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This originally appeared as a larger post at the blog Pedestrian. It has been edited for length, but you can read the entire version at the original website.
“You might have heard of Laleh Sedigh: Iran’s first female race car driver – in both circuit and rally driving. She has yet to prove herself in international competitions, but she has competed against her male colleagues in Iran and has won on many occasions.
She is also a PHD student in Industrial Engineering although I have yet to verify that bit of info from an official news agency.
Personally, I think her website pushes it too far: “A female activist and a believer of equal rights for women, Laleh Sedigh has broken many barriers on her way to becoming an icon for female rights in Iran and the Middle East.”
Icon? Activist? Middle East? O.K.
Although her courage for entering such a male dominated atmosphere is certainly laudable, and it has certainly broken barriers, it has done nothing special for the plight of Iranian woman. Anyone informed on Iranian politics would know that a thousand women chanting, protesting, pleading or even begging is not going to convince anybody to do anything for them.
And so why authorities let her do what she does has nothing specific to do with her actions or her activism. They wanted to let her do it and if they didn’t, she could do nothing about it.
Just go over to the department of Physical Education at any university and let the students tell you about their daily dilemmas, problems and setbacks. Athletics for women in Iran is extremely deprived and limited to a point of catastrophe.
But Ms. Sedigh never mentions that. She does however quite often mention how “great” a place her country is for women’s athletics.
Of course she won’t say anything against her male superiors. She wants to keep her hobby. And let’s not forget: it’s a win-win situation. She gets to compete in her race and they get to toot their own horn: Look everybody! Women have all the rights they need! What else could they want? We’re even allowing them to compete in car races with men.
In any given situation where a group of people are being treated unjustly, one single person attending to a completely uncommon, unheard of task (uncommon in comparison to the commodities and plights that the group is striving for) is not going to grant them their rights. We are dealing with a society that sees a woman as half a man – take that quandary and spread it throughout the entirety of the cultural, social and philosophical ladder.
If you ask me, ordinary women who work for women’s athletics leave a much more profound impact – something that Ms. Sedigh has never spoken of or worked for. Sure, she can be a race car driver, a bungee jumper or a paraglider and also aspire to achieve a better status for fellow females in her society. But that’s something she has never done. In fact, her constant praise works the complete opposite.
Just for being a female race car driver does not make her an activist; courageous yes, but activist no. Most Iranian women will never have the opportunity, cash, circumstance or even desire to race cars.
With persistent demand, however, they can obtain rights to play soccer or attend Yoga or be given proper physical education classes at school. While phys-ed is taken quite seriously in boy’s schools, it is hardly ever given attention in schools dedicated to females.
I think that should be the first plight of any woman wanting to achieve something for women’s athletics in Iran.
So whatever she does, please, let’s leave her actions for what they are – and they certainly aren’t activism.”
Editor’s thoughts: At Melinda’s request, I’m writing my own take on this. Though I understand the value of Pedestrian’s analysis, I see Ms. Sedigh’s value as a role model. For argument’s sake: Is it not possible for her to be a role model? Perhaps there are other young girls who want to race, and seeing Ms. Sedigh do it makes them think that they can, too. While their future of racing hinges on beaurocracy, isn’t it important to plant the idea into their minds that they are capable of doing such a thing ?