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The Hidden Face of Eve: Women in the Arab World [Paperback]

Nawal El-Saadawi


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Book Description

1 Dec 1984
This powerful account of the oppression of women in the Muslim world remains as shocking today as when it was first published, more than a quarter of a century ago. Nawal El Saadawi writes out of a powerful 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, including female circumcision, drove her 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 essence of Islam or any human faith.

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Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  8 reviews
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Egyptian Feminism Exists 17 Aug 2005
By Ang - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Nawal Al-Sa'Dawi's book The Hidden Face of Eve is absolutely essential to any global study of feminism. While it's true that the book was written in the 70s, it's important to note that many of the subjects Sa'Dawi examines are timeless - especially with regard to patriarchy - which in many of its manifestations - remains unchanged to this day and is not emblematic of any single nation, or of any single religious dogma.

Sa'Dawi opens by recounting the night she and her sister were subjected to circumcision. Her child's mind remembers the sound of rasping butcher knives, and the account is both heart wrenching, and yet somehow, removed. Sa'Dawi emphasizes that female circumcision, or FGM, is NOT Islamic - despite what many Egyptians mistakenly believe - and openly condemns the procedure in all its various extremes.

One cannot help but feel enormous respect for Sa'Dawi for her work as a doctor in poverty stricken villages, for her outspoken and vigilant opposition to inequity, - even within her own family - and for her graceful scholarly look at the history of the oppression of women. Indeed, Sa'Dawi's political activities led to her imprisonment under Sadat, but she continues to work for the cause of social justice even under the current political milieu which has, yet again, sought to silence her. Nawal Al-Sa'Dawi considered running for president, but withdrew her candidacy because she was repeatedly kept from legitimately campaigning. It's a shame that Mubarak is unwilling to have an open election. Could he be afraid of losing to a woman?

Initially I was drawn to Nawal Al-Sa'Dawi because the idea of Egyptian feminism, or Islamic feminism seemed wholly unexplored by western scholars. Her examination of the veil, or hijab, and its origins is put into both historical and Islamic context. Truly over the years the veil has come to mean many different things to different people. In a world where the word `terrorism' and `islam' have become almost synonymous it's more important than ever to understand the mentality of post-colonialism. Today, Arab youth are daily striving for an identity which is independent of western influence - enter Islamism, enter the veil, enter the extremism we see reported daily in the news.

An absolute MUST-READ for anyone seeking to understand patriarchy, post-colonialism, Islamic culture, and what motivates the current trend in Islamic countries toward extremism...
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Many short essays on female genital mutilation 11 Dec 2006
By Gagewyn - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The Hidden Face of Eve is a collection of short essays on female suppression in Egypt including female circumcision and the imporance of the hymen in society. Saadawi is a female doctor in that region. She begins by describing her own circumcision which was forced and traumatic and done when she was a very young girl. She goes on to describe many cruel things that she saw as a doctor including botched circumcisions and mutilations done to brides to get a good bleed on the wedding day and prove that the woman had a hymen. Each chapter is kind of a mini-essay on some topic off of these themes. The chapters feel as if they are meant to stand alone. There is a lot of overlap from one chapter to the next, and the book feels more like parts than a whole.

If the subject matter is what you are looking for then you will get a lot of it here. Much of what Saadawi is saying is anecdotal and based on what she saw or had heard of as a doctor rather than gathered statistical data. This makes sense in that this isn't the type of information that lends itself to surveys. Much of it deals with really private and painful experiences. It might be good to temper this with a more mathemathical approach so that this would bring the feeling for the people involved but there would be big picture objectivity from elsewhere.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Many short essays on female genital mutilation 11 Dec 2006
By Gagewyn - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The Hidden Face of Eve is a collection of short essays on female suppression in Egypt including female circumcision and the imporance of the hymen in society. Saadawi is a female doctor in that region. She begins by describing her own circumcision which was forced and traumatic and done when she was a very young girl. She goes on to describe many cruel things that she saw as a doctor including botched circumcisions and mutilations done to brides to get a good bleed on the wedding day and prove that the woman had a hymen. Each chapter is kind of a mini-essay on some topic off of these themes. The chapters feel as if they are meant to stand alone. There is a lot of overlap from one chapter to the next, and the book feels more like parts than a whole.

If the subject matter is what you are looking for then you will get a lot of it here. Much of what Saadawi is saying is anecdotal and based on what she saw or had heard of as a doctor rather than gathered statistical data. This makes sense in that this isn't the type of information that lends itself to surveys. Much of it deals with really private and painful experiences. It might be good to temper this with a more mathemathical approach. This has feeling for the people involved and is very visceral.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some parts still sadly relevant 16 Oct 2009
By GT Reviewer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Interesting look at Egyptian women's lives. It sounded like the 1950's or 60's but I was surprised to see the book was published in 1980. I hope things have improved since then but I think her observation that women will continue to be subjugated by men as long as they do not have any valid means of supporting themselves is fairly true. It was a bit of a surprise to read her theory linking the evils of Capitalism and women's issues- freeing women from unpaid labour in the house to being used as a cheap sources of Labour.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Feminist Islam 23 Sep 2009
By William Garrison Jr. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
It appears that most of Saadawi's books were written and published during the early 1980s, with nothing really new thereafter, besides reprints. She had her own website in 2009, in which she noted her displeasure with U.S. President Obama's speech to Muslims in Cairo, Egypt. In HIDDEN FACE OF EVE she reveals that she is anti-capitalistic, and supports some form of a socialist economy. In HIDDEN FACE OF EVE she clearly establishes herself as Egypt's most outspoken feminist. She opposes any genital mutilation of girls, and rails against fundamentalist Arab governments that curtail educational opportunities for women, and rebukes the Muslim cultural norms whereby men prevent women from having the same `human rights' that men have: easy divorce, owning property, voting, dating, etc. She was imprisoned for a month in 1981 for opposing Egyptian Pres. Sadat's recognizing the existence of the Jewish state of Israel. Rather than recognizing the stronger fighting spirit of Israeli soldiers during the 1967 Six Day War, or the lack of battle stamina of the Arab soldiers, Saasadawi offered a novel idea as to why the Israeli military routed the Palestinians from Palestine: because the Palestinian males were so afraid that the Israeli soldiers might abuse captured Palestinian women, instead of defending their homeland, "one of the factors that forced the Arabs to leave the West Bank of Jordan during the 1967 war was their desire to protect the `honour' of their womenfolk" (p. 2); flee, instead of fighting! Heroism, indeed! The author faults the psychologist Freud in misunderstanding women (p. 152). She writes a lot of detailed analysis in explaining why the male-dominated Muslim culture so oppresses women. She rebukes the Islamic idea that women are Satan's handmaidens. She refers very frequently to the Quran/Koran and the ahadith to either support her feminist beliefs or to rebuke Muslim male malevolence. Nonetheless, she still concludes that Islam is the solution rather than the problem for women -- if only the male imams would recognize Eve's sexual enlightenment that is hidden beneath her veil.
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