Do you ever read a dystopian novel and think "oh my gosh all these harsh things would never happen in our world!". That's how I felt reading this book.
Never in my life did I have a serious contemplation of how simple my life as a woman is in the Western World (especially the United States) in comparison to a woman born in Saudi Arabia. For example, today I woke up and left for work in my own car without a man, and clocked into my own job where I work beside men and women, and just last night I mingled with my boyfriend's family for dinner. Simple customs like this are so different and more complicated in Saudi Arabia. If I were living there I would never be able to leave the house without my male guardian to drive me, I could not work like I do among men, and it would also be out of custom to mingle so casually with men in general let alone have a sit down dinner with them.
We read books today like The Handmaid's Tale and think "we can never let this happen!". I struggle to say, it has already happened/is happening. Maybe not in the style of women being literal baby-making slaves on a mass scale, but the true reality of women being second-class citizens with no rights and zero ways to move forward in their life without men. Manal al-Sharif made a great point in the book- women's rights in Saudi Arabia are like running a race against men but your legs and arms are chopped off. In whatever way you need to do things, you must rely on a man or men. Everything from driving, signing a lease for an apartment, enrolling in university, EVERYTHING is set up to make women easy targets to fail. The customs and religious traditions are so engraved into the backbone of this nation that when she was pulled over for driving, the police could not give her a solid reason for her arrest- just that she broke "tradition" (there is actually no law saying women cannot drive!).
I commend Manal al-Sharif for her immense bravery and guts to stick up to a system that is so stacked against women. She left the book with a lighter note of hope for the future of women's rights in Saudi Arabia including a tweet by the current Prince saying the country needs to move forward with allowing women to drive. I highly recommend her Ted Talk.