A music video with Saudi women is challenging restrictive gender norms in the country — and it’s quickly going viral.
“Hwages,” by director Majed al-Esa of 8ies Studios, a production company based in Riyadh, shows the women skateboarding, playing basketball, dancing, driving bumper cars, and even bowling with a set of pins with men’s faces taped on them. It was first posted two weeks ago and already has over 3 million views.
Loosely translated as “concerns,” Hwages is based on an older Arabic song, and some of the lyrics include “May all men sink into oblivion” and “If only God would rid us of men.”
The video, which also features men dressed in traditional Saudi garb shaking their heads and wagging their fingers disapprovingly, highlights many of the concerns about women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. The most obvious criticism is at the beginning of the video, when three women get into the back of a car, and a young boy — probably no more than 10 years old — gets into the front to drive them. Another scene of men dancing in front of a plane could be a reference to the restrictions on women’s freedom of movement.
There are also scenes with Donald Trump, who in the video is leading the “House of Men.” You can probably interpret that how’d you like — it could be referring to Trump’s history of sexual assault, his degrading language towards women, the way his offensive rhetoric about Islam actually helps Muslim extremists, or just simple comedy.
Many have already commended the video, including Saudi Arabian daily Al-Bilad. Amera al-Taweel, the ex-wife of Saudi prince Al-Waleed bin Talal also shared the video with her 1.39 million followers on Twitter.
ماجد العيسى – هواجيس | Majedalesa – Hwages https://t.co/GNWoyH1RGf
— أميرة الطويل (@AmeerahAltaweeL) December 24, 2016
Saudi Arabia’s male guardianship system essentially treats all women as legal minors, regardless of their age. Women are required to receive permission of a male guardian — which could be a father, brother, husband, or even son — to travel abroad, marry, and even be released from prison. Women do not technically need guardian permission to work, but employers who do require this permission are not penalized by the government.
For the most part, women are also not allowed to drive or receive driving licenses in the country. As the Washington Post noted, some women, including those in Bedouin communities and in the country’s south, drive anyway, but the absence of a right to drive has still gained widespread attention in recent years. In 2013, Saudi musician Alaa Wardi and comedian Hisham Fageeh created a satirical video titled “No Women, No Drive,” a parody of Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry.” The video has received over 14 million views since it was first posted.
“For me it is the everyday life, how it’s hard,” Haifaa al-Mansour, the director of Wadjda, the first feature film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia, told the Los Angeles Times in 2013, on the struggles of being a woman in Saudi Arabia. “For me, it was hard sometimes to go to work because I cannot find transportation. Things like that build up and break a woman.”