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Firdaus on love and heart-break in El Saadawi’s “Woman At Point Zero”

Below, is one of my all-time favourite quotations. Not particularly because I absolutely love reading African literature, or that I am a huge fan of feminist texts, or even that I am incredibly inspired by Nawal El Saadawi, but mostly because it speaks a very rare and raw kind of truth. It is never the view of heart-break we wish to be exposed to, especially in a society where we are taught that it is okay to be treated like crap and to get your heart broken regularly, for all you need is an ice-cream tub, a soppy romcom and a new love-interest and all will soon be well. This quotation is just a taste of why I have such a deep love for the Egyptian writer and activist.

“I had never experienced suffering such as this, never felt a deeper pain. When I was selling my body to men the pain had been much less. It was imaginary rather than real. As a prostitute I was not myself, my feelings did not arise from within me. They were not really mine. Nothing could really hurt me and make me suffer then the way I was suffering now. Never had I felt so humiliated as I felt this time. Perhaps as a prostitute I had known so deep a humiliation that nothing really counted. When the street becomes your life, you no longer expect anything, hope for anything. But I expected something from love. With love I began to imagine that I had become a human being. When I was a prostitute I never gave anything for nothing, but always took something in return. But in love I gave my body and my soul, my mind and all the effort I could muster, freely. I never asked for anything, gave everything I had, abandoned myself totally, dropped all my weapons, lowered all my defences, and bared my flesh. But when I was a prostitute I protected myself, fought back at every moment, was never off guard. To protect my deeper, inner self from men, I offered them only an outer shell. I kept my heart and soul, and let my body play its role. I learnt to resist by being passive, to keep myself whole by offering nothing, to live by withdrawing to a world of my own. In other words, I was telling the man he could have my body, he could have a dead body, but he would never be able to make me react, or tremble, or feel either pleasure or pain. I made no effort, expended no energy, gave no affection, provided no thought. I was therefore never tired or exhausted. But in love I gave all: my capabilities, my efforts, my feelings, my deepest emotions. Like a saint, I gave everything I had without ever counting the cost. I wanted nothing, nothing at all, except perhaps one thing. To be saved through love from it all. To find myself again, to recover the self I had lost. To become a human being who was not looked upon with scorn, or despised, but respected, and cherished and made to feel whole.

I was not destined to achieve what I had hoped for. For no matter how hard I tried, or what sacrifices I made like some dreamer sold to a cause, I still remained a poor insignificant employee. My virtue, like the virtue of all those who are poor, could never be considered a quality, or an asset, but rather looked upon as a kind of stupidity, or simple-mindedness, to be despised even more than depravity or vice.

The time had come for me to shed the last grain of virtue, the last drop of sanctity in my blood. Now I was aware of the reality, of the truth. Now I knew what I wanted. Now there was no room for illusions. A successful prostitute was better than a misled saint. All women are victims of deception. Men impose deception on women and punish them for being deceived, force them down to the lowest level and punish them for falling so low, bind them in marriage and then chastise them with menial service for life, or insults, or blows.

Now I realized that the least deluded of all women was the prostitute. That marriage was the system built in the most cruel suffering for women.”

If you have never read “Woman At Point Zero”, do yourself a great favour and read it! Perhaps I might even post a personal review of it soon 🙂


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