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.
El Saadawi, Nawal. (1980). The Hidden Face Of Eve; Women in the Arab World.
New York; St Martin Press, Inc.
Political Issues Essays