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January 3, 2008

sit-ins against fascism and folk songs against autocracy

So, Saudi women's rights activists are campaigning to lift the ban on driving for women (link from Feministing).

They are doing this by collecting names on a petition ... and presenting the petition to the king.

I think the very idea of a "petition" implies a context of democratic government, one in which the collected opinions of many individual citizens are presumed to mean something, both morally, because the citizens are the government, as well as quantitatively, in terms of the number of votes an elected representative stands to lose by failing to meet the petition's demands. In other words, a petition implies that someone has reason to give a shit.

Now, certainly, the women's rights activists themselves don't have a whole lot of options, so I don't mean to denigrate their attempts. However, presenting a petition to the king is sort of like staging a boycott against your slave trafficker; there are larger, more systemic problems here.

I'm not sure feminism can even mean much of anything in the context of a non-constitutional* monarchy; the arguments for it generally proceed from an understanding of natural rights for all humans.

*The Saudi monarchy claims that the Quran is their constitution; I think Jefferson would find this idea somewhat wanting.


Blogger bobvis said...

But petitions don't mean anything in a democracy either! Democracy runs by votes, not signatures (or in the United States, money).

Also, monarchies and dictatorships do have a reason to care what the people think. They (like all governments) face the threat of revolution, civil disobedience, and general uncooperative behavior. Additionally, if outside forces act against the government, you stand a better chance if your populace likes you. You can't stay in power if *everyone* hates you. At a minimum, you need those with power in the society.

(which, yeah, are usually people other than women.)

8:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with you that the idea of presenting a petition to an absolute monarch does seem pointless, but the powerless have few options, and it is bound to draw sympathy from around the world. The gesture does have a kind of austere beauty to it.

11:34 AM  
Anonymous Iscah said...

And yet...

1:00 PM  

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