By Dr Nawal El Saadawi
I’m not sure if you were there, but I met her in Edinburgh once. She came to give a speech about women in the Arab world, and even though she could barely hear or stand (because she’s quite old, and she was ill around the time) she owned it.
This was the first book I read this year. It’s about a woman on death row that Dr Saadawi met when she visited a prison, and her life story. Spoiler: it’s not a very happy story.
To preface: I do sometimes think (or maybe all the time, deep down) that no man in this would just never rape a woman. If the circumstances were right, if you pushed them hard enough, if they wanted it enough, if they needed it in that moment, they’d do it. Essentially, the protagonist of this book has had the misfortune of meeting a lot of these men in these moments. Of course, this is the sad reality of millions of women around the world surrounded by men like this in moments like these – otherwise ordinary men committing despicable acts because ‘she’s just a woman’ or ‘I deserve it’ – and that makes the book quite discomforting. A short excerpt of the kind of awful truth she lives in, and thus forces us to immerse ourselves in:
I felt sorry for the other girls who were guileless enough to offer their bodies and their physical efforts every night in return for a meal, or a good yearly report, or just to ensure that they would not be treated unfairly, or discriminated against, or transferred. Every time one of the directors made me a proposition, I would say to him,
“It’s not that I value my honour and my reputation more than the other girls, but my price is much higher than theirs.”
I came to realise that a female employee is more afraid of losing her job than a prostitute is of losing her life. An employee is scared of losing her job and becoming a prostitute because she does not understand that the prostitute’s life is in fact better than hers.
It’s written in the first person, and the beauty of that is that although we, as readers, know things that she’s going through (we have words to describe them), she doesn’t, and we get to see her discovering and figuring things out through her eyes. But, things aren’t clear to her, which means they aren’t clear to us either. Which is frustrating sometimes.
At any rate, it’s quite short, and it’s worth a read. But a painful one. (So get yourself a cup of tea and call me after.)