I was lonely, desperate, and angry. At that moment, I truly understood what it meant to be a Saudi woman. It meant being confronted with every possible kind ofobstacle and discrimination. It meant being told that if you want to race with men, you’d have to do it with your hands and legs cut off. I started to wish I had been born somewhere—anywhere—else.
How odd it is that we judge a woman by her clothes and the place she eats lunch and the subjects she talks about with her colleagueson her coffee break, yet we don’t judge a man if he doesn’t grow his beard or if he works with women or speaks to them. Why do Saudi women allow subjugation to a man and adhere to men’s rules and conditions? Why did I?
So you’re the infamous Manal al-Sharif,” he said, eyeing me from behind his desk. “Aren’t you ashamed of what you did?”“Is driving a car something shameful?” I answered back.
I got a text from my husband. “Manal, you are divorced,” it read. “Your papers are in the court of Khobar.” I was divorced in my absence, just as I had been married.
It is an amazing contradiction: a society that frowns on a woman going out without a man; that forces you to use separate entrances for universities, banks, restaurants, and mosques; that divides restaurants with partitions so that unrelated males and females cannot sit together; that same society expects you to get into a car with a man who is not your relative, with a man who is a complete stranger, by yourself and have him take you somewhere inside a locked car, alone.
She took my papers, the papers that had followed me from the Khobar police station to jail, and pointed at a place where I was supposed to sign. On the paper there was a line for charges. In the blank space, someone had written “driving while female.