“Bad Girls,” M.I.A. official video

M.I.A.’s “Bad Girls” video is a cheeky and ass-kicking reminder that Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that prohibits women from driving, and it brings me right back to one of the most poignant conversations Stripe and Daisy had on the art bike last summer (Blog 7). One of the many encounters that blew our minds and hearts open was with a Saudi woman in her twenties. She was in her last year of her master’s degree in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, and was travelling in Canada and the United States for a few months.

Though her family is Muslim in one of the most conservative—read patriarchal—cities in the world, she was experiencing more freedom than most young women her age. Most relevant to M.I.A.’s video, she told us of her mother’s brave protest days when she and her friends and colleagues gathered in a supermarket, settled behind steering wheels, and drove cars in a procession through the busy downtown streets of Saudi’s capital city. Perceived as a most provocative act of rebellion—we are talking about women simply driving cars—they were not only brutally arrested but, more importantly, many also lost their jobs and were blacklisted. Their names are apparently still on all kinds of lists, and it is impossible for some to leave the country or have a stable government job. In light of this, it becomes clear why the women in M.I.A.’s video are masked. If their identity is revealed, their safety may well be endangered.

And wait, it wasn’t just her mother. She also told us that her immediate family’s core religion, one could say, is education and reading. Her father’s most significant life-changing experience in university was his exposure to international literature. He quickly developed a profound and, in his part of the world, radical and revolutionary respect for women and girls. I don’t know how many men like him live in Riyadh, but I assume he is a minority. We were agog—her father was actually going through with it and putting his money where his mouth is—he is raising his three daughters with respect, devotion, and concern for their well-being in a world he now perceives as threatening to their birth-right to agency, autonomy, and the fulfillment of their life purpose and gifts.

I’ve heard of all this before, and read about it, but to have heard it live from someone actually living it was a great honour. She confirmed for us that books can be powerful tools of resistance, especially in contexts where they’re banned/devalued. And she reminded us that women have to continue to fight for their rights and that protests and videos like M.I.A.’s “Bad Girls” are still much-needed statements of courage, rebellion, equality, and power. Bravo to all women and men who dare align with respect, equal rights, and education, even when their culture imposes severe punishment to those daring enough to take action and protest.

And if you want even more extreme car hi-jinks check out Speed Sisters, the documentary featuring the first all-woman race car driving team in the Middle East. Grabbing headlines and turning heads at improvised tracks across the West Bank, these five women have sped their way into the heart of the gritty, male-dominated Palestinian street car-racing scene. Weaving together their lives on and off the track, Speed Sisters takes you on a surprising journey into the drive to go further and faster than anyone thought you could.

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