I Want to Ride My Bicycle

September 20, 2013

“Wadjda” is a film made of moments. Obviously, every film technically is, but it’s rare to find a movie that layers so much into what appear to be simple events.

Take one shot, when 10-year-old Saudi girl Wadjda is looking at her father’s family tree. Her uncles’ names are there, as are their sons’; her dad’s name appears, too, but there are no leaves coming from his branch, since Wadjda is his only child. Her dad loves her — that’s obvious in their scenes together — but she can clearly see she doesn’t really count.

In a film of extraordinary moments, one stood out for me because it sums up feminism. Wadjda desperately wants a bike, but it keeps slipping from her grasp. Trying to be nice, her friend Abdullah says he’ll lend her his. “If you give me your bike,” she retorts, “how will we race?”

“Feminism” has become such a needlessly loaded, unfairly burdened term. And I could go on about patriarchy and male privilege and how that feeds into many people’s reluctance to identify themselves as feminists. And now I don’t have to, because I can point to the moment where a Saudi girl tells her friend that she doesn’t want to take anything from him. She wants something of her own — something that will benefit not only her, but him. If she gets a bike, they can have more fun together. He won’t have to circle around her while he rides and she walks on their way to school. They can race, and sometimes she’ll win, and sometimes he will. She’s not asking to get a bike for free, or to have his taken away. She’s not lobbying to change the rules. (Technically, it’s not against Saudi law for Wadjda to buy and ride a bike. But there are a lot of things women worldwide can do legally that we still don’t for fear of cultural retribution or because of the risk of physical harm. It’s legal for me to run alone at night. I don’t.)

I’m pretty much done arguing about what feminism is and what it isn’t; it’s tiresome, particularly on Twitter (yay, “block” button!). But now, thanks to this, the best film I’ve seen all year, I have a simple explanation for those too thickheaded or stubborn to listen to complex theories: Men have bikes. We want bikes, too. Then we can ride off together.

Kristen Page-Kirby covers film for The Washington Post Express.
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Kristen Page-Kirby · September 20, 2013