Maybe it's because I was drunk. But as the lights went up and I was being ushered out of a late night boozer in Hammersmith, I made a point of asking the turbaned bouncer who was ushering me if he agreed with the ban on women drivers in Saudi Arabia. I don't know why I convinced myself it was a necessary question, as if he was the legal and moral representative of Saudi Arabian sharia, but, as I've mentioned, I was drunk. And at closing time, sometimes one craves the assertion that there is still a sense of justice in the world, even in arcane corners of civilisation (Hammersmith). His answer was swift, but disarming. "Well, if you see the way that some of the women in here behave..."
Now, what I should have done, if my faculties had been sharp, is ask him if he thought that the behaviour of the men in the establishment had, on average, been any better. Or, with hindsight, perhaps make the point that a woman's behaviour in a nightclub should have no bearing on her right to propel herself at speed with the aid of a car. But my faculties were dulled. I think I managed a raised eyebrow.
Maybe it's because I'm a rationalist. But, undeterred, I proceeded with the interrogation. 'Do you think that if women were allowed to drive more men would become homosexual?', I asked. I was referring to the recent announcements from Majlis al-Ifta' al-A'ala, the Saudi Arabian religious council, that if the law banning women from driving were overturned, this would 'provoke a surge in prostitution, pornography, homosexuality and divorce'.
Intent on getting home, and more pertinently removing the last of the riff raff (me), the bouncer just rolled his eyes and said, 'To be honest mate, I don't give a damn. Just get out of my pub.'
And he had a point, to a point. As I graciously obliged and left the bar, I ranted semi-coherently about the encounter to my friends outside and was unilaterally told, by a female, no less, that I was wasting my breath. That, yes, although my message was right, this was neither the time nor place to be fighting the cause of gender equality and against the indoctrination of men that their female equivalents are somehow inferior.
Maybe it's because I'm irritating. But I disagree. Ideas that support the infringement of human rights should be challenged wherever they pop up, like a lifelong game of moral Whac-a-Mole. Bigotry, as it was famously summarised by Gordon Brown, should be addressed and refuted whenever it is expressed, without fear of offending those that express it. Some might equally say they are offended by such violations of secular humanism. Only through these dialogues will we be able to convince bearers of such opinions that these views have no place in modern society, just as they arguably had no place in the societies where they were conceived. These views are incompatible with the ideals of fairness, equality and justice that we hold to be self-evident.
Maybe it's because I'm a man. But it feels especially important that I, along with my fellow males, initiate this debate whenever such an encounter occurs. Particularly if the views of our fellow females will not be considered equal to ours. It's high time we stood up for our sisters, wives and mothers and helped to speed up the eradication of covert oppressions that are taking place right under our noses. Perhaps I'm wrong. Perhaps this declaration needs to be heard from the women being oppressed more than from me. On this, I am willing to be swayed.
But we should never shy away from the discussion. Even if the tirade risks being mistaken for the ramblings of a drunken fool. Hic.