I must have been 4 years old when I first learned to ride a bike. I never thought much of it — riding around my neighborhood and, in one case, being chased by a too-friendly dog.
I recently came across an interesting movie (and one that I highly recommend). It’s not one of those typical story lines that details the blossoming friendship between two archenemies or that of the romance of two lifelong friends.
This movie, “Wadjda,” takes place in Saudi Arabia and follows the story of a young 10-year-old Muslim girl, Wadjda, who wants nothing more than a green bike she saw at a nearby store.
Wadjda is not allowed to get a bike because proper girls did not do such “boy things” to disgrace themselves.
Though she earns the money herself, Wadjda is actively prevented by all the women in her life from buying the bike, because of the fear that no man will marry her. If a woman willingly follows the gender roles society has placed on her, I believe she has every right to.
However, seeing Wadjda’s reluctance and unwillingness to always cover her head and conform to gender roles made me extremely uncomfortable.
What if a girl or woman here in the United States couldn’t go where she wanted without being accompanied by a male family member?
We never really think much of the things we do here in the United States that are not seen as proper in certain parts of the world: wearing short-sleeved shirts in public, driving or casually hanging out in a mixed-gender group.
If you are anything like me, you would probably take a snack break during the “foreign films” category of the Oscars. Many of us haven’t even heard of the nominated movies or choose not to watch them, assuming their story lines to be too elitist for our liking.
However, this film changed my perspective. Excellent new movies are being made, and they are shattering traditional gender stereotypes.
First of all, “Wadjda” is the first movie to be shot by a Saudi woman, Haifaa al-Mansour. As a woman living in an extremely conservative region of the world, al-Mansour faced many obstacles, including a lot of hate mail for making a short film questioning the practice of women covering their faces in public. As a result, she wasn’t able to secure the financial backing and filming permission for “Wadjda” for a long time. These hurdles and her insistence on filming the whole movie in Saudi Arabia only for authenticity pushed back the work by five years.
In fact, some of the filming took place in such conservative regions that the men and women behind the scenes had to stay separated and use walkie talkies to keep in contact because it would have been scandalous to be seen together.
I always knew that women in different societies may have subservient roles; however, it took al-Mansour’s portrayal of the misogynistic society Wadjda lived in and the inability of a woman to be much without a man for me to see in just how little of a bubble American audiences live.
It is important to note that Wadjda’s hurdle is a relatively small one compared to those of adult women. For example, gender inequality is represented in Wadjda’s mother’s constant anxiety to impress her husband and be the most beautiful woman for him, just so he does not leave her to take another wife, or with the public shaming of a young woman for speaking to a man who was not her brother.
This is not to say that life for women in the United States is always perfect. Closer to home, I know teenage girls gets trapped into prostitution (yes, in this United States of America) and are beaten and forced to become drug addicts by their pimps.
However, after watching “Wadjda” and knowing that other such movies (such as Hindi-film Gulaab Gang) are being made, I now have the hope that by shedding light globally on gender inequality issues, we are taking the right steps to bridging the gap.
Janani Kumar is a senior at Burlingame High School. Student News appears in the weekend edition. You can email Student News at firstname.lastname@example.org.