A subtext to the film is the audience’s recognition that Saudi women — behind their abaya — have an inner life, a rich one at that, ones filled with intrigue, song, scandal, love and heartbreak. They aren’t a cipher, insists this film. No different than, say Amos Gitai’s Kadosh , which imagined the lives of some Orthodox Jewish women. Wadjda suggests that Saudi women are exemplary evidence of how humans make do, adjust, play it up, press against and push the boundaries given societal restrictions. More so, for many Arab women, it proffers a sense of continuity, a historical memory of their mothers and grandmothers.
It’s not just in Saudi Arabia that a girl on a bike means hope. American suffragette Susan B. Anthony wrote:
Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel…the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.
Frances Willard, famed prohibitionist and long-time director of the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement, agreed:
And so I found high moral uses in the bicycle and can commend it as a teacher without pulpit or creed. She who succeeds in gaining the mastery of the bicycle will gain the mastery of life.
She didn’t learn to ride till she was 53, and wrote about that experience here. Her bicycle is on exhibit at the museum located in her home in Evanston. I wonder how different the encumbering skirts and bustles of the Victorian female regalia really is from the hajib?