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The Hidden Face of Eve: Women in the Arab World

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This powerful account of brutality against women in the Muslim world remains as shocking today as when it was first published, more than a quarter of a century ago.It was the horrific female genital mutilation that she suffered aged only six, which first awakened Nawal el Saadawi's sense of the violence and injustice which permeated her society.Her experiences working as This powerful account of brutality against women in the Muslim world remains as shocking today as when it was first published, more than a quarter of a century ago. It was the horrific female genital mutilation that she suffered aged only six, which first awakened Nawal el Saadawi's sense of the violence and injustice which permeated her society. Her experiences working as a doctor in villages around Egypt, witnessing prostitution, honour killings and sexual abuse, inspired her to write in order to give voice to this suffering. She goes on explore the causes of the situation through a discussion of the historical role of Arab women in religion and literature.Saadawi argues that the veil, polygamy and legal inequality are incompatible with the just and peaceful Islam which she envisages. 


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This powerful account of brutality against women in the Muslim world remains as shocking today as when it was first published, more than a quarter of a century ago.It was the horrific female genital mutilation that she suffered aged only six, which first awakened Nawal el Saadawi's sense of the violence and injustice which permeated her society.Her experiences working as This powerful account of brutality against women in the Muslim world remains as shocking today as when it was first published, more than a quarter of a century ago. It was the horrific female genital mutilation that she suffered aged only six, which first awakened Nawal el Saadawi's sense of the violence and injustice which permeated her society. Her experiences working as a doctor in villages around Egypt, witnessing prostitution, honour killings and sexual abuse, inspired her to write in order to give voice to this suffering. She goes on explore the causes of the situation through a discussion of the historical role of Arab women in religion and literature.Saadawi argues that the veil, polygamy and legal inequality are incompatible with the just and peaceful Islam which she envisages. 

30 review for The Hidden Face of Eve: Women in the Arab World

  1. 5 out of 5

    C.

    I have to say that much of this came across as absolutely crazy. Interestingly, not so much because of the content, which was mostly entirely reasonable, but because of the way it was written, and perhaps translated. I have heard before that Arabic writing conventions are very different to English, and I definitely saw that here. El Saadawi seems to write in circles, repeating herself constantly, bringing up points only to abandon them immediately and perhaps come back to them later. Which, to I have to say that much of this came across as absolutely crazy. Interestingly, not so much because of the content, which was mostly entirely reasonable, but because of the way it was written, and perhaps translated. I have heard before that Arabic writing conventions are very different to English, and I definitely saw that here. El Saadawi seems to write in circles, repeating herself constantly, bringing up points only to abandon them immediately and perhaps come back to them later. Which, to my English brain, really made this book seem like the rantings of a madwoman, though I have read plenty that is more extreme.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Mohamed

    I'm genuinely at a loss for words to describe how amazing this book was. It was so dense and filled to the brim with information yet still managed to be an extremely easy read. I had to put the book down a few times as well because some of the passages were too emotionally intense for me. The book starts of with her account of when she was circumcised at the age of 6 and then goes on to speak about women's oppression in the Arab world in a general sense dividing it into discrete and relevant I'm genuinely at a loss for words to describe how amazing this book was. It was so dense and filled to the brim with information yet still managed to be an extremely easy read. I had to put the book down a few times as well because some of the passages were too emotionally intense for me. The book starts of with her account of when she was circumcised at the age of 6 and then goes on to speak about women's oppression in the Arab world in a general sense dividing it into discrete and relevant topics such as FGM, abortion, harassment, contradictions of the patriarchal system, etc. The second takes a survey of women in Egyptian and Arab history from the age of the pharaohs. The final part talks about modern issues facing Arab women, the small extent to which they have been pseudo-liberated, and several great thinkers and activists who fought for women's rights in Egypt. This book also represents a very important bridge between the thoughts of Marxism and psychoanalysis. Nawal manages to consolidate the two, not at all an easy task, and shows that both sexual repression and class oppression go hand in hand in the oppression of the poor and women. She masterfully examines the effects of colonial and imperialist pursuits of the west and how they impact sex and class oppression. A socialist society is not enough to liberate women; a progressive, militants, politically organised movement must also take charge and lead the women's liberation front. My only criticism would be that the book does convey a notion of gender that is a tad essentialist, but this is understandable given the nature of Arab sexism: a considerable part derives itself directly from the fact that a woman is identified by her genitals. I cannot stress enough how accessible the language of this book is, how easily it conveys complex ideas, and how addictive it is to read. I would've given it more than 5 stars had I been able to. A final note: if you are an Arab speaker who manages to get their hands on the Arabic version (alas I was not) I encourage you to read it in Arabic. I only realised the beauty and significance of some passages only after I had done a quick mental translation of them into Arabic.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Brooj Alammari

    thank you for being strong....

  4. 4 out of 5

    Diana

    Despite the orientalist book cover of a veiled woman and the fact that the original title was “The naked face of the Arab woman” and not the submissive “hidden face of eve” I would still recommend this dense and intense read. As a doctor and psychiatrist, Nawal el-saadawi has seen and heard many women pass through her clinic doors for issues related to gendered violence. Whether it’s circumcisions and general mutilations gone wrong, or bleeding out and infected from the cultural practice of a Despite the orientalist book cover of a veiled woman and the fact that the original title was “The naked face of the Arab woman” and not the submissive “hidden face of eve” I would still recommend this dense and intense read. As a doctor and psychiatrist, Nawal el-saadawi has seen and heard many women pass through her clinic doors for issues related to gendered violence. Whether it’s circumcisions and general mutilations gone wrong, or bleeding out and infected from the cultural practice of a woman puncturing through the hymen with a finger to draw blood, or men coming over to demand to know whether their new wives were really virgins, or witnessing the psychological trauma they went through -- she was in direct contact with the culture and women she’s writing about. A generational epidemic where girls are sexually assaulted by older male relatives, girls who are killed for the sake of honour even if they are innocent, women who resort to dangerous home abortions so they can continue working at their exploitative jobs where they are paid less than men for more hours.She also makes the huge but important effort to point out the structural factors, fearlessly implicating religious culture and tradition as well, that continues to be used to justify horrific, systematic abuse against women. If you want to know of a struggle beyond what we usually hear about, I highly recommend this read. Nawal el-saadawi holds no punches.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Lee

    You know those books that you read because you have to or were recommended to read and expected very little from but end up blowing away your perceptions and preconceived beliefs? this book is one of them. I think it is essential reading for anyone who remotely considers themselves a western feminist or whatever the colloquial term is now. I first read this book in college and it turned upside down my ideas of what feminism was about. i read it right after "A history of their Own" and i have to You know those books that you read because you have to or were recommended to read and expected very little from but end up blowing away your perceptions and preconceived beliefs? this book is one of them. I think it is essential reading for anyone who remotely considers themselves a western feminist or whatever the colloquial term is now. I first read this book in college and it turned upside down my ideas of what feminism was about. i read it right after "A history of their Own" and i have to say it was a dramatically different response that i had for each. The Hidden Face of Eve is an empassioned story-telling by a woman who has faced and survived sexism and disempowerment at a level most westerners have forgotten ever existed. But as quickly and completely as she affirms the cultural challenges for a woman growing up and living Arab does she attack, tear down, and dismantle the foundations of the arrogance we westerners hold close to judge the treatment of women in the Arab world. The Hidden Face of Eve turns the spotlight back on the western reader and causes us to reevaluate the reality and cultural norms we have accepted as truths to challenge our own idea of feminism, freedom, and self-determination. An enlightening book.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Shahd Fadlalmoula

    Nawal El Saadawi is a radical, and this book clearly illustrates that. But as a testimony of her brilliance (and our shortcoming), her radicalism in thought and action remains relevant, and necessary to our movement 40 years later! Actally, this book is possibly one of the most important books on the Eastern Woman written yet! El Saadawi is a mind to be reckoned with, and she does an excellent job at making this book intersectional and accessible. El Saadawi manages to draw a holistic picture Nawal El Saadawi is a radical, and this book clearly illustrates that. But as a testimony of her brilliance (and our shortcoming), her radicalism in thought and action remains relevant, and necessary to our movement 40 years later! Actally, this book is possibly one of the most important books on the Eastern Woman written yet! El Saadawi is a mind to be reckoned with, and she does an excellent job at making this book intersectional and accessible. El Saadawi manages to draw a holistic picture that takes into account history, literature, economics, politics, religion and culture, and shed light on how all these factors play into the male-female dynamics of the Middle East today. It is a very important milestone, and a necessary piece of literature for the modern Middle Eastern Woman. I wouldn't be mistaken to say some of El Saadawi's stylistic brilliance is washed of by translation, nevertheless the English translation is strong, and keeps the writer's powerful message in tact. My only reservation [rendering it a 4 instead of a 5] is that this book is pretty old [1977], and many things have changed for the Eastern woman since then. I also find that she tends to align herself with the more extreme/negative interpretations of both Islamic text and literature, which often threatens her credibility and her duty to impartiality as an intellectual/writer. There are some parts specifically in the second part of the book where she delves into Islamic Jurisprudence, and I find the fact that she focuses on orthodox views with no disclaimers or caution (warning that Islamic discourse is dynamic and varied) is quite problematic. I do not know enough about Judaism or Christianity to find fault with her analysis of them, but I still found myself questioning both presentations after seeing how biased her presentation of Islam was. This is not to say that she lies, but that she seems to focus on a particular wing of religion that aligns itself with her book's agenda (without disclaiming that there are other sides). However, it might so be that a lot of the opposing modern views (in tajdeed) were either scarce or inaccessible when she was writing this book; either ways I would thread these pages with caution. The same applies to her presentation of some literary texts, where it seems like she cherry picks in her favor without contextualizing the works she presents. There is also a lot of repetition that fleshes out the book more than is necessary. Nevertheless, I think this book is too important to skip!

  7. 5 out of 5

    mehri

    it's unbelievable,but a bitter truth!

  8. 5 out of 5

    ☾ h a d e e r ☽

    Nawal El Saadawi is a controversial Egyptian feminist who, according to my family, is best known for her opposition to the veil, her willingness to talk openly of sex and women's sexual pleasure, and her insistence on treating Islam - and all religions - objectively. I picked this book up mainly because I was curious to see just what it was about Nawal El Saadawi that prompted my relatively liberal Egyptian family members to call her crazy. As it turns out, nothing at all; my family is just Nawal El Saadawi is a controversial Egyptian feminist who, according to my family, is best known for her opposition to the veil, her willingness to talk openly of sex and women's sexual pleasure, and her insistence on treating Islam - and all religions - objectively. I picked this book up mainly because I was curious to see just what it was about Nawal El Saadawi that prompted my relatively liberal Egyptian family members to call her crazy. As it turns out, nothing at all; my family is just pretty conservative by American standards. Perspective is such an interesting thing. I've been immersing myself in hardcore feminist and socialist literature for years now, and so this book, to me, felt very rudimentary. It very much has the hallmarks of classic second-wave feminism in that it's very melodramatic (I lost count of how many times El Saadawi referred to women as slaves) and relies heavily on a gender binary. That said, when I remember that this book was originally published in Egypt in 1977, I can imagine what an absolute shock it must have been to the general population; the ideas presented here must have seemed so radical as to be absolutely insane. As it is, I didn't really learn anything from here that I didn't already know, except for the solidification of some Marxist-Feminist theories I'd only brushed over in college, such as El Saadawi's assertion that patriarchy is inexplicably linked to economics, lineages, and inheritance laws, and that women's liberation can only come with true socialism and the abolition of class. I was actually kind of surprised to see El Saadawi's heavy criticism of capitalist structures, since that's never really something I'd ever heard associated with her, but it figures that her detractors wouldn't talk about that. My only other criticism of the book is that it's rather repetitious; El Saadawi returns to the same ideas over and over again, to the point where I think the content of this book might have just as easily been summarized in one long, cohesive essay.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Asaria

    "Night was black like the conscience of fascist, like intentions of Polish Lord, like politics of English minister" Sergiusz Piasecki, "The writings of Red Army's officer" Comrades, Once again the reactionary element from imperialistic West... -------- Everything began on the day when I found an interview with Nawal El-Saadawi, a renowned Egyptian writer, who for years has been leading a battle for women's rights. Feminist, I concluded then, who always speaks her mind. That's how I took the first sip "Night was black like the conscience of fascist, like intentions of Polish Lord, like politics of English minister" Sergiusz Piasecki, "The writings of Red Army's officer" Comrades, Once again the reactionary element from imperialistic West... -------- Everything began on the day when I found an interview with Nawal El-Saadawi, a renowned Egyptian writer, who for years has been leading a battle for women's rights. Feminist, I concluded then, who always speaks her mind. That's how I took the first sip of her medicine. What a bitter its taste...! Still, I sometimes find it's better to challenge yourself than stay safe in your little cocoon. Possibly the most horrifying and the best chapter is about sexual harassment and female circumcision. Although sad to say, this confirms many facts I've known before. On the other hand, I enjoyed the stories about independent Arab women through ages. However, through and through El-Saadawi's arguments are reminding me of communistic propaganda. Just to give few examples of her vocabulary: imperialistic West, capitalistic West or private property as a sole reason for the rise of enslavement of women, the war of classes and so on. That doesn't mean she isn't right as there is a grain of truth in what she is writing. What I find problematic is simplifying and stereotyping. I also can't shackle off the feeling that Nawal held an opinion that women would have ruled the world if not for these pesky cultural restrictions that comes with male domination. All in all, it'd be better if it had been condensed into a shorter format.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Dima Maddy

    I don't normally read translated works; however, I am so happy that I picked this one. Such a realistic,true, and an adequate work. I could relate to so many parts simply because my society is approximately the same as the author's society. Women have been treated like they should be unseen because it is a sin and I hope that whoever made that a thing would rot in hell. nobody should be mistreated or ignored, both men and women are equal therefore they should be treated as such. Women have been I don't normally read translated works; however, I am so happy that I picked this one. Such a realistic,true, and an adequate work. I could relate to so many parts simply because my society is approximately the same as the author's society. Women have been treated like they should be unseen because it is a sin and I hope that whoever made that a thing would rot in hell. nobody should be mistreated or ignored, both men and women are equal therefore they should be treated as such. Women have been slaves for so long and I think that there must be an end to this. we were all born free, we all should be equal. I love this book because it was so touching and in so many parts it hurts then heals somehow it's how I felt whilst reading it.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Lana

    A brilliant discourse regarding women's standing in the arab world by one of the most intelligent and outspoken feminists of all time. El-Saadawi does not beat around the bush but writes in clear critical language and she criticises the patriarchal state and men in general and does this by filling us in on the historical time span but brings us up to date on the system which stand till to day but has hardly changed at all for the last 2000 years unless it be for the worse!! A great read which I A brilliant discourse regarding women's standing in the arab world by one of the most intelligent and outspoken feminists of all time. El-Saadawi does not beat around the bush but writes in clear critical language and she criticises the patriarchal state and men in general and does this by filling us in on the historical time span but brings us up to date on the system which stand till to day but has hardly changed at all for the last 2000 years unless it be for the worse!! A great read which I highly recommend to all who are interested in knowing why arab women are hidden and what forced them to wear the veil!!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Melanie

    Nawal El Saadawi is a doctor, a feminist, and the erstwhile director of public health in Egypt. Although she is a woman committed to Islam, many of her books are banned in Egypt because she is unabashed about her opposition to female genital mutilation. A bookstore owner in Cairo offered me this book from his back room, and I was grateful for the education.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Sabine

    This is book is extremely bold, and it contains some of the most shocking and disturbing stories I've ever read. Stories in this book shed a lot of light on the issue of discrimination against women in Egypt, and how defenseless they are against their society and its traditions.

  14. 5 out of 5

    bibliophoenix

    I really enjoyed it as Nawal El Saadawi rewinds back to the ancient times and uses many references. I feel that some chapters were longer than necessary for my attention span. But a brilliant book to read regardless.

  15. 5 out of 5

    rati

    A must read for every Muslim woman

  16. 5 out of 5

    Olivia

    Absolutely fascinating, although a few decades old it's as relevant today as ever.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Megan Evans

    Fantastic but hard going.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Rezig

    Powerful speech of a great women and thinker. I just loved reading this book.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Martita Cabán

    You count your blessings as a "western" woman while reading this book.

  20. 4 out of 5

    M Alq

    must read

  21. 4 out of 5

    Meriem Bouraoui

    You just can't read it and continue as a story. This is a book that makes you stop at every coarner to think, and think about every single word ! you will learn too much, just like i did !

  22. 4 out of 5

    Shawndra

    This woman is brilliant and totally badass. Applicable not only to the Arabic world from whence she came, but also to our western and many other parts of society throughout the world.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Gili Austin

    I have already read "Woman at Point Zero" and "God dies by the Nile" by the same author and both books have radically shaken me to the tragic lives of women in the Arab and or Muslin world. As these societies are profoundly patriarchal fundamentally male violence is directed radically towards girls and women in ways that are both cruel, dehumanising and psychologically damaging to most women. This particular book opens with a vivid and coldly shocking description of her own genital mutilation( I have already read "Woman at Point Zero" and "God dies by the Nile" by the same author and both books have radically shaken me to the tragic lives of women in the Arab and or Muslin world. As these societies are profoundly patriarchal fundamentally male violence is directed radically towards girls and women in ways that are both cruel, dehumanising and psychologically damaging to most women. This particular book opens with a vivid and coldly shocking description of her own genital mutilation( female circumcision)and that of her sister's at age six and four respectively. A traumatising experience reading about it let alone having to endure it... Nawal El Saadawi should become compulsory reading at Sixth Form levels if they are ever introduced to Women's studies.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Maruk

    I have read other works by Nawal El-Saadawi and was looking forward to a seemingly more dense read by her, however I'm rather disappointed as a whole. The book was repetitive which made it a tedious read and although it provides insight to many facets of the lives of Muslim women in the Arab world, there were many generalisations made with the portrayal of all Arab women as homogeneous. I would deem this to be a more biased account and suggest the reader to take this book with a pinch of salt.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Xio

    She was a doctor and had dealt with the problem of botched female circumcision and other issues of limitation and circumstance surrounding females she began to write about it. I read this a long long time ago and my memory kind of sucks but this made a huge impression on me. Especially after reading debeauvoir, Friedan and Greer.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Libgirl16

    Excellent book about the plight of women born and raised amid harsh unyielding social restrictions. The writer's narration of undergoing FGM at the age of six is perhaps the most painful part of the book. Really hard to understand why any society would want to completely dehumanize one half of their population, and what makes men decide that they must be the keepers of religion and social mores.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Zahrah Awaleh

    This is one of the first feminist works that I read as a young teenager that really spoke to me, and I listened good! I love this book for her passionate arguments and love for women's equal rights everywhere.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Rahma

    al-Sadaawi always impresses me with her honesty and unfailing energy, and this book is important for reveiling facts that require attention and action. Still, she is not the best of analysts and I couldn't really get over the many generalizations about both 'the West' and 'Islam'.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Diane

    Probably heartstopping in its time (1980) but now it's dated.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kimberlyn Belen

    this storyis awesome!

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