ENID, Okla. —
A woman’s place is ...
I am neither brave nor crazy enough to finish that sentence in public. I’ll leave that up to you.
Many different words have been used to complete that thought over the years.
A woman’s place is in the home. That was conventional wisdom for a number of years, centuries, in fact.
The phrase stems from ancient Greece. In 467 B.C., Greek playwright Aeschylus, in his work “Seven Against Thebes,” wrote “Let women stay at home and hold their peace.”
English author Thomas Fuller, in his 1732 piece “Gnomologia: Adagies and Proverbs,” wrote “A woman is to be from her house three times: When she is christened, married and buried.”
These days a woman’s place is darn near anywhere. A woman’s place is not only in the House, but also the Senate and, someday, the White House.
Slowly but surely, it is becoming the case that a woman’s place is in the board room. Currently, 4.2 percent of the chief executive officers of Fortune 500 companies are women, while among the Fortune 1000 the percentage is 4.5 percent. It’s not exactly 50-50, but it’s a start.
A woman’s place is in medicine, or the law, or the arts, or communication, or finance, or a military command post.
But in Saudi Arabia, at least, a woman’s place is not behind the wheel of a car.
Women driver jokes are as old as the automobile itself. And they largely aren’t true.
Men are 3.4 times more likely to be cited for reckless driving as women, and 3.1 times more likely to be picked up for drunk driving, according to Quality Planning, a firm that conducts research for insurance companies. Men also are more likely to die in a traffic accident than women.
But in Saudi Arabia, women are not allowed to drive, period. It’s not against the law, exactly, but is forbidden by strict religious edict. Still, a woman carrying a U.S. driver’s license was recently fined $135 for driving in the kingdom.
The driving ban, as you might imagine, does not sit very well with Saudi women. On a recent Saturday, at least 40 women claimed they drove in defiance of the ban, which fired up the country’s religious establishment.
And now a newspaper columnist who supports ending the country’s ban on women drivers was recently detained and interrogated over his radical stance. There is no press freedom in the kingdom, it seems.
Now some of the women who drove despite the ban say they are being followed by “cars filled with men.”
In China, women can drive, but the police in Beijing don’t think they are very good at it.
Beijing cops recently posted a bunch of driving tips for women online, suggestions that have sparked an angry backlash.
“Some women drivers lack a sense of direction, and while driving a car, they often hesitate and are indecisive about which road they should take.” The women, the post continues, often find that “when they’re driving by themselves, they’re not able to find the way to their destination, even if they’ve been there many times.”
The Beijing police advise women drivers to wear flat shoes while driving, for fear their high heels will become stuck somehow and cause an accident. The post mentions a woman who caused an accident and told an officer, “I hit the brake but my shoe got stuck in the car.”
And if there is an accident involving a women driver, Beijing PD says, watch out. “After getting into an accident,” the posting says, “it’s easy for women drivers to get nervous and panic. Their minds usually go blank, and it’s easy for them to let bad people exploit the opportunity.” The posting cited the case of a woman driver who hit a pedestrian, then forgot to lock her car door after she got out of her vehicle to check on the person’s condition. When she returned to the car, she learned her wallet had been stolen.
Chinese women drivers also aren’t too well-versed in the use of the emergency brake, it seems. “While the handbrake is typically used for stopping the car’s movement, quite a few new women drivers often hurriedly get on the road without releasing it,” according to the Beijing police.
At least China allows women to drive. In Saudi Arabia, women not only can’t drive, but a female can’t travel, work, go to school or get medical treatment without the permission of her “male guardian,” typically her father, brother or husband.
I suppose that means all the minivan-driving, school kid-carpooling, grocery-buying, dry cleaning-gathering, errand-running soccer moms in Saudi Arabia are men.
A woman’s place is ... wherever she wants it to be, wherever her dreams, ambitions, drive, grit and abilities will take her.
Just don’t mess with my TV remote.
Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.