrote. that is NOT A NAWAFIL, THAT IS PART OF THE FARAID. The w2drive campaign is a NAWAFIL. The rest of your post is based on your mistaken assumption. Let me again state, when I see the women2drive people ALSO STOP ABUSING THEIR MAIDS then i will support them. I would rather see this w2drive campaign being led by mutawa ladies who know for a fact that the maids in their house are their sisters and not their servants. I would love to see those kind of women lead the w2drive campaign. How about the current w2drive campaigners apologize for the abuse however small they give against their servants?

    • and another thing. make no mistake. i do live in KSA. i have been here over 10 years, and everything i have said in the other blog happened in KSA in front of my own eyes.

      just to clear up one thing. when it comes to human rights, fights for RIGHTS not for PRIVILEGES. My wife knows of w2drive campaigners who have spoken disparagingly about asians (as if saudi arabia is not on the continent asia – making saudi’s just as asian as a chinese) and africans. let the ones who believe that all people are equal and justice for all ethnicities lead the group. that is like suffragettes in america fighting for the right to vote, they fought for the right to vote, but fought against blacks getting the right to vote. to heck with that.

      • I don’t understand what the point is in your last reply.
        what do you i have to do with the women from w2drive?
        if you have a problem with someone go tell THEM!!

        You keep repeating your points over and over again while totally disregarding my points and questions. obviously there is no proper communication here. Therefore, i will have to stop replying to your replies until you actually choose to engage in a conversation instead of lecturing

  8. […] On June 17th 2011, I had the honor and privilege of being among the courageous women who drove on the streets of Saudi to defy the ban on female driving. As a result, my brother, who was accompanying me, got a ticket for allowing an “unqualified person” to drive the vehicle. Funny enough, the car was not even registered under his name. We both signed pledges that I would not drive again.  (https://riemism.wordpress.com/2011/06/20/a-subversive-dangerous-element-behind-the-wheel/) […]

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