The slam heard ’round the world

Kim’s previous post surveyed the range of (negative) critical reaction to A Doll’s House when it premiered. In the years since, the play has proven a potent story for women who struggle with gendered constraints in public and private.

In the past couple of weeks, there have been a couple of news stories that have caught my eye about women struggling with and, like Nora, breaking these constraints.

In the same week that saw King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia announce that women would be allowed to vote and run as candidate in elections, a court in the country sentenced a woman to 10 lashes for defying the law, set in the 1990s, prohibiting women from driving  a statue that itself went officially undeclared until more recent challenges by women to the country’s strict social/religious conventions). King Abdullah quickly set aside the sentence but it is noteworthy that he also announced women’s new voting rights the same week when municipal elections were scheduled to take place. Saudi Arabia’s first “co-ed” elections won’t happen until 2015.

The announcement came that though there were no women awarded prizes in any other field of recognition (medicine, literature, chemistry, physics, economics) three women will share this year’s Nobel Peace Prize: Leymah Gbowee, a key organizer of a non-violent campaign to end Liberia’s 15-year bloody civil war and the founder of the Women Peace and Security Network Africa in Accra, Ghana (2007); Ellen Johnson Sirleaf the first woman elected president (Liberia, 2005; she is fighting hard for a second term) in modern Africa; and Tawakkol Karman, a journalist and pro-democracy campaigner in Yemen.

Karman is perhaps the least well-known of the three and, beside the fact that she’s the mother of three children, I found this detail about her struggle (from a profile in The New Yorker) of particular resonance thinking about Nora:

Early on in the protests, [Yemen President] Saleh tried to silence Karman the way people do in societies dominated by men: by appealing to a male member of her family. “Control your sister,” Saleh told Karman’s brother, Tariq. “Anybody who disobeys me will be killed.” Tariq broke with Saleh, and Karman kept going into the streets. She is still in mortal danger. But the canvas tent where Karman makes her home is surrounded by thousands of others now, and by tens of thousands of Yemenis who responded to her call.

And, though decidedly different in degrees of power, the article’s post-script couldn’t help but make me think about Torvald’s self-serving speech after Krogstad’s second letter frees Nora from her debt. “I’m saved!” he crows. Seems like President Saleh had a similar perspective on the accolade given to a woman he’s done so much to silence.

Postscript: A few hours after the Nobel announcement, President Saleh was quick with the congratulations—to himself. “This,” the president’s office said of Karman’s Nobel Prize, “is attributed to the man of peace and unity: Ali Abdullah Saleh, the president of Yemen.”