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100 Journal of Islamic and Muslim Studies, Vol. 1.1 Wadjda Narrative/Fiction, 2012, 1 hour 38 minutes, Directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour, and Produced by Gerhard Meixner and Roman Paul American feminists adopted bicycling as an icon of disruption that challenged masculine hegemony at the end of the nineteenth century. In A Wheel Within a Wheel: How I Learned to Ride the Bicycle (1895), suffragist Frances Willard provided a personal account of the liberating element of the bicycle in the United States. It marked a necessary medium of transition for women from the private to the public sphere, and emerged as one of many signs of rebellion against Victorian conservative traditions. The historical significance of the bicycle in the US feminist movement serves as a critical transnational backdrop to the narrative of female empowerment in Wadjda (2012), written and directed by Saudi filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour. The first feature film entirely shot in Saudi Arabia revolves around a young girl’s dream to buy and ride a bicycle in a society that heavily polices women’s autonomy and public presence. The purpose of this review is to sketch the film’s proposed narrative of female empowerment at the intersection of family and society. Wadjda presents a penetrating critique of family and school as two important sites perpetuating repressive patriarchy. Al-Mansour’s decision to project women in family and school as a force that sustains patriarchal hegemony serves as a refreshing reminder of French philosopher Louis Althusser’s term “ideological state apparatus,” which refers to the role of educational, religious, and social institutions in preparing children to become docile citizens (“Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses,” 1970). In this film, family and school are presented as the immediate sites that challenge the eleven-year-old Wadjda (Waad Mohammed), and disrupt her search for independence, symbolically codified in the bicycle. Both Wadjda’s mother (Reem Abdullah) and the school principle Ms. Hussa (Ahd Kamel) represent two social institutions that deny the full articulations of Wadjda’s nonconformist tendency. They both resort to “shaming” as a disciplinary technique in socializing Wadjda to gender norms and expectations of adulthood in her society. Wadjda’s mother informs her that the society frowns upon girls who ride bicycles. She instructs her to abide by society’s codes asking her a rhetorical question, “Did you see a girl riding a bicycle?” She even warns her that bicycle riding will hurt her chances of becoming pregnant in the future. Meanwhile, Ms. Hussa is adamant in her mission to prepare students like Wadjda to become proper female citizens and future wives. Her strict policies regarding dress code and moral Mahdi / Film Reviews 101 conduct are predicated on punishment as a means for obedience and submissiveness . When Wadjda wins first prize in a Qur’an recital competition and announces her intentions to purchase her dream bicycle, Ms. Hussa shames her and donates the money to Palestine on her behalf. Althoughpresentedasagentsofsocialorder,Wadjda’smotherandMs.Hussa eventually diverge in their embrace of her resilience. Her mother gifts her the bicycle in a symbolic moment of contestation directed against the Saudi patriarchal gender norms, which foreground the public agency of men and marginalize women to the domestic sphere. This defiance is shaped in part by the mother’s disillusionment in male privilege, which calls upon Wadjda’s father to search for a son through a second marriage. On the contrary, Ms. Hussa cannot afford any compromises. Her school is not presented as a site for enlightenment but rather as a disciplinary center to produce pious women suitable for marriage. She is preoccupied with the schoolgirls’ behavior, and constantly issues orders. They are being told not to laugh out loud because their voice is awrah (body part that should be covered). They are instructed to refrain from nail polish, eye-catching clothing, colored shoes, and music because they are forbidden. The camera captures their performance in school to be mostly conducted within the range of memorizing Qur’an, performing nasheed (religious music), and praying. The school is a place of paranoia, especially when it comes to girls holding each other ’s hands. If this occurs, they are warned to receive school-wide humiliation following...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2470-7074
Print ISSN
2470-7066
Pages
pp. 100-102
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-01
Open Access
No
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