The realms of the Egyptian society are constantly being uncovered as Firdaus’ complications throughout growing up are considerably informing readers about the imprisonment women experience in other repressing countries. Throughout Woman at Point Zero, El Saadawi allows Firdaus’ role in the novel to reveal the captivity held against women in the Egyption society. This is rather significant as it emphasizes the double standard women are faced with when approaching marriage, occupations, and the role men believe women should inhabit. Nawal El Saadawi is an Egyptian feminist who based the majority of her novels on gender inequality within the Muslim and Egyptian culture. She strongly believed women should be viewed equal to men and deserve fundamentally the same independence.
Firdaus’ struggle to attain some sort of dignity as she grows up during the 1970s in Egypt plays a crucial role in emphasizing the contradictory lifestyles women are forced to endure. They are expected to get married and are constantly constrained in the house to complete their only reason for life, cooking, cleaning, and looking over the husband and children. Firdaus did not have an admirable relationship with her father as she explained how he was consistently focused on one thing which was “how to exchange his virgin daughter for a dowry when there was still time..” (page 12). Firdaus’s family was financially unsuccesful and relied on a man’s wealth for survival and satisfaction. They were incapable of nearly everything. Firdaus marriage to a man would then support the family and better their assets.
Woman did not have a say in who they wanted to marry and were expected to cooperate with them despite their displeasure. Her father’s action towards his wife gave Firdaus sense of familiarity on how men would treat their spouse. He would “beat his wife and make her bite the dust each night.” (page 12) This abusive relationship is considered to be normal and expected in the Egyptian society.
It is revealed to be okay for a man to beat his wife which reflect the patriarchal double standards. Women should not be focused on attaining success for themselves yet focused on her duty to care for her husband. These social expectations of remaining obedient to their “superior”, expresses the captivity that Firdaus’ mother was forced upon. Unfortunately, Firdaus was also sexually abused at an extremely young age by her uncle and other relatives. She described the disgusting behavior of her uncle and how “…his hand would continue to press against her thigh with a grasping, almost brutal insistence.
” (page 15) The cacophonous diction stress the careless yet dominant role men hold over woman. The diction used by El Saadawi emphasizes the power males believe they own as the uncle is “grasping” a young girls thigh with ‘brutal insistence.” Firdaus cannot back away or she will most likely be relentlessly punished. Firdaus faes reality whereas old related men take advantage of children in a way prescribed by the circumstance of imposed male authority. Her uncle’s behavior reveals not only physical abuse but sexual acts woman receive in this less developed society. This reflects the physical detention by force or confinement they must undergo.
Women face the sexual harassment even before marriage which is common in this culture. In addition to harassment, women go through a repetitive and strict lifestyle. Firdaus reveals her consistent schedule, “once back i would sweep and clean the house, wash my uncle’s’ clothes, make his bed, and tidy his books” (page 23). The repetition of the word his reveals the honor and loyalty women demonstrate toward men. In this culture men can do whatever they please while their woman is taking care of them and are essentially treated as slaves. The women are imprisoned in a household, living in a male-dominant society. Firdaus has been shaped by her immediate social structure.
Double standards are constantly being revealed throughout the novel. Firdaus is told that “dancing was a sin, and that kissing a man, too, was a sin…” (page 25) after she witnessed her uncle committing these “sins”. This conveys how men are approved to act against these immoral actions yet if a woman is seen performing such a corrupt wrongdoing they are despised and rejected by the entire community. The law itself seems to reinforce the double standard women front.
She “had found out that the law punishes women like her, but turns a blind eye to what men do.” (page 101) These gender roles seemed to be learned instead of innate and the government is strict on restricting women to even gain the minimal respect as men recieve. Conversations with other individuals Firdaus has strengthens the argument that captivity held against women is completely typical and ordinary in a male dominated society.
Firdaus is soon forced to marry a man far older than she is. Women in this society are often stuck in these loveless and abusive relationships and it allowed her sixty year old husband to do what he pleased while Firdaus was forced to comply. It was natural that women would obey their men despite the circumstance. Firdaus is taught by her uncle that “…all husbands beat their wives.” (page 46) before his wife adds that the religion permits such punishment and since he was a sheikh, “it was precisely men well versed their religion who beat their wives” (Page 46).
Firdaus was not allowed to “..complain about her husband” (page 55).
Her only duty should be perfect obedience. As a man stripped away a woman’s self worth until there was nothing left of their personality. In exchange for submissiveness, women get abused just for the sole satisfaction men recieve from doing this.
Men believed they were exclusive and superior which led to the extreme hatred Firdaus held over every one of them. She conveys this bitterness explaining how the men who gave her advice on living a successful and enjoyable life were the ones who held her captive and which she despised the most. Many treated Firdaus with strong disrespect for the reason that she is a woman and “They saw themselves in some kind of chivalrous role- a role they had failed to play under the circumstances. They wanted to feel noble and elevated by reminding her that she was low.” (Page 114). The men believe that “there isn’t a woman on earth who can protect herself” (Page )which reinforces the idea that men have power and inflic this through rape, sexual oppression and abuse. They force women down to the lowest level and punish them for falling so low. The reason they marry is to insult them and chastise them for not fulfilling their needs.
Women face judgement, that society imposes and these standards are not applied to men. The Egyptian society expects way more out of women than men in relationships when it comes to most of the housework. The men rely on women to complete this successfully and if they fail they can be punished sexually or abusively. Egyptian traditions can sometimes take a toll on women who suffer from the lack of freedom and feel obligated to rebel against these strict rules. Firdaus decided to become a prostitute since she felt she earned more respect from men this way.
Although at the end she is imprisoned, she seems to be more free than ever from the restraint of her pass. El Saadawi uses Firdaus to convey the wrong doings her society is allowing. Her imprisonment further demonstrated the oppression women face. Girls at a young age are taught that it’s okay for men to control and command your actions and you cannot rebel against your husband but remain submissive. Woman at Point Zero powerfully expresses the captivity and double standard women withstand throughout the Egyptian culture. They are expected to tolerate this and Firdaus is a prime example of a woman who grew with this knowledge but managed to free herself from this controlling and male dominant community.