Arab Society


     Evil, sinful, lover of Satan and weak are just a few adjectives to describe
women through history. Nevertheless, women were not always portrayed as so.

Women once held a strong and dominated figure within the society. In the ancient

Egyptian society, women were equal to men in status and prestige. Within the

XVIIIth Dynasty, women such as Nephertiti and Hatchipsoot reign the country.

"In that period, Pharaonic women laboured in textile and carpet manufactory,
traded in markets and shared in hunting side by side with her husband (El

Saadawi. 1980, P. 108-1)." Furthermore, women played sports, drank, held
positions of government, worked, etc. However, as time past and countries began
to flourish, there was a shift in the socio-economic status in women. Women
began reducing in standing. What happened? Nawal El Saadawi, author of The

Hidden Face of Eve, strongly believes that circumcision is the cause of
women’s oppression and feeling of powerlessness. However, many within the
society believe that conditioned oppression is supported due to religion,
landowership and the patriarchal system and they are utilized as in instrument
of fear, oppression and exploitation. Circumcision is still practiced in many

Arab countries because a woman’s virginity and hymen is extremely important.

"Behind circumcision lies the belief that, by removing parts of girls’
external genital organs, sexual desire is minimized (El Saadawi. 1980, p.

33)." This procedure is not performed by a doctor but someone similar to a
midwife. It is believe that deep incisions must be done in order to remove all
the remains of the genital. Consequently, this may result in infection and even
death. Furthermore, "sexual frigidity is one of the after-effects which is
accentuated by other social and psychological factors that influence the
personality and mental make-up of females in Arab societies (El Saadawi. 1980,
p. 33)." Due to Circumcision, girls are subjected to a series of pain
humiliation because of the notion of how virginity is valued. Many girls
believed that the genital was a root of all evil. El Saadawi had many patients,
bleeding from infection but happy to get rid of the source of their desire. For
example: "I did not know anything about the operation at the time, except that
it was very simple, and that it was done to all girls for purposes of
cleanliness and purity and the preservation of a good reputation. It was said
that a girl who did not undergo this operation was liable to be talked about by
people, her behavior would become bad, and she would starting running after men,
with the result that no one would agree to marry her when the time for marriage
came. My grandmother told me that the operation had only consisted in the
removal of a very small piece of flesh from between my thighs, and that the
continued existence of this small piece of flesh in its place would have made me
unclean and impure, and would have caused the man whom I would marry to be
repelled by me." "Did you believe what was said to you?" "Of course I
did. I was happy the day I recovered from the effects of the operation and felt
as though I was rid of something which had to be removed and so had become clean
and pure (El Saadawi. 1980, p. 35)." El Saadawi knew from experience what many
of these girls are going through because she went through the same experience.

She could never forget the painful experience that made her lose her"childhood once and for all, and that deprived me during my youth and for many
years of married life from enjoying the fullness of me sexuality and the
completeness of life that can only come from all round psychological equilibrium
(El Saadawi. 1980, p. 9)." Nawal El Saadawi believes that religion is used as
an instrument in order to justify why the girls in the Arab societies are forced
to go through circumcision. Once religion was formulated as a monotheistic one,
the three main religions of the world developed Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

The world begins with ‘Adam and Eve’ and this story is shared within all
three religions. The story of Adam and Eve is the first sign that women are
portrayed as less than a man. The Bible takes away a factor that was associated
with women, birth. However, "Eve was born of Adam’s rib (El Saadawi. 1980,

P. 102)." In the Judaism religion, arose the notion that "women was sinful
and that sex was sin (El Saadawi. 1980, p. 95). According to El Saadawi (1980)
this story "shows clearly the injustice suffered by women, and the attempt to
mask her situation by religious sanctification aimed at smothering all doubt,
all discussion and all resistance (p. 102)." In other words, within this male
dominated society, women are being circumcised not because it is being enforced
by men, but the Bible dictates it to be so. That is what they like everyone to
believe, however, who wrote the Bible? Men! As El Saadawi points out (1980), God
exalts man in His Bible as one of high intelligence and on if thought, where as
a woman is just a body without a head (p. 103). Fir example, in Christianity

"God had created man in his own image, and God was spirit. Woman on the hand
was the body, and the body was sex (El Saadawi. 1980, p. 95)" In other words,
men is the depiction of God, where as women are just a deviation of men. Women
are born without an essential factor, a head and therefore, she is not complete
because a head is the center of thought, which distinguishes humans from animal.

It is based on this fact that it is believed that women should be circumcised.

Since a woman is of the flesh, she must be rid of anything that will give her
sexual pleasure. With the Sudan culture, girls are forced to undergo an
amputation of her whole external organs. This includes cutting off her"clitoris, the two outer lips and the two minor inner lips. The wound is
repaired. The outer opening of the vagina is the only portion left intact, not
however without ensured that, during the process of repairing, some narrowing of
the opening is carried out with a few extra stitches (El Saadawi. 1980, p.

9)." El Saadawi believes (1980) that religion is used as a shackle upon the
mind of patriarchal society in order to oppress, dictate, dominate and
domesticate women (p. 98). Religion has led people to believe that women are the
roots of all evil. They are filled with lustful behaviors and they are filled
with evil and Satan. In a way, women are seen as disciples of Satan. It is a
ma’s job to control them. The male dominated society reinforces the idea that
women must be pure, chaste and virginal in order to be worthy of a man. These
puritanical values are utilized "to build on oppression and are still part of
the arsenal of heavy weapons which maintains a continuous barrage in the war
against revolutionary struggles of women, colored races and the exploited
classes living under the semi-feudal or imperialism and neo-colonialism (El

Saadawi. 1980, p. 98)." The monotheistic religion, in enunciating the
principles relating to the role and position of women in life, as we have seen,
drew inspiration and guidance from the value of the patriarchal and class
societies prevalent at the time. Nawal El Saadawi focuses on the patriarchal
system as a major condition for the oppression of women. The shift between man
and woman began when men realized the importance of landowership. Man recognized
the association between land and having wealth and power. Landownership places
them in a higher social, economic and political arena. In acquiring land, man
must have someone to cultivate it since it demeans their status within the
society to do. The oppression of a slave and women became apparent. "Wives
were a source of wealth since they shouldered many heavy tasks in birth field
and home without expecting any payment in return apart from their keep. Their
lot was that of unpaid labourers no better off than slaves (El Saadawi. 1980, p.

111)." As much as we want to fault religion for such dehumanizing acts, this
is not the case. Yes, religion does devalue women, but it does not state that
women should not have any pleasure nor should she be circumcised. These are
organs and flash that God has created in women. In a sense, "religion is most
often used as an instrument in the hands of economic and political forces, as an
institution utilized by those who rule to keep down those who are ruled (El

Saadawi. 1980, p. 4)." Women were seen no better than cattle as they brought
and sold as such. Fathers sold their daughters to the highest bidder. In a way,
women don’t really care who they are sold off too, sexually they feel nothing.

Once these females were sold into marriage, the husband had full control over
them. How were women to object to such oppression within a male dominated
society? It is quite evident that they could not fight back. The idea that they
are the weak, useless, sinful and most incomplete gender has been a constant
reminder to them that they live in a dictatorship of men. From the time that
they are young girls, the fact that sex is sinful is drummed into them. "The
child therefore is trained to suppress her own desires to empty herself of
authentic, original wants and wishes linked to her own self, and to fill the
vacuum that results with the desires of others (El Saadawi. 1980, p. 13)."

Furthermore, before she reaches the stage of becoming a woman, she is succumbed
with the fact that she will go through the process of circumcision. "A girl
who has lost her personality, her capacity to think independently, and to use
her own mind, will do what others have told her and will become a toy in their
hands and a victim of their decisions. Religion, therefore, is interwoven with
the patriarchal system and landownership. It provided laws and regulation solely
upon women that was reinforced by man. Women were obligated to be chaste,
virginal, obedient and faithful to their husband. "The development of private
property which reinforces the ‘ passions of acquisitiveness and ownership’
and the development of the patriarchal society, the husband began to demand
complete fidelity of his wife (El Saadawi. 1980, p. 117)." This is a long age
double standard throughout history. Males coerce these rules upon women, yet
they do not have to abide by the same rules. They are set free of these puritan
standards because they are the authoritative figure within society and they are"enslave the sexual code of chastity and sexual rectitude for the females (El

Saadawi. 1980, p. 111)." Those women who are believed to be guilty of breaking
these codes could be subjected to numerous consequences, such as death and
torture. The immediate consequence of circumcision causes the oppression of
women that get a sense of powerlessness. They have no power to governor their
own lives. They must live under the direct rule the male dominated society. They
have no sense of who they are and what they can accomplish because they are
brainwashed by the religious and patriarchal figures. They see themselves as the
weaker sex filled with great evil, and evil that will always be imbedded within
her. She is also seen as incomplete and lacking without her male counterpart.

This leaves a long and grave affected on the morale, mental, physical, emotional
as well as the spiritually factors of a woman. She is forever seen as an object,
a thing no better than an animal. In turn, these ideas are handed down
throughout generations, to every female born. It is a never-ending cycle that
dehumanizes women into believing that God made them sinful and incomplete.

Furthermore, it is made to believe that with the divinity of God, for males who
are made in His image, to have total control over them, for their well being. In
many ways, women (mothers and wives) are exploited. They are to carry numerous
vital functions, such as to clean, wash, cook, give birth (preferable to male
children), nurse, teach and satisfy their husbands’ sexually appetites for
which she is not paid. "She is therefore the lowest paid labourer in existence
and therefore man pays her the lowest wage known for any category of human being
of burden (El Saadawi. 1980, p. 143)." The long-term effect of this oppression
is a sense of powerlessness. Women go on to believe that there is no difference
between themselves and cattle. They have neither say in the political, social,
economic nor the religious spectrum of society. Women are not given the choice
to feel anything sexually. Many of them are fighting for emancipation, which is
a right that women established in the United States in the early 1900s.

Furthermore, women are trying to break away from tradition; however, they are
finding it extremely difficult. How can they succeed, when their society
strongly dominated by religion, tradition, and customs and managed by a male
dictatorial environment? Men still have the belief that such as break from
tradition would only lead to women losing their chastity and honor. According to

El Saadawi (1980), as a result of this confined view of women, women only
construed 9% of the labor force in 1976 (p. 185). Overall, "the oppression of
women in any society is in its turn an expression of an economic structure built
on landownership, systems of inheritance and parenthood, and the patriarchal
family as an in built social unit (El Saadawi. 1980, p. 4)." Times are
changing and we are in a new millennium. Many would assume that equality within
the sexes and races would exist already. However, that is not the case. There is
such a great amount of tradition and customs that is quite difficult to break
away from. We need more people I m the world that are willing to take a stand
for what they believe in such as Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Ghandi, Mother

Teresa, etc.

Bibliography

El Saadawi, Nawal. (1980). The Hidden Face Of Eve; Women in the Arab World.

New York; St Martin Press, Inc