Book Review: “Daring to Drive: A Saudi Woman’s Awakening”
When it comes to Western audiences and Eastern women, there is a long tradition of willful ignorance, fetishization, and condescension. In the case of Arab and Muslim women, outsiders receive a steady diet of images of cloaked, silent figures, rendered somehow hypersexualized and infantilized at once. These depictions also tend to ignore individual agency, portraying these women as voiceless victims of Islam and totalitarian regimes, woefully deprived of Western-style feminism. Books and articles claiming to explain or uncover these so-called realities are always sure to sell well, but most fail to give adequate nuance to the lives and aspirations of the women they describe.
I was, as such, very wary when an advanced copy of Saudi activist Manal al-Sharif’s new book, Daring to Drive: A Saudi Woman’s Awakening arrived at my front door. A former resident of Saudi myself, I already knew and respected the story of al-Sharif’s activism, but a glance at the cover put me off. The title seemed too strategic. If there is one thing Westerners know about women’s rights in Saudi, it is the so-called ban on female drivers. I expected the book to be a repackaging of this tired narrative, marketed to Western audiences whose feelings about Saudi women are already predetermined. The book’s blurbs seemed to confirm this expectation, touting the all-too-familiar promise of a “rare glimpse” into the dark world of Arab women.
Even so, I dutifully cracked open the book. What I found inside challenged my expectations – and, I believe, will also challenge the assumptions Western readers have about Arab and Muslim women. (Read more at Muftah)