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Nissan Hired Surprising Instructors to Support Saudi Arabia’s First Wave of Female Drivers

Saudi Arabia, January 27, 2018

On Sept. 26, Saudi Arabia officially lifted its ban on female drivers. Set to take effect in June, it’s a historic ruling that underscores the crown prince’s commitment to reinvigorate the country’s economy with long-awaited liberal reforms.

It will change the lives not only of women but of families, communities and economies—with minimal costs and plenty of gains. But it also raises all kinds of stereotypes among Saudi men, not least crappy old jokes about woman drivers.

Such feedback has a cost. In Nissan’s latest campaign by TBWARAAD, themed #SheDrives, a group of women share their views about being able to drive in public. “All of us were waiting for this kind of news,” says Bayan Ashor. “All my life women have not been allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia.”

But after recalling reactions from male family members—change-resistant dads, reluctant husbands—the women do something familiar: They talk about how it would probably be better to wait a while before getting a license.

Nissan decided to provide the kind of feel-good support it thought Saudi women could use. The brand offers them a driving lesson … with surprise instructors.

There’s a difference between what people say they believe and what they’ll actually support when it comes to a loved one. Sometimes this nuance isn’t obvious, but it’s nicely manifested here.

The universal quality of these intimate engagements also makes the work relatable; it’s good to feel supported, but learning to drive is a hilariously fraught process between loved ones.

When a guy goes, “Hit the brakes, hit the brakes!”, our heads ring with the memory of our fathers shouting the same thing, jaws tight, their feet reflexively twitching toward the pedal they only wish was there.

In another instance, a woman shouts, “I can do it!”

“Just drive,” her father grumbles.

“Say it. Come on, say ‘My daughter is a good driver,'” she cajoles.

“OK. Just go.”

“No. Say, ‘My daughter is a master!'”

These stressful but essentially safe experiences help put abstract opinions into stark perspective. Everyone turns out all right, with the men proclaiming support for women’s driver’s licenses.

It’s a gesture that seems small, but isn’t: Even in more “liberal” countries, women are often taught to tacitly (if not overtly) seek permission from men, a lesson that takes conscious effort to unlearn. This effect is worse in places where women actually do have to ask permission to make even basic personal decisions, making pronounced support from loved ones all the more critical.

Consider Brooke Bond Red Label Tea’s MENA ad from last year: To get a father to support his daughter’s divorce, the nervous daughter recounts her perspective, unseen, from behind a curtain. The revelation of her identity is stressful, but the coup succeeds, never mind that it included a little strategic bamboozling.

And yet #SheDrives leaves us heartened for Saudi women counting down to June. As one man says, “One day this whole thing is going to be part of history.”