“This journey to a place unknown to everybody on this earth fills me with pride. All my life I have been searching for something that would fill me with pride, make me feel superior to everyone else including kings, princes and rulers” begins the intriguing story of Firdaus by Nawal El Saadawi. Woman at Point Zero tales the tale of a courageous woman with a powerful voice and story, illustrating that a women’s body is a cherished resource directly correlated with power. This novel showcases the injustices women face both in the bedroom and in Egyptian society at the time, concluding that all men are criminals and even women are accessories to these crimes. Saadawi presents a fictional character of herself as a psychiatrist who learns the story of Firdaus the day before she is executed and indulges on the true suffering role of women in Egyptian society by embarking on Firdaus’s journey. Thus, I believe this to be a must read for all my followers.
In Arabic “Firdaus” means Paradise and the character presented in this novel finds her paradise through her death sentence, going to her death as a free and fearless women. The journey of Firdaus life and struggle through prostitution is a powerful account of how a women’s body is depicted as a treasured resource in society. It can be concluded from this novel that a problem within Egyptian society at the time is this incredible resource women have and the demand for power over it. Saadawi showcases this through Firdaus many sexual encounters.
Firdaus character delves into the world of sexual abuse beginning right within her family and that at this point in the novel is where the readers begin to see the diminishment of power and the emergence of suppression. The introduction of her uncle’s sexual interest in her indicated her lack of control over herself and the beginning of a long journey filled with hunger for equality. Firdaus describes this as “A part of me, of my being, was gone and would never return.” Prostitution, readers will learn, will fill the void where she once had control of herself.
The hunger for power, equality, love and affection is prominent throughout the story of Firdaus. Firdaus comes from a working class rural family where poverty is a large and this hunger is real. Growing up with a family background like this allows the author Saadawi and her fictional psychiatrist character to really understand children who grow up in families like this in Egypt at the time can relate to the emotional dilemma’s Firdaus has. The author Saadawi utilizes her fictional character and the fictional character of Firdaus to explain how many women in Egypt at the time can have a similar fate as Firdaus.
The introduction of her uncle in the book and his sexual interest in her is important to the consistent notion Firdaus has that all men are criminals, in the bedroom and in society. Firdaus’s uncle clearly takes advantage of her as a young child but grows to be a definite example of how men value power and the role of women is merely as a wife or sex object. From the sexual molestation, Firdaus learns to believe that men own a women’s body. When he marries his wife, it is for his job and his need to climb up the social ladder. He becomes a civil servant and gains the power that he wants. His marriage was merely a social benefit and Firdaus was merely a sexual benefit, a disappointing realization only feeding into the belief that sex and power are directly correlated.
Surprisingly enough, although he molested her, her uncle provided Firdaus an opportunity to have a proper education and a better chance at life. She was allowed the pride to have an education. Perhaps Saadawi introduced the character of Miss Iqbal at a fitting time, a break from the injustices Firdaus was experiencing. Miss Iqbal gives the readers a moment where Firdaus feels happiness again. The feeling of pleasure returning at the introduction of a woman character makes it an interesting moment in Firdausi’s journey. At a young age, Firdaus was taken from her the feeling of pleasure with a circumcision so the introduction of this character allows the reader to see her pleased in another light. Saadawi makes a remarkable point to the readers that injustices were not coming from just men but woman as well. Firdaus has survived her circumcision, death of her mom and abuse from her uncle’s wife. Firdaus’s mom let the circumcision happen. Her uncle’s wife abused her physically. Miss Iqbal is a time in the book where Firdaus is provided the happiness and warmth and love from a woman she had not experienced. This same happiness has not been mentioned since the childhood happiness from when she was with Mahmood, “I could feel it somewhere, like a part of my being which had been born with me when I was born, but had not grown with me when I had grown4.” The women in her life allowed for men to be the power hungry and cruel men that they are therefore are accessories to the crime men commit.
Woman at Point Zero provides Saadawi a platform where she uses the tale of Firdausi’s prostitution to make a larger political statement on real world issues. It is very clear that Egyptian woman, such as Firdaus, are faced with oppression from power hungry men by controlling their sexuality. However what Saadawi does a extraordinary job of is showcasing woman as equal contributors to their own oppression. After Firdaus flees from the husband she was introduced to by her oppressing uncles abusing wife, she meets Sharifa who pimps Firdaus. Sharifa encompasses sex and power in her job by making power out of the weakness men have for a woman’s body. This twisted possession of power brings Firdaus to her first real taste of power through the money she makes from prostitution. The role of hunger in her life has reversed from her childhood. Originally, she craved love and affection but through prostitution she now feeds off of men’s hunger for her sexually and the power to reject them. This perverted fairytale abruptly ends when pimp Marzouk threatens her with a knife but Firdaus ends up stabbing him to death – somehow satisfying the need to control her own fate.
What makes this a book to marvel about is that Saadawi pinpoints women’s oppression as not to just blame the men in Egyptian culture, but the woman who accept and feed into the oppression. The lack of security and protection for woman in Egyptian society at the time is more than just in the prostitution world but also found in everyday life. Firdaus was snatched the opportunity to be pleased in life, sexually through surgery, but also socially thanks to the cultural ideology that oppression of women is a norm. At the end of the day, Firdaus’s story is one of a woman wronged from the start of her life. Firdaus did not fear her execution because she dies as a free woman with true power over the system executing her. Nawal El Saadawi introduced to the readers a vibrant and powerful story and I had to share this read to all my travel enthusiast and bloggers.