Women vs. Men in Egyptian Society (Based on Nawal El Saadawi’s Woman at Point Zero)

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In Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi one of the major themes is the role of women vs. men in society, namely in Egyptian society. The power, honor, and respectability women and men possess based on their gender is often examined. El Saadawi further inspects gender and exposes the differences and similarities between specific types of men and women. She compares and contrasts women who are prostitutes, wives, and slaves. She also correlates three types of men: pimps, husbands, and masters. Her thoughts about gender roles and power are illustrated through the main character, Firdaus. Firdaus is a strong, independent woman who goes from a poor child to a powerful prostitute to a prisoner. Throughout her journey, she meets many different kinds of people and is herself many different people. She experiences having no power and experiences having the power she thinks she has being shattered by others, especially men. Regardless of her appearance, occupation, or social statues, there is always a man with more power than her that steers her fate. Men in Cairo constantly assert their power over women, while some women allow this to be their fate and other women like Firdaus fight them for it. In Woman at Point Zero, through flashbacks and conflict Nawal el Saadawi demonstrates the constant power struggle that all types of women, prostitutes, slaves, and wives face against all men.

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Primarily, Nawal el Saadawi uses flashbacks to reveal the differences between women who are prostitutes, wives, and slaves. “Now I realize that the least deluded of all women was the prostitute that marriage was a system built on the cruelest suffering for women” (Saadawi 94) says Firdaus while telling her life story. At this point in the novel, Firdaus has lived as a wife, a working office woman, and a prostitute. Firdaus thinks married woman are delusional because they live a life of mental, physical, and emotional abuse in order to fulfill their “duty” of being a good wife. While being a wife, Firdaus received some of her worse abuse at the hand of her husband. A prostitute, however, can chose when to give her body up, is not bound to a man for life, and can support herself. Firdaus describes a prostitute as the following, “She is free to do what she wants, and free not to do it. She experiences the rare pleasure of having no ties with any one, …of being completely independent…, of enjoying freedom from any subjection to a man, to marriage, or to love” (Saadawi 95). The ties of oppression that a wife in a society such as Cairo’s is very similar to that of a slave; she does chores, is beaten, must obey her master, and does not have the freedom of choice. A prostitute, however, is free to live independently and as freely as she wants.

Additionally in Woman at Point Zero, men are repeatedly referred to as a whole or as one. Due to Firdaus’ many negative experiences with men, she often comes to the conclusion that all men are the same, regardless of their status. “All women are victims of deception. Men impose deception on women and punish them for being deceived, force them down to the lowest level and punish them for falling so low, bind them in marriage and then chastise them with menial service for life, or insults, or blows” (Saadawi 94) says Firdaus. This quotation is significant because all women, prostitutes, wives, or slaves are deceived by men, pimps, husbands, or masters. A pimp deceives a woman into believing he cares and is protecting her in order to make a profit off of her body. A husband deceives a wife into believing that without him she cannot survive. A master deceives a woman into believing the she is worthless and no one else will want her. All these men are similar in that they hold power and use deception over women in order to control them. Can you give examples of these found in the novel? The gender roles exposed in Woman at Point Zero are extremely important to Egyptian society. "Yet not for a single moment did I have any doubts about my own integrity and honour as a woman. I knew that my profession had been invented by men, and that men were in control of both our worlds, the one on earth, and the one in heaven" (Saadawi 99). Men represent the people who are in control, they lie, they are corrupt, and always come out on top because of their strong power over women. Throughout Firdaus life was controlled, exploited, and abused first by her father and Bayoumi who acted more as masters, then by her husband, Sheik Mahmoud, and finally by Marzouk who was her pimp. These men, all who did not have much power in society still were able to hold power over Firdaus which caused her to be defiant and eventually led to her becoming a murderer.

Furthermore, El Saadawi describes wives and slaves to represent the powerless in Cairo who are submissive and allow themselves to be controlled. While prostitutes represent those without power who are defiant and reject their lack of power. Firdaus claims “All women are prostitutes of one kind or another. Because I was intelligent I preferred to be a free prostitute, rather than an enslaved wife” (Saadawi 94) . Because of the social norms in Cairo, all women regardless of their status, are subject to giving her up for sex; however, a Firdaus who choses to be a prostitute has control over herself, can refuse men, and set her own price, while an enslaved wife takes her beating laying down. Can you find textual evidence of this? The prostitute is the person with strong will who refuses to be controlled; she is the person who not only demands power and to have a voice, but who will take power and be heard by any means necessary. "A woman’s life is always miserable. A prostitute, however, is a little better off. I was able to convince myself that I had chosen this life of my own free will” (Saadawi 97). Regardless of the little power that Firdaus holds as a prostitute, she is still able to recognize that her flaw of being a woman will always be a barrier and a root of pain and misery. Still Firdaus tried to convince herself that being free as a prostitute was better than being a voiceless wife or slave.

Overall in Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi, gender is revealed to be a main source or the cause of a lack of power in the Egyptian society. Being born a woman comes with a life of suffering, oppression, and abuse. Some women like Firdaus are defiant and reject the traditional roles of women by becoming prostitutes and not a silent enslaved wife. Prostitute, wife, or slave, women and Cairo are still often at the mercy of men. Men lie and deceive them, they use their power in order to control women and they usually come out on top. Women like Firdaus are fighters and demand the power and respect that they deserve. They will do whatever is necessary takes to get what they want even if fighting comes with the ultimate price, their lives. Some redundant claims that lack supporting evidence and analysis. You do not identify many literary strategies.

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