Tertullian Here and Abroad

nFflbc0-1I’ve never been to Saudi Arabia, but if I went, I guarantee you that I’d be thankful that I’m a man.

Because in Saudi Arabia, being a woman is a tough go. Male privilege is overt and in your face. Constantly. To demonstrate, I noticed that Saudi Arabia was in the news twice this week regarding gender issues.

First, there was this little gem from a Saudi cleric by the name of Sheikh Saleh al-Luhaydan. Evidently, in Saudi Arabia, it is illegal for a woman to drive. To drive.

Commenting on the eve of a planned day civil disobedience, where women were going to choose to drive as an act of protest, the Sheikh said this:

“(the) physiological impact (of driving) on women…could affect her ovaries and push the pelvis higher as a result of which their children are born with clinical disorders of varying degrees.”

That’s right ladies. Don’t drive; you could damage your ovaries.

The bad news? Influential Saudi clerics both think like this, and, more importantly, they teach it to their parishioners. The good news? The Sheikh is facing some degree of condemnation and mockery. I say let him have it.

And then there was this news, about how a major Saudi IT company, one with some American ties, was opening an all-female business center that one day will employ 3,000 Saudi women. Great news, right?

Sort of.

Read this quote, and let it grieve your soul:

“It’s hard for women in Saudi Arabia to find good work. For many businesses, cultural norms and strict gender segregation make hiring women seem like more trouble than its worth. Banks, factories and other companies have to create separate sections for their female employees, separate entrances, and in many cases they have to install women’s bathrooms. Even then, any workplace where women interact with men outside their family can become highly controversial. (Earlier this year, the kingdom’s religious officials issued a fatwah against women working as grocery cashiers.)”

Does that kind of segregation sound familiar?!?

What do we make of all of this? I have two reflections on the juxtaposition of male privilege in Saudi Arabia versus male privilege here at home.

One, let’s be thankful that in this country we do not, for the most part, face the brand of overt sexism and male privilege that is tragically on display around the world, and in Saudi Arabia in particular. In our country, only the most ardent sexist fringe would call for driving restrictions or segregated building entrances. Mercifully, in our culture, Tertullian is generally not as overt as that.

And yet here’s the thing. Tertullian does exist here. He’s quieter, but he’s no less insidious. Because male privilege is hidden or embedded in the systems and structures of our culture, it’s tougher to pin down. And so, by and large, both women and men suffer at the hands of something we’re unable to find and confront.

To illustrate, I think the contrast goes like this. In Saudia Arabia, Tertullian tells women straight up they cannot drive. He shouts it from the rooftops and he’s found a way to write it into the law. By contrast, in our country, when we get cut off on the freeway, Tertullian whispers this in our ears:

“Stupid women drivers…”

Tragic.

Friends, whether you can see him or not, Tertullian has to be stopped.

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