Friday, January 30, 2015

Driving to freedom

Yes, I agree that car culture has many pathologies, not all of them environmental, but consider the implications of entitling men, but not women, to drive. Not in Saudi Arabia, but in the US. In New York state.2015.
 I grew up in a small, densely populated village in upstate New York called Kiryas Joel. And in Kiryas Joel, woman don’t drive. It’s a village of ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jews. In my hometown, women can't be jailed for driving like they can in Saudi Arabia. But driving is still forbidden. A woman who drives would risk being shunned, and her children expelled from the private Hasidic school. She could be excommunicated from the community.
Growing up, it never dawned on me that driving was a possibility. No woman in my family or neighborhood ever did. We were taught that our tznius, our modesty, would be at stake. But I think there’s something else. For Hasidic women, being banned from the wheel means being tied to your husband and to your community. Driving gives you the keys to freedom and independence.
Exactly so. Now, there are non-driving communities, say, among the Amish, but the restriction against driving applies both to men and women, and of course, Amish women as well as men drive the buggies. In Kiryas Joel, the only buggies for women are baby buggies.

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