Hello everyone! This week, I returned the first Reading Response. I just wanted to say that everyone did a great job, and I was happy to read how everyone really considered the texts and discussions in class to create their own arguments and analysis. However, something I noted is that there needed to be more references to the text (i.e. more quotes), as this helps not only to support your argument but also shows that you are engaging in the text itself. It is easy to say de Beauvoir or Woolf said such and such, but it is so much stronger to have a quote and then break it down to prove that de Beauvoir or Woolf said this in that and how her words support your own argument.
Also, Shawn did return the Personal Bibliographical Archive assignment, and if you haven’t picked it up, she does have it. I also still have some of your reading responses.
There are a few of you who have not turned in assignments, and I encourage you to hand them in because a late assignment is better than no assignment at all (and they do start to accumulate as the semester goes forward).
In terms of grades, grades are based on the rubric that was handed out in class. This is how points are calculated, so it is a great reference point. If you need clarification on the rubric (or even a current grade) please do not hesitate to discuss it with me or Shawn, as proactivity in one’s education is very important and this includes discussing grades and assignments.
If anyone feels as if they need assistance or that they do not understand the assignments or requirements of the assignment, again, please do not hesitate to contact us. We understand that writing is a difficult task, and that reading theory can be as well, so please talk to us if you need some guidance or assistance. Remember, we are here to help you learn and understand not to keep you from doing so. By the end of this class, we hope everyone would gain something NOT lose something.
Now onto lecture.
Week 9: This week, our discussion focused exclusively on Nawal El Saadawi and the selected excerpts from her book The Hidden Face of Eve (1977). El Saadawi is a leading Egyptian feminist, sociologist, physician, psychiatrist, author and writer. The main focus of her work is Arab women, but her work has spread throughout the world. El Saadawi is one of the most widely translated contemporary Egyptian writers, with her work found in various languages; however, she writes exclusively in Arabic.
El Saadawi was born in 1931, and is still well and alive today. She was born in a small village outside of Cairo called Kafr Tahla. She was raised in a large middle class household with eight brothers and sisters. Her father insisted that all of his children be educated, and neither female nor male children were denied access to school. El Saadawi saw her mother as a “potential revolutionary whose ambition was buried in her marriage.” Although her family was rather progressive in various ways, El Saadawi was still circumcised at the age of six, as well as her other sisters. El Saadawi describes her mother as “a potential revolutionary whose ambition was buried in her marriage.” Her mother died before any of El Saawadi’s widely known successes, when she was 25, and her father shortly thereafter. Both her parents were unable to witness the incredible accomplishments that she would go on to make.
In 1955, El Saadawi graduated from the University of Cairo with a degree in psychiatry. She was only around 24 years old. She then practiced psychiatry and eventually would become the Director of Public Health in Egypt. During this time, El Saadawi would meet her current and only husband, Sherif Hetata, also a doctor, and also a feminist and activist, while working in the Ministry of Health. Hetata shared El Saadawi’s leftist views, and he had been imprisoned for 13 years for his participation in a left-wing opposition party.
El Saadawi began to write about 30 years ago, completing 27 books, all of which have been focused on women. From the start, her writings were considered dangerous and were banned in Egypt. She was able to publish her works in Lebanon, with Lebanon having a history of publishing radical literature that would not be published elsewhere.
In 1972, she published her first book Women and Sex that dealt with the highly taboo subject of women and sexuality, as well as politics and religion. This work was very controversial. It led to the dismissal of her position in the Ministry of Health, as well as her position as the Chief Editor of a government health journal. She also lost her position as Assistant General Secretary in the Medical Association in Egypt.
From 1973 to 1976, El Saadawi begins to research women and neurosis in the Ain Shams University’s Faculty of Medicine. Her results were published in 1976 in a work entitled Women and Neurosis in Egypt. She included 20 in-depth case studies of women in prisons and hospitals.
Her work in the prisons and hospital inspired her novel Woman at Point Zero, which was based on a female death row inmate convicted of murdering her husband that she met while conducting her research.
In 1977, she published her most famous work, The Hidden Face of Eve, which covers a host of topics involving Arab women, such as female genital mutilation, prostitution, sexuality, marriage and divorce and Islamic fundamentalism.
From 1979 to 1980, El Saadawi also served as the United Nations Advisor for the Women’s Program in Africa (ECA) and the Middle East (ECWA). Although she would serve in such a highly respectable position, even after having been dismissed from all other official positions, in 1980, because of her long fight for women’s access to liberty and freedom, she would become imprisoned under the Sadat regime. El Saadawi was guilty of alleged “crimes against the state.”
“I was arrested because I believed Sadat. He said there is democracy and we have a multi-party system and you can criticize. So I started criticizing his policy and I landed in jail.”
Prison would not slow down El Saadawi. She would be imprisoned from 1980 to 1982, but, even while in jail, she continued her fight against oppression. She formed the Arab Women’s Solidarity Association (AWSA) in 1981. The AWSA was the first legal, independent feminist organization in Egypt. It would grow to have a presence internationally. The AWSA was banned in 1991 after criticizing US involvement in the Gulf War, which El Saadawi felt should have been solved without US intervention.
While in jail, El Saadawi was denied pen and paper, but this did not prevent her from writing. She continued writing with a “stubby black eyebrow pencil” and “a small roll of old and tattered toilet paper.”
After her release in 1982, she goes on to publish Memoirs from the Women’s Prison (1983). In her memoirs, she continues her criticism and attack on the oppressive, corrupted Egyptian government.
When I came out of prison there were two routes I could have taken. I could have become one of those slaves to the ruling institution, thereby acquiring security, prosperity, the state prize, and the title of “great writer”; I could have seen my picture in the newspapers and on television. Or I could continue on the difficult path, the one that had led me to prison… Danger has been a part of my life ever since I picked up a pen and wrote. Nothing is more perilous than truth in a world that lies. Nothing is more perilous than knowledge in a world that has considered knowledge a sin since Adam and Eve… There is no power in the world that can strip my writings from me.
El Saadawi sees writing as a fundamental tool to fight oppression, and until this day, she continues to write, teach, and advocate against oppression. But it doesn’t come without its dangers. Even after her release from prison, El Saadawi was continually threatened by those who opposed her work and saw her as a threat, such as Islamic fundamentalists, and armed guards were stationed outside her home for several years. It was not until she left the country as a visiting professor at North American universities that she disbanded her guards.
El Saadawi was the writer in residence at Duke University’s Asian and African Languages Department from 1993 to 1996 as well as a professor at Washington State University in Seattle. El Saadawi, despite her age, is still very active in her battle against oppression. She was a participant in the Egyptian Revolution in 2011 and was present at Tahrir Square during demonstrations. She currently is working on her autobiography.
El Saadawi is a very provocative figure, and her ideas continue to influence and generate support and criticism. She does not believe in organized religions, believing them to be personal journeys, and she sees all religious books as political books. El Saadawi does not believe in government, as she believes that people can govern themselves. She believes that ordinary people do not encroach on others, but that people with power do. El Saadawi was said that she “discovered that democracy is an illusion” in the West, and even more of an illusion to those in the non-industrialized world. She advocates for freedom and for people to be “independent and to govern themselves”
“Democracy is not just freedom to criticize the government or head of state, or to hold parliamentary elections. True democracy obtains only when the people – women, men, young people, children – have the ability to change the system of industrial capitalism that has oppressed them since the earliest days of slavery: a system based on class division, patriarchy, and military might, a hierarchical system that subjugates people merely because they are born poor, or female, or dark-skinned.”
― Nawal El Saadawi, Memoirs From The Women’s Prison