Woman at Point Zero
Frames, Metafiction, and Ambiguity in Woman at Point Zero
Woman at Point Zero tells the life story of a woman named Firdaus who is being held in the Quantir Prison for the murder of a pimp. The book was written by Nawal El Saadawi: an Egyptian feminist writer who has published a multitude of books about Islam and women. Woman at Point Zero can most accurately be classified as a creative nonfiction piece. Nawal El Saadawi’s use of frames, metafiction, and ambiguity provides readers with awareness of the realities that people in Egyptian society face.
El Saadawi uses chapters one and three as frames to establish herself as a character in her piece. In these chapters, she uses a first person narrative contrasting to the second chapter, which is in the first person narrative of Firdaus. By doing so, El Saadawi is able to make clear to the reader that her work is a creative non-fiction based on real people and places in Egypt. To start and end the book, parallelism is used in the first and third chapters when she states that “the woman sitting on the ground in front of me was a real woman” (8). Referring to Firdaus as a “real woman” emphasizes how she harbors true strength and bravery in the world, as she has faced hardships unlike any others. El Saadawi also highlights how Firdaus’ voice “continued to echo” in her ears. The use of the word “echo” was symbolism to relay that Firdaus’ story now reverberates in the reader, vibrating throughout the world as people read and discuss it. El Saadawi also uses repetition at the end of the third chapter as she is about to leave the prison when she says “I felt ashamed of myself, of my life, of my fears, and my lies” (114). The repetition of “my” provides emphasis to the reader that the impact of Firadaus’ story on El Saadawi affected many parts of herself. This was done in order to put her own experiences into perspective in comparison to the daily hardships that Firdaus faced, so that the reader will be outraged by the idea that the story depicts real events. Therefore, by using the first and third chapters as frames, El Saadawi aims to show the reader how this piece may be fictionalised in part, but the content is based on real people, places, and events.
El Saadawi uses metafiction in an unconventional way. Instead of using it to draw attention to fiction as representation, therefore making the story unreal, she uses metafiction to reinforce the truth and basis of her story in reality. The book begins with El Saadawi trying to get an interview with Firdaus saying “I met her in the Qanatir Prison a few years ago” (1). This was done to establish that the novel is a representation of real life, as the material for her second chapter was based on events that an Egyptian woman went through. In the second chapter, Firdaus narrates in the first person “I tried to shut the door in his face, but he took out a knife, threatened me with it, and forced his way in” (101). The pimp is characterised as a man who will use the force of utter violence to get what he wants, demonstrating the social hierarchy of male dominance in that society. Using metafiction to establish that the basis of the story stems from truth makes readers aware that it was common for real Egyptian women experience males abusing their power on them. In the book, metafiction is used by El Saadawi to underscore the nonfictional elements, providing the reader with emphasis that this book is not merely a representation, but is something that was real and true to the people of Egyptian society during that time.
Ambiguity in Woman at Point Zero blurs the boundaries between character’s identities, allowing for a broader representation of the Egyptian society. Firdaus talks about a moment in her childhood, exclaiming “but when I used to look into her eyes I could feel she was not my mother” (17). Eye imagery is used throughout the novel as a motif to symbolise love. Prior to her change in attitude towards her mother, Firdaus used her mother’s eyes as a representation of the nurturing transcended to her. However, the shift in her feelings for her mother and the way it was written creates ambiguity and an avenue for two possibilities. The first is that her mother was so thoroughly broken by her father, she is no longer recognizable to her own children. The second is her mother had passed away and her father had found her a stepmother. This stylistic choice was used to be able to represent that these were both likely to occur in an rural Egyptian family of peasants. Firdaus also talks about her father amidst other men saying “sometimes I could not distinguish which one of them was my father” (12). Ambiguous diction was used as her father was blurred with the other men, portraying that her life would not have been much different if any of the other farmers were her father. Furthermore, when Firdaus describes her experience as she undergoes female genital mutilation, what was used on her was “a small knife or maybe a razor blade” and “they cut off a piece of flesh from between [her] thighs” (12). El Saadawi describes the procedure in a brief and dismissive manner to hint at how female genital mutilation was commonly practiced on girls in Egyptian society. The confusion on the household tool used also suggests that the procedure is not performed by a medical professional, ultimately violating the human rights of countless Egyptian girls.
In conclusion, through her use of frames, metafiction, and ambiguity, Nawal El Saadawi conforms to the genre of a creative nonfiction piece in her book Woman at Point Zero. This was for the purpose of readers to gain awareness of the realities that people Egyptian society, especially women in particular, are faced with in their everyday lives.
Woman at Point Zero: Oppression of Women
In many patriarchal societies, women find it difficult to unchain themselves from the control and power of men. Women are oppressed in order to serve men and prolong the existence of patriarchal command. This makes it difficult for women to be able to find release from a society that endorses this lifestyle. In the 1950s, Egyptian culture believed that a woman was expected to bear children, especially sons. They are viewed to be homemakers and care for their husbands. It was a practice to pull females from school as they reached puberty to minimize interactions with males as men preferred to marry a woman who was viewed as pure from other men. Nawal El Saadawi illustrated this culture in her book Woman at Point Zero. The story follows Firdaus, a woman that struggled throughout her life with consistent oppression from many men including family members and complete strangers. The oppression of Firdaus is demonstrated through situations of child marriage, physical abuse, and rape that is accepted by the Muslim culture of that time.
Female oppression begins early in life where family members choose a husband for their daughter at a young age. Women in a Muslim society do not choose their own husbands and are arranged one by their family. “This practice enables the girl’s family to get rid of her because she is regarded as an unnecessary liability” (Fwangyil). Firdaus was forced to marry Sheikh Mahmoud who was much older than her because her uncle’s wife no longer found it important to have her in their household. The dowry also benefits the family of the bride so they usually try to find a husband that can give them a large sum. Firdaus did not love Sheikh Mahmoud nor did she find him attractive. This is shown by her description of her husband, “When the hole dried up, I let him kiss me… but on days that it was not dry I would turn my lips and face away to avoid the odour of dead dogs which emanated from it” (El Saadawi 57). Even though she tries leaving, she finds that there may not be a safe place for her outside of Sheikh Mahmoud’s home, so she returns. She later suffers from many instances of physical abuse.
In Egyptian Islamic culture, it was taught that physical abuse was normal as girls watched their mothers get beaten. Then as they matured and had husbands themselves, they were also beaten. As Firdaus grew up, she routinely watched her mother get beaten but mostly when her male siblings had passed. Later when she was older, she states, “But my uncle told me that all husbands beat their wives, and my uncle’s wife added that her husband often beat her. I said my uncle was a respected Sheikh, well versed in the teachings of religion, and he, therefore could not possibly be in the habit of beating his wife. She replied that it was precisely men well versed in their religion that beat their wives” (El Saadawi 59). This indicates that the Islamic religion in Egypt allows the action of beating their wives. It was often normalized by Muslims, as in the Quran it states that when women are disloyal or show ill-conduct, men can strike them as it is allowed by Allah. Women were taught to be submissive and dutiful without question. Firdaus withstands physical abuse from her husband but also other male figures throughout her life such as Bayoumi, Marzouk, and many other men that she crossed throughout her time as a prostitute and a female official in a company. Physical abuse was not the only type of abuse that she withstood but also rape.
Due to the Islamic view that women are servants of men, many men took their power and abused it to rape women. Firdaus first experienced sexual manipulation at a young age with her uncle after her parents passed. Right after Firdaus received her primary school certificate, he touched her and kissed her sensually. Once living with Sheikh Mahmoud, she is continually raped as a wife is meant to serve her husband. Later, after she leaves her husband after an awful beating, she met Bayoumi who took her in and seemed like he truly wanted to help her. But, when Firdaus wanted to use her education for work, Bayoumi locked her into his apartment where he then repeatedly raped her. He even allowed his friend to come in to use Firdaus. Gloria Ada Fwangyil, a faculty of arts member of the University of Jos, Nigeria, agrees that “Sheikh Mahmoud and Bayoumi molest Firdaus because culture demands that she submits to male authority (Fwangyil). Firdaus later employs herself as a prostitute as she finds this is the only way she can use what she has to take advantage of men to overcome the oppression.
The oppression of Firdaus is due to the beliefs and values of the Muslim culture. This culture makes it difficult for women to escape this oppression as it is engrained in their religious beliefs that are found in the Quran. Therefore, Firdaus uses her agency at the end of her story to continue with her death sentence so she can finally be free of the constant abuse from men that she fought her entire life to accomplish. Even though Woman at Point Zero was illustrated in an earlier Egypt patriarchal society, there are many instances in other cultures and religions that mistreat women. It has been brought forward to educate readers on the detrimental effects that the oppression of women brings to other societies.
- Fwangyil, GA. “Cradle to Grave: an Analysis of Female Oppression in Nawal El Saadawi’s Woman at Point Zero.” Afrrev Laligens: An International Journal of Language, Literature and Gender Studies, https://www.ajol.info/index.php/laligens/article/view/106500.
- Saadawi, Nawal El. Woman at Point Zero. Zed Books, 2015.
Woman at Point Zero: Being a Woman in Egyptian Society
Woman at Point Zero is a fascinating and revealing novel about the life of women in Islamic society. It is written by Nawal El Saadawi, an Egyptian writer who continues to be a champion for women’s rights in the Arab world. The novel gives a first-hand account of the life of Firdaus, a female prisoner, accused of murder. At the time, Firdaus is lodged in Qanatir jail and is facing execution.
In the novel the author explores the plight of Firdaus, and other women living in a patriarchal society, facing constant abuse and misogynist behavior. It draws attention to issues such as the subjugation of women, female circumcision, and the use of religion to shield domestic abuse as well as to view the male population as the more noble and the dominant sex, while the female population is marginalised. The novel is very critical and disapproving of the society and helps the reader to clearly understand the situations, environment and encounters which Firdaus lived through.
As Firdaus’s story unwinds, we read about the horrifying sexism that Firdaus battles every day. Firdaus was shaped into the woman she was by her experiences and influencers she had as a child. Despite the challenges, Firdaus adapts and learns to thrive in the shifting environment she inhabits, by first questioning, then rejecting, and ultimately challenging the supposed place of women in Egyptian society.
There were two pivotal moments in Firdaus’s life where she questioned the role of a woman in the Egyptian society. As a teenager and after witnessing her mothers abuse at the hands of her father, Firdaus questions how, on one hand her father can be a devout follower of Islam, and then on the other hand become a violent abuser of his wife. (Nawal El Saadawi, pg 11)
As Firdaus grows, she experiences abnormal conduct from her uncle, who abuses her sexually. While she does not like her uncles conduct, she does not stop him, because it doesn’t does not know how. As a researcher, living in Cairo, removed from the country life of Firdaus’ family, her uncle is a sign of freedom for Firdaus. She is convinced that the abuse from her uncle and her fathers’ oppressive behaviour towards her mother is because they think that they own women’s’ bodies.
After her parent’s death, Firdaus’s uncle asks her to live with him in Cairo. She lives in her uncle’s house and attends school. She feels good about going to school and compares her life as better than when she lived with her parents. She initially respects her uncle because he saved her from being an orphan. However, shortly thereafter, Firdaus’ uncle gets married to a woman who dislikes Firdaus, so they send her to a boarding school. A couple years after Firdaus graduates with a high school degree. Firdaus’ new aunt suggests that Firdaus should get married and settle down. Firdaus’ uncle decides to marry Firdaus to his wife’s old and disfigured uncle, Sheikh Mahmoud, for a very large sum of money, claiming “[if] he marries Firdaus she will have a good life with him, and he can find in her an obedient wife, who will serve him and relieve his loneliness.” (Nawal El Saadawi, pg 37) This illustrates how patriarchal Egyptian society uses religion to enforce that women are only valuable if they are obedient to men. Sheikh is almost immediately abusive to Firdaus mentally, physically, and sexually, and he even starves her. Firdaus, pushed to her limit, flees, escaping to her uncle for guidance. The following excerpt from the novels explains the situation:
“On one occasion he hit me all over with his shoe. My face and body became swollen and bruised. So, I left the house and went to my uncle… [My uncle’s wife told me] that it was precisely men well versed in their religion who beat their wives. The precepts of religion permitted such punishment. A virtuous woman was not supposed to complain about her husband. Her duty was perfect obedience.” (Nawal El Saadawi, pg 37)
After this traumatic experience, whatever respect Firdaus held for her uncle evaporates, and she starts to believe the entire concept of marriage is a trap, as she sees it to be full of trickery.
This is the second time that Firdaus questions what it means to be a woman in Egyptian society, and the teachings of her religion. If religion exemplifies humanity and mercy, why is the practice of it used to control women? Through the same thought process, Firdaus quickly comes to learn that her religion is just another tool used to oppress women and destroy their basic human rights.
With that realization Firdaus responds by rejecting the traditional, submissive role that the Egyptian society and Islam force upon women. She becomes a prostitute, initially for survival, but eventually she views it as an active, empowering choice providing her with self-respect. Respect is not one of Firdaus’ goals until Di’aa, a prostitute, points out that even if she is not under the control of any man, Firdaus will not have any respect in society until she makes money herself. Money brings status; if Firdaus has no money, the world doesn’t have reason to pay attention. She is just an invisible person occupying the role of daughter or wife. Shortly after she finally gathers some wealth and power, the world starts to notice. Firdaus realizes that men take notice because they are power-hungry and can’t accept that a woman has power over them. They try to minimize Firdaus’ power by judging her work as a prostitute as shameful, even though men were just as involved in the exchange of sex and money. For the men in Firdaus’ story, respectable women are those who are obedient and are willing to live under the protection of a powerful man.
When Firdaus gets told that the work she is in is not respectable, and is shameful, she is hurt and decides to leave the prostitute life behind and move on to becoming a respectable woman by getting an office job. She realises that she is gaining respect by submitting to the power of a man again.
Firdaus’ relationship with Ibrahim is a direct result of her journey of finding respect. Firdaus is satisfied that she’s finally living by the rules. For the first time in Firdaus life, she feels as though she’s met a man she can trust. Firdaus’ sacrifices made to become a respectable woman seem to be paying off, until Firdaus uncovers that Ibrahim was just using her for sex. She once again has fallen into the trap of a societal norm.
She realizes that respectability is a trap it is designed to keep women at the mercy of men. She instantly quits her office job and takes up prostitution again. By doing so, Firdaus rejects her journey of becoming a respectable woman in favor of a life of power and self-determination. Firdaus finally understands that respectability in Egyptian society, means being under a man’s rule, and so she rejects respectability as a goal.
Firdaus challenges the question of what it means to be a woman by becoming an equal to man. Near the end of her story, Firdaus meets the most vicious male character, Marzouk, a manipulative pimp who takes most of Firdaus’ earnings by force. Firdaus’ apparent freedom is once again restricted by a man. Rapidly, she realizes “[she] [is] not nearly as free as [she] had imagined [herself] to be”. Even a prostitute who is as free as she was doesn’t hold much power, especially one that is oppressed by a pimp. Firdaus’ illusion of choosing what she wants is crushed. Her role under Marzouk is the same as of a wife in a marriage or a pawn in a corrupt government, all because she is a woman. As a woman, she will never attain the freedom she seeks.
With this awareness and frustration at her helpless situation she stabs and kills Marzouk. She feels free and living again. While wandering the streets she meets an Arab prince and tells him of Marzouk’s murder. The prince has her arrested and she is condemned to death for murder. She realizes that the men want to kill her so that they can live.
At a young age, she was forced to accept that her status in society shouldn’t and will never surpass or equal a man’s. Firdaus takes us, the audience through her dramatic and horrifying childhood and later to her traumatic life. From a young age being abused and witnessing the abuse of her mother by her father, to the twisted molestation by her uncle, betrayal by lovers, and on to hostile exploitation by pimps, and lastly the lack of freedom in her society for women. At the end of the novel Firdaus explains what it means to be a woman to Nawal El Saadawi. By first questioning, then rejecting, and ultimately challenging the place of women in Egyptian society.
Woman at Point Zero and Reconsidering the Problem of High Murder Rates in the USA
On average, around 17,000 people are murdered annually solely in the United States. When you hear of someone committing homicide, you automatically have a prejudgment of them. How can you not? The amount of hatred it must’ve taken to end someone else’s life must be immense is most likely what you think at first. Many people would agree with this statement, but Nawal El Saadawi’sWoman at Point Zero takes readers into the life of a woman who has been imprisoned for murder. She killed a man; by law should she be sentenced to death? Does this automatically make her an awful human being? Nawal El Saadawin shows us differently. Although she does not absolve the crime that has been committed, she does prove that sometimes there’s a difference between something you simply do and something you simply have to do. Her book sheds light on the line that is drawn between society and the individual. Society shouldn’t always automatically be right.
Woman at Point Zero was taken account by Nawal El Saadawi in Egypt while she was doing some work in the prison of Cairo during the 1970’s. As a sociologist and psychologist, she was taken aback when she heard about Firdaus. What was it about this woman who was convicted for killing a man, yet neither the doctor nor warder thought she was capable of committing such a crime? After the narrator finally meets Firdaus, readers are taken into Firdaus’ life; everything from her struggles and downfalls, to the reason she wants to have her life ended.
This book brings about many points; one of the first being the issue of the individual vs. society. In the novel, Firdaus struggles to live as a woman in Egypt. Everything that has happened in her life: her witnessing of the abusive relationship her mother and father had, the sexual abuse committed against her by her uncle, being married away and abused herself; the endless cycle forces her to run away and live on her own, where she eventually becomes a prostitute. To Firdaus, men are in authority, and there’s nothing she feels she can do about it. Looking at a situation like this, it makes you think: this can’t be the individual person’s fault. Why didn’t anyone do something about it? In a society where men were looked up at and abusing your wife was a crime that was brushed under the carpet, what did society expect Firdaus to do when the violent man that claimed rights as her pimp started abusing her? There is no condoning Firdaus’ crime; but in a world with a society like that, just how much should the individual be accountable for if there so little they can do?
In the 1970’s, Egypt had just been seized, and the king had been overthrown. Because of this, political parties replaced women’s organizations, and women independent movements were banned. Firdaus was living in a world where men were in power. Though, what did it mean to have that? Throughout the book, she finds that someone else is always above her, especially a man. It isn’t until she moves in with Sharifa that she learns what that means. When she starts working for herself, Firdaus realizes what it means to act for herself, and to make her own decisions.
Throughout this novel, the question on whether or not society gives people a chance to have free or not will is raised.Firdaus has never had free will. Before she ran away, she didn’t have a say in whether she wanted to be abused or not; she didn’t ask for her clitoris to be removed; to be abused, or see her mother be abused. When she runs away; this is the first time she gets to make her own decisions. Even when she is asked what fruit she prefers, she is shocked because she realizes how is supposed to know that? She has never been asked something like that which results in her making a choice of her own. Once Firdaus becomes a prostitute, she then has the power to make her own decisions. Although usually prostitution would be looked down upon, in this case, for a while, it set her free from everything else that was holding her down.
This book was very impacting because it taught us how to look at things in a different way. In a way, it reminded me of Bartleby. In the end of Bartleby, you realized what was really causing conflicts throughout the story was society. As Nawal El Saadawi drove away after talking to Firdaus, she realized the same thing. She realized that Firdaus was a much better person than most of us can strive to be.
Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi: Character Analysis
World Literature Paper
Oppression is defined as prolonged cruel, or unjust treatment or control and the state of being subject to such treatment or control. In Woman at Point Zero the main character, Firdaus, is faced with such cruel and unjust treatment. Firdaus is a symbol of women and the oppression they go through. In the novel Woman at Point Zero, Nawal El Saadwi uses first person point of view to develop Firdaus as a sympathetic character in order to develop a theme of the oppression of women in society.
The novel is a narrative told by Firdaus on the day she is scheduled to be executed. It about her life and what she goes through and how men have treated her. It seems as if every time she encounters a man he mistreats her. Because Firdaus is telling these stories in first person point of view it allows her to be seen as a sympathetic character. It is easier for a reader to relate or put themselves in her situation and sympathize with Firdaus.
Saawadi uses irony in the novel to display an example of oppression that women face. A police officer approaches Firdaus and uses her against her will for sexual favors. Saawadi choose to have a police officer approach her to show that all men, even the ones who are viewed as someone who is meant to protect you, take advantage of women. Irony is also displayed when the officer is speaking to Firdaus saying that it is his “duty to arrest [her] and others of [her] kind. To clean up the country, and protect respectable families from the likes of [her].” He is saying this yet he is attempting to hire Firdaus as his prostitute.
In the novel Firdaus tells the reader about many stages in her life. It begins with living at home and being sexually assaulted by her uncle at a young age. Later she is forced to married to a man who violently beats her. Then Firdaus becomes a prostitute, allowing herself to constantly be subjected to oppression by men. One man tells Firdaus that her job was ‘not respectable’ so she got an office job and refused to sell her body for a pay raise and eventually quit and became a prostitute yet again.
Firdaus decides that she would rather be a prostitute than be a wife, but with both choices she is faced with oppression. She explains that “the least deluded of all women was the prostitute. That marriage was the system built on the most cruel suffering for women.” When Firdaus was married her husband was a “virtuous man,” who beat her; however according to her unlces wife, “a virtuous woman was not supposed to complain about her husband. Her duty was perfect obedience.” Her husband was the epitome of a man whom oppressed women, “one day he discovered some leftover scraps of food, and started yelling at me so loudly that all the neighbors could hear. After this incident, he got into the habit of beating me whether he had a reason for it or not.” Firdaus, unlike most women, did not think this was acceptable behavior so she ran away to her uncle’s house where he told her that “all husbands beat their wives, and [her] uncles wife added that her husband often beat her.”
The stories Firdaus tells us emphasizes how women are oppressed in this society. She says that “All women are prostitutes of one kind or another,” because no matter what a woman does she will be subjected to oppression. Firdaus learns that no matter what she does, whether it is working in an office, prostitution, or being married, she will always be viewed as lesser than a man. “Every single man I [got] to know filled me but with one desire: to lift my hand and bring it smashing down on his face. But because I am a woman I have never has the courage to lift my hand,” Because Firdaus is a woman she cannot stand up for herself. She has to allow men to treat her the way they do because she is not allowed to do anything in terms of standing up to a man in this society.
Because Saadawi chooses to begin Firdaus’s journey in prostitution under the influence of a man, emphasizes the way men oppress women. Her first unjust sexual encounter was with her uncle. He molested her at a young age in her own home. After that she meets Bayoumi. When Firdaus meets Bayoumi he seems like a very nice man. He allows Firdaus to stay with him until she can get back up on her feet and on the way home he asks her if she “prefers oranges or tangerines,” giving Firdaus a sense of power in being able to make a decision. After winning the trust of Firdaus, Bayoumi locks her in his flat and he and his friends rape her.
The repetition of events that Firdaus speaks about in the novel further instills the theme of oppression. She is constantly put into situations where men abuse and take advantage of her.
When Firdaus is arrested for prostitution she has to go to trial. She sees how unfair and sexiest the system is. “I found out that the law punishes women like me, but turns a blind eye to what men do,” Firdaus comes to this conclusion because she was arrested yet the man who hired her as his prostitute does not get punished at all even though they are both equally in the wrong.
“I hated him as only a woman can hate a man, as only a slave can hate his master.” Firdaus compares being a woman in this society to being a slave. They are both powerless against their controllers, which in Firdaus’s case, is men. This hatred led Firdaus to her breaking point and she killed her pimp. She feels a sense of relief, being free from the oppression of men, “my body was light as a feather, as though its weight had been nothing more than the accumulation of fear over the years.”
Saadawi uses the realization Firdaus has at the end of the novel to make one last point that woman are so oppressed. She says “My mother was not a criminal. No woman can be a criminal. To be a criminal one must be a man.” Women aren’t criminals, the men are the ones who lead women to do illegal things. In Firdaus’s case they lead her to prostitution and eventually murder in self-defense. Every man is guilty of oppression, “I am saying that you are criminals, all of you: the fathers, the uncles, the husbands, the pimps, the lawyers, the doctors, the journalist, all men of all professions.”
Firdaus welcomes her death sentence because she feels that she did something right by standing up for herself. She was offered to be pardoned from her execution but she declined, “I don’t want to be released, and I want no pardon for my crime. For what you call my crime was no crime.” She explains that “Everybody has to die. I prefer to die for a crime I have committed rather than to die for one of the crimes which you have committed.”
Women Vs. Men in Egyptian Society (based on Nawal El Saadawi’s Woman at Point Zero)
In Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi one of the major themes is the role of women vs. men in society, namely in Egyptian society. The power, honor, and respectability women and men possess based on their gender is often examined. El Saadawi further inspects gender and exposes the differences and similarities between specific types of men and women. She compares and contrasts women who are prostitutes, wives, and slaves. She also correlates three types of men: pimps, husbands, and masters. Her thoughts about gender roles and power are illustrated through the main character, Firdaus. Firdaus is a strong, independent woman who goes from a poor child to a powerful prostitute to a prisoner. Throughout her journey, she meets many different kinds of people and is herself many different people. She experiences having no power and experiences having the power she thinks she has being shattered by others, especially men. Regardless of her appearance, occupation, or social statues, there is always a man with more power than her that steers her fate. Men in Cairo constantly assert their power over women, while some women allow this to be their fate and other women like Firdaus fight them for it. In Woman at Point Zero, through flashbacks and conflict Nawal el Saadawi demonstrates the constant power struggle that all types of women, prostitutes, slaves, and wives face against all men.
Primarily, Nawal el Saadawi uses flashbacks to reveal the differences between women who are prostitutes, wives, and slaves. “Now I realize that the least deluded of all women was the prostitute that marriage was a system built on the cruelest suffering for women” (Saadawi 94) says Firdaus while telling her life story. At this point in the novel, Firdaus has lived as a wife, a working office woman, and a prostitute. Firdaus thinks married woman are delusional because they live a life of mental, physical, and emotional abuse in order to fulfill their “duty” of being a good wife. While being a wife, Firdaus received some of her worse abuse at the hand of her husband. A prostitute, however, can chose when to give her body up, is not bound to a man for life, and can support herself. Firdaus describes a prostitute as the following, “She is free to do what she wants, and free not to do it. She experiences the rare pleasure of having no ties with any one, …of being completely independent…, of enjoying freedom from any subjection to a man, to marriage, or to love” (Saadawi 95). The ties of oppression that a wife in a society such as Cairo’s is very similar to that of a slave; she does chores, is beaten, must obey her master, and does not have the freedom of choice. A prostitute, however, is free to live independently and as freely as she wants.
Additionally in Woman at Point Zero, men are repeatedly referred to as a whole or as one. Due to Firdaus’ many negative experiences with men, she often comes to the conclusion that all men are the same, regardless of their status. “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” (Saadawi 94) says Firdaus. This quotation is significant because all women, prostitutes, wives, or slaves are deceived by men, pimps, husbands, or masters. A pimp deceives a woman into believing he cares and is protecting her in order to make a profit off of her body. A husband deceives a wife into believing that without him she cannot survive. A master deceives a woman into believing the she is worthless and no one else will want her. All these men are similar in that they hold power and use deception over women in order to control them. Can you give examples of these found in the novel? The gender roles exposed in Woman at Point Zero are extremely important to Egyptian society. “Yet not for a single moment did I have any doubts about my own integrity and honour as a woman. I knew that my profession had been invented by men, and that men were in control of both our worlds, the one on earth, and the one in heaven” (Saadawi 99). Men represent the people who are in control, they lie, they are corrupt, and always come out on top because of their strong power over women. Throughout Firdaus life was controlled, exploited, and abused first by her father and Bayoumi who acted more as masters, then by her husband, Sheik Mahmoud, and finally by Marzouk who was her pimp. These men, all who did not have much power in society still were able to hold power over Firdaus which caused her to be defiant and eventually led to her becoming a murderer.
Furthermore, El Saadawi describes wives and slaves to represent the powerless in Cairo who are submissive and allow themselves to be controlled. While prostitutes represent those without power who are defiant and reject their lack of power. Firdaus claims “All women are prostitutes of one kind or another. Because I was intelligent I preferred to be a free prostitute, rather than an enslaved wife” (Saadawi 94) . Because of the social norms in Cairo, all women regardless of their status, are subject to giving her up for sex; however, a Firdaus who choses to be a prostitute has control over herself, can refuse men, and set her own price, while an enslaved wife takes her beating laying down. Can you find textual evidence of this? The prostitute is the person with strong will who refuses to be controlled; she is the person who not only demands power and to have a voice, but who will take power and be heard by any means necessary. “A woman’s life is always miserable. A prostitute, however, is a little better off. I was able to convince myself that I had chosen this life of my own free will” (Saadawi 97). Regardless of the little power that Firdaus holds as a prostitute, she is still able to recognize that her flaw of being a woman will always be a barrier and a root of pain and misery. Still Firdaus tried to convince herself that being free as a prostitute was better than being a voiceless wife or slave.
Overall in Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi, gender is revealed to be a main source or the cause of a lack of power in the Egyptian society. Being born a woman comes with a life of suffering, oppression, and abuse. Some women like Firdaus are defiant and reject the traditional roles of women by becoming prostitutes and not a silent enslaved wife. Prostitute, wife, or slave, women and Cairo are still often at the mercy of men. Men lie and deceive them, they use their power in order to control women and they usually come out on top. Women like Firdaus are fighters and demand the power and respect that they deserve. They will do whatever is necessary takes to get what they want even if fighting comes with the ultimate price, their lives. Some redundant claims that lack supporting evidence and analysis. You do not identify many literary strategies.
Regaining Independence and Power Through Prostitution
In her essay “From the Women’s Prison: Third World Women’s Narratives of Prison,” Barbara Harlow argues that the solidarity that transcends race, gender, class, and other social categories is a vital component in the fight against oppressive forces. She also claims that Firdaus’s affiliation with the psychiatrist in Nawal El Saadawi’s novel Woman at Point Zero ultimately allows Firdaus to share her story and become part of the collective struggle against “the authoritarian political structures and patriarchal hierarchies of Egyptian society” (Harlow, 512). However, throughout the novel, Firdaus continually turns to prostitution as a way of life, and it’s her decision to become a prostitute that poses the question as to whether or not Firdaus can truly defy the social order of her society. For example, Harlow argues that Firdaus objectifies her body and sells it in a way that places her in a role subordinate to men. On the contrary, one may argue that as a prostitute, Firdaus gains more power and independence than other women in her society. Ultimately, Firdaus does obtain some degree of power and independence by proving to herself that she “owns” her own body and that she is the one who determines her own destiny. Therefore, Woman at Point Zero challenges “the social order which has assigned women to a subordinate position under the control of her male partners” (Harlow, 512) in that Firdaus controls the ways in which she utilizes her body as a prostitute to gain power and independence.
The first time Firdaus becomes aware of her own power is when Sharifa introduces her to prostitution. Sharifa is the one who, through the skillful application of cosmetics, helps Firdaus to see her inner beauty and strength. Firdaus claims that Sharifa opens her eyes to unseen features of her face and body, making her more aware and understanding of them. And it’s with Sharifa’s help that Firdaus discovers that she has “black eyes with a sparkle that attract other eyes like a magnet” (Saadawi, 58). Beauty for Firdaus is one way she is able control her own body. For example, a man does not determine how Firdaus’s hair will be styled, what clothes she will wear, or how her make-up will be applied. Rather, it’s Firdaus herself who determines her appearance. Therefore, Firdaus uses her beauty as a way to lure and tease the men in her society. And while staying with Sharifa, Firdaus learns that she is the one who determines her own value. Instead of seeing her nose as big and round, Firdaus begins to see it with the “fullness of a strong passion that can turn to lust” (Saadawi, 58). She begins to embrace her appearance, which in return, raises her self-confidence, something she once lacked in childhood. By embracing her beauty and increasing her self-confidence, Firdaus is able to gain power and control, thus challenging the claim that men are in control of women.
Although Firdaus learns to appreciate her beauty under the guidance of Sharifa, Firdaus decides to leave because she realizes that she needs to make her own money if she wants to obtain her own power and independence. And it’s not long after leaving Sharifa that Firdaus sleeps with a man who gives her a ten-pound note. This is the first time that Firdaus realizes that in order to obtain power, independence, and respect, she must acquire a lot of money. When Firdaus goes to the restaurant and gives the waiter the ten-pound note, she is treated with respect, and she realizes it’s the first time in her life that she eats “without being watched by two eyes gazing into [her] plate to see how much food [she] took” (Saadawi, 71). The waiter even bows over the table with a movement of “respectful humility” (Saadawi, 71) as he collects Firdaus’s money. This shows Firdaus’s control over him, which in return gives her a feeling of power and superiority that she has never felt before. The encounter with the waiter also helps Firdaus to understand how she can utilize her body in such a way that will allow her to acquire enough money to live independently. Firdaus’s apparent control also supports the claim that Woman at Point Zero challenges the social order that traditionally places men above women.
After leaving the restaurant, Firdaus begins to believe in herself: she ceases to bend her head down or to look away. Instead, she walks the streets with her head held high and her eyes looking straight ahead. She even exclaims, “My footsteps struck the ground with force, with a new elation” (Saadawi, 73). As men pass her on the streets, Firdaus utilizes her control by declining the men’s invitations. She repeatedly mutters no, which puzzles them. One such male persistently asks Firdaus, “Well, why not?” and Firdaus confidently responds: “Because there are plenty of men and I want to choose with whom to go” (Saadawi, 73). As an independent prostitute, Firdaus begins to choose which men she will and will not sleep with. She also decides on the food she eats and the house she lives in. Because of this, Firdaus begins to believe in her own independence. In prostitution, Firdaus’s body becomes her own, to do with as she wishes. Firdaus even has free time to go to the movies and read books. She utilizes her free will, which once again challenges the statement that men are in control of women.
Despite Firdaus’s accomplishments as an independent prostitute, her power is challenged when her friend Di’aa declares that Firdaus is not a “respectable woman” (Saadawi, 76). However, because Firdaus is so determined to be a respectable woman, she decides to look for work in an office instead of the streets. Firdaus gets a job but then she realizes that the men at the office think they can take advantage of her by raising her salary. Firdaus despises them for thinking such a thing, saying “the price of my body is much higher than the price that can be paid for it with a pay rise” (Saadawi, 81). She believes that as a prostitute she had been looked upon with much more respect and been valued higher than all of the female employees. Firdaus claims that she “feels sorry for the other girls who are guileless enough to offer their bodies and physical efforts every night in return for a meal, or a good yearly report” (Saadawi, 82). Unlike these women, Firdaus doesn’t let the men break her pride. For example, none of the officials are able to make Firdaus bow her head or lower her eyes to the ground. Although Firdaus is able to remain in control as an office worker, she decides that prostitution might be a surer path to dignity and self-determination than the “respectable” life of an office assistant.
Upon quitting her job, Firdaus returns to the life of an independent prostitute, where she continues to challenge the social order by acquiring even more power than she had before. She is soon paid the highest price, becoming so successful that she obtains the power to employ any servant to wash her clothes or clean her shoes. Firdaus even donates money to a charity and gets her picture printed in the newspaper, which says that she is a “citizen with a sense of civic responsibility” (Saadawi, 100). By utilizing her body as a prostitute again, Firdaus convinces herself that she has chosen prostitution with her own free will. She claims, “my insistence on remaining a prostitute proved to me this was my choice and that I had some freedom, at least the freedom to live in a situation better than that of other women” (Saadawi, 97). Firdaus further believes that having to be a wife is much worse than being a prostitute, for marriage in Firdaus’s eyes is the “cruelest suffering for women” (Saadawi, 96). As a wife, Firdaus had to passively watch her husband make choices, beat her incessantly, and force her to have sex with him. But as a prostitute, she is free to do what she wants. Firdaus experiences the rare pleasure of being “completely independent, of enjoying freedom from any subjection to a man, to marriage, or to love; of being divorced from all limitations” (Saadawi, 95). This power and independence that Firdaus achieves proves that the novel challenges the social order that places women in a subordinate position.
As mentioned above, Firdaus prefers prostitution to marriage as a way of life, for as a successful prostitute she is independent and self-supporting, free to choose the men with whom she will associate. Firdaus therefore utilizes her body as a prostitute to gain power and independence. And it’s this power and success that gives Firdaus the confidence to defy the social code and murder the pimp. Even though Firdaus is condemned to prison to die, she becomes part of a collective struggle against oppression when she agrees to share her story with El Saadawi. Ultimately, “Firdaus’s personal story ends with her execution, but the narrative of her life becomes part of a historical agenda” (Harlow, 512). In the end, it’s clear that Woman at Point Zero challenges the social code that places women in a position subordinate to men.
Zero Fir: An Undiscovered Right For The Legal Protection Of Women
In our country, the capital itself is known to be one of the most dangerous cities to live in. Many protests took place all over the country against the lame status of law and order. After that, the ruling body came up with provisions to set the motion of justice favoring the victim. Alas! the tragedy lies in unawareness of masses regarding their rights and on the part of government failing to spread awareness, as well. Zero FIR is one such provision, which might help the victim to appeal for investigation without wasting time. But, many times the victims are denied the right to file a FIR by police authorities because the areaof crimetook does not fall under their jurisdiction. This provision of law was introduced in the recommendation of the Justice Verma Committee in the new Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 after the horrific Delhi Rape case but only the movie ‘Pink’ has created many speculations in the minds of Indians especially women regarding the concept of Zero FIR.
There is a concept of “Zero-FIR”. It means that a FIR can be filed in any police station (i. e. : irrespective of place of incident/jurisdiction) and the same can be later transferred to the appropriate Police Station. However, policemen usually deny knowing about “Zero FIR” and direct the complainant to concerned Police Station.
Jurisdiction, not a bar anymore
Zero First Information Reports (FIR) can be registered at any police station irrespective of jurisdiction. This is a landmark move made by the Government. Section 154 of Code of Criminal Procedure governs F. I. R. It is the first information in point of time regarding the commission of a cognizable offense that is given to the police and is recorded as the provisions of Section 154. The entire territory is divided into various police stations that exercise jurisdiction over a particular country. Initially, F. I. R can be registered in the police station that has jurisdiction over the place where the offence has allegedly been committed. The jurisdiction of courts and alternative venues of the trial that have already been discussed are also relevant here because the jurisdiction of police stations is determined accordingly. Various police stations may fall within the territorial jurisdiction of a particular Magistrate’s Court. The officer-in-charge of a police station can investigate a cognizable case if the Court within whose local jurisdiction that police station lies has the jurisdiction to try that case. But the filing of F. I. R in the police station or the court with proper jurisdiction is not necessary because of the introduction of the concept of Zero F. I. R. If you are not sure about the police station for some reason, you can register the F. I. R. at the nearest police station. Such police station can forward the F. I. R. to the police station which has the jurisdiction to inspect the case. Similarly, further amendments has been made to S. 154 of Cr. P. C, If a woman victim of an acid attack, assaulted with intent to outrage her modesty, sexual harassment, disrobing, voyeurism, stalking, rape, or so-called “eve-teasing” reports such offence, the F. I. R has to be recorded by a woman police officer or any woman officer. If a victim of any of the above-mentioned offences i. e. , except acid attack, is temporarily or permanently mentally or physically disabled, then the F. I. R. has to be recorded at her residence or a place of her choice, in the presence of an interpreter or special educator and the recording has to be video-graphed.
What is FIR?
First let us understand what does an FIR mean. A First Information Report (F. I. R. ) is the first information in point of time regarding the commission of a cognizable offence that is given to the police and is recorded in the manner provided under section 154 of Code Of Criminal Procedure, 1973. Every information relating to the commission of a cognizable offence, if given orally to an officer in charge of a police station, shall be reduced to writing by him or under his direction, and be read Over to the informant; and every such information, whether given in writing or reduced to writing as aforesaid, shall be signed by the person giving it, and the substance thereof shall be entered in a book to be kept by such officer in such form as the State Government may prescribe in this behalf. A copy of the information as recorded under sub- section shall be given forthwith, free of cost, to the informant. Any person aggrieved by a refusal on the part of an officer in charge of a police station to record the information referred to in subsection may send the substance of such information, in writing and by post, to the Superintendent of Police concerned who, if satisfied that such information discloses the commission of a cognizable offence, shall either investigate the case himself or direct an investigation to be made by any police officer subordinate to him, in the manner provided by this Code, and such officer shall have all the powers of an officer in charge of the police station in relation to that offence.
The provision of Zero FIR came up as a recommendation in Justice Verma Committee Report in the new Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 after the heinous Nirbhaya case of December 2012. The provision says: A FIR can be filed at any police station irrespective of place of crime and area of jurisdiction. This provision is for everyone. When in trouble Men and women will be benefited equally. In Zero FIR, any police station can register FIR irrespective of jurisdictional area but the investigation will be taken up the police in which place of occurrence reported in FIR. The police station registers the zero FIR marking it serial no. zero and transfer to the competent jurisdictional area which can carry out the investigation. The sanctity of legal process remains same in zero FIR. It is very helpful for people as it facilitate them by not allowing making rounds of different police station for lodging the FIR. A Zero FIR can be filed in any police station by the victim, irrespective of their residence or crime place. Even if you are away from the place of incident or are unaware of the right jurisdiction, you can successfully file an FIR in any police station. This type of FIR is termed as a Zero FIR.
As per the Sec 154 of Criminal procedure Code, every Police officer is law bound to register the First Information Report of any cognizable offence committed, irrespective of the jurisdiction in which the offence was committed. When a cognizable offence is reported, the police officer registering the case forthwith starts the investigation, if it is committed in his jurisdiction. If it is not committed in his jurisdiction, he registers the FIR under number 00 and sends it to the police station, where the offence was committed for further investigation. Such FIR is called as zero FIR. It is for the convenience of the victim that instead of making the victim run from pillar to post, the police officer, where the victim approaches as per his convenience, the case is recorded and police officer sends it to the concerned police station.
The concept of ZERO FIR is present in the movie “PINK”
The movie has played the scene as: Sir, a man hit me on the breast from his bike and then showed me his middle finger. I have the gaadi number. I’d like to register a complaint. Where did this happen, ma? What dress were you wearing? I was wearing exactly what I am now. It happened in Indiranagar earlier today. Amma, don’t you know you have to go to the Indiranagar police station to register that complaint? Go, go now. And you should wear a dupatta, then no one will hit you again. But there is one more aspect shown in the film that people should know about – Zero FIR and other FIR related laws. The film deals with young working women in Delhi who have never had a brush with the law, and therefore, know nothing about their legal rights.
In the film, Taapsee Pannu’s character Meenal goes to a police station to file a complaint against a group of boys threatening her and her friends, after she injured one of them in self-defense. However, after giving her moral gyaan, the police officer tells her that he can’t register a complaint because “lekin ghanta to Surajkund ki hai”. When she later goes to a senior officer, he tells her about Zero FIR – that irrespective of the jurisdiction in which the crime happened, an FIR can be filed anywhere and be later transferred to the concerned police station. In another scene, after Meenal is arrested right before the weekend and her friends are trying to get her bail, a lawyer tells them to come on Monday, as she can’t get bail on a weekend. That’s when Amitabh Bachchan’s character – Deepak Sehgal, a retired lawyer – comes to their rescue and tells them that women and minors can get bail on weekends and the bail proceedings can be heard at a judge’s residence on Saturday and Sunday. To make sure that people, and young women in particular, know about these laws, the central government is planning to use the film to spread awareness about legal procedures. Delhi Police officials tell us that they have been trying to spread awareness about law through their Parivartan Cell and the film might help them in the endeavour.
In this paper, the researcher has tried to explore the concept of zero FIR and provisions relating to it in depth.
Legality of Zero F. I. R.
The provision of Zero FIR was introduced in the recommendation in Justice Verma Committee Report in the new Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, devised after the December 2012 Delhi gang rape of a 23-year-old 0girl in the territory.
However, policemen by and large deny knowing about provisions of “Zero FIR” and direct the complainant to Police Station having jurisdiction but Clause (e) of Section 460 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) says that if any Magistrate not empowered by laws to call for cognizance of an offence positioned in section 190 (a) or (b) erroneously but in good faith does take cognizance, the proceeding minutes will not be set aside merely on the grounds of not being empowered for same. If at the time of initiation of FIR, it looks evident that the crime was committed outside the jurisdiction of the concerned police station, then the police must be appropriately ordered to register a Zero FIR, and ensure that the FIR is transferred to the jurisdictional police station. If there is a failure in compiling with the instruction of FIR registration on the acknowledgement of information about the offence, it will invite prosecution of the police officer under section 166A which provides a rigorous imprisonment of six months is extended to two years. This evasion of responsibility may invite the departmental action for the police officer.
The Centre has asked all the states to make amendments in the state laws with respect to the registration of the Zero FIR on receipt of complaint or information about a crime without getting into argument related to the jurisdiction. Central Government, keeping in mind, the influence of the Zero FIR has warned by invoking the amendment in the criminal law that if there is any refusal with regards to the registering of the Zero FIR, it will lead to imprisonment. This ordered amendment empowers the police to register the complaint acknowledged in police station other than the jurisdictional police station where crime has been committed. The concept of Zero FIR is a free jurisdiction FIR, brought up in order to avoid the delay in filing the crime and to avoid wastage of time that adversely impacts the victim and gives a free way to offenders getting an opportunity to escape from the clutches of the law.
Can Police refuse to register for zero F. I. R. ?
Prior to the introduction of the concept of zero F. I. R. , the police cannot refuse to register an F. I. R. on the ground that, if the information conveyed to the police related to a cognizable offence on the face of it and if it is ‘information’, that is, something in the nature of a complaint or an accusation or at least information about a crime. In the same way, a police officer cannot refuse to register an F. I. R. on the ground that he is not convinced about the reasonableness or credibility of the information. At present, after the introduction of zero F. I. R, Police cannot refuse the registration of such F. I. R. on the ground that the offense was not committed within their jurisdiction. A Police officer who refuses to register an F. I. R relating to certain offences is punishable under the Indian Penal Code. A police officer who does not register an F. I. R relating to an acid attack, assault on a woman with intent to outrage her modesty, disrobing of a woman, human trafficking, sexual exploitation of a trafficked person, rape, or so-called “eve-teasing” can be punished with imprisonment ranging from six months up to two years and fine. If a person, deliberately, lodge a false F. I. R, a person shall be punished. Likewise, if a police officer refuses to register the F. I. R. or deliberately registers a different or false version of what the informant states may also be punished.
The need of Zero F. I. R.
Incidents like accident, murder, and rape require immediate action from the concerned authorities and rush to take samples, getting information from eye witnesses and getting circumstantial details. A zero F. I. R. helps to take immediate actions regardless of the territory where the crime or offence has taken place. Impact:• As per the static report, there is a crime committed against women in every 1. 7 minutes, and rape is committed within every 16 minutes recorded in this country and domestic violence done in every 4. 4 minutes against every girl. Zero FIR is provided as a right to women which she can exercise as required. Zero FIR in cases of any such heinous crime done against her in any place or at any moment acts as a remedy in the hands of the women.
Zero FIR is also a great power to the passengers on rail journey for a direction in making the travel safe and hassles free for the millions of passengers on the frequent journey. So, as per the requirement, the victim can file the case against theft in the place that is nearest to their approach while traveling.
Certain grave crimes like an accident, murder, and rape that require immediate action from the concerned authorities and to collect evidentiary proof from the party and place like samples, deposition from the eye witnesses and circumstantial evidence. A Zero FIR helps take into sssaccount of this prelim action regardless of deciding the territorial limits of the crime. As is the well-settled rule when there is certainly good there is always something bad attached to it. And the biggest drawback is the basic concept of the Zero FIR provision i. e. , for say a crime occur in a place and reported in other jurisdiction and if there is certain collusion between the police staff of the station where the FIR instituted and the offender then the whole root of the provision collapses.
Exploitation of Zero F. I. R.
Provisions of Zero F. I. R can be exploited by many ways. The main reason that can lead to the undue advantage in case of Zero FIR is that outcome of criminal case mainly depends on the preliminary investigation carried out at the beginning of the case. Transferring the FIR at the later stage may adversely affect the case as the opposite party may file a FIR at the Police Station of its choice and by getting the investigation report made in their favor. A further drawback of filing a Zero FIR is that Police Station not having territorial jurisdiction over the case, may lodge the FIR for the satisfaction of the complainant, but may immediately transfer the FIR to the concerned Police Station without making any preliminary inquiry in the case.
The Zero F. I. R. looks like a great concept in seeking a way to ameliorate criminal justice in a preliminary stage and deciding on the gulp of truth. But s requires the third eye to monitor the procedure. For such purpose, a better option is if a committee simultaneously supervising the process that will include at least an ordinary citizen and scrutinizing the whole FIR instituting process is instituted. It is believed if you have to control a system you have to be inside the system because if you are outside, the concept of privity comes into the scene.
Illusions of Respect: Tone and Techniques in Woman at Point Zero
Nawal El Saadawi’s Woman at Point Zero portrays a cruel, patriarchal society and focuses on a neglected, pain-stricken prostitute who escapes a childhood full of submission to discover power in prostitution. Throughout her entire life, Firdaus is torn between possessing power and earning the respect of her society. At one point, she is so intent on becoming respectable that she trades prostitution for a typical office job. However, after only three years, she returns to being a prostitute, prioritizing power over respect. Saadawi depicts an inverse relationship between power and respect in order to comment on gender inequities in Egyptian society.
Saadawi utilizes tone in order to illustrate the power Firdaus gains when defying social norms. After leaving her unsatisfying office job, Firdaus believes “she is free to do what she wants, and free not to do it. She experiences the rare pleasure….of being completely independent….[and] enjoying freedom from any subjection to a man” (95). Saadawi includes “free,” “pleasure,” and “independent,” to represent the liberation she has been striving for her entire life. By using an exceptionally confident tone, Saadawi exhibits the power that Firdaus now possesses to obtain her desires. Similarly, the tone used to portray herself after leaving the office job contrasts greatly with the embedded, self-descriptive tone at the beginning of her employment. Firdaus originally obtains this socially-acceptable job in order to gain respect, but ironically is described by a male superior as a “poor, miserable employee, unworthy of esteem” (81). This man’s supercilious tone is evident as he obscenely describes Firdaus while subjectively implying that his self-image and lifestyle is superior to hers. In this position, “[Firdaus’] body was….hemmed in by other bodies in the bus, [and was] a prey to male organs pressing up against it from in front and behind” (81). By comparing herself to a prey, Firdaus is recognizing her submission and more importantly, her lack of power. Conventionally, one is thought to have more power in an office job than in prostitution, but Saadawi destroys this faulty presumption by displaying contrasting tones in different stages of Firdaus’ career.
Additionally, Saadawi uses an aloof tone to establish Firdaus’ growing respect resulting from a lack of effort put into her job. Not only does Firdaus stop searching for acceptance in the workplace, she loses the determination she had when she was so desperate for respect. Satirically, “the word went round that [she] was an honorable woman….in fact the most honorable, and the most highly considered of all the female officials in the company” (83). The phrase “in fact” particularly conveys a nonplussed and slightly sarcastic tone that Saadawi uses to illustrate her lack of self-empowerment. By losing this power in herself, she gains respect from her colleagues, thus demonstrating the inverse relationship between power and respect. On top of Firdaus’ newly defined honor, “It was also said that not a single high-ranking official had been able to make me bow my head” (83). Once again, the standoffish tone conveys the lack of devotion Firdaus has to receiving and maintaining her honor. More importantly, by including the phrase “it was said,” Saadawi conveys the detachment and indifference Firdaus has towards this respect received from her colleagues. This detachment can be translated into a lack of power in herself, which ironically results in an augmentation of respect. Overall, Saadawi’s usage of an haughty tone following gained respect shows the inverse relationship between power and respect.
Along with distinct tones, Saadawi uses oxymoron and paradox to comment on the inequities in Egyptian society. Traditionally, a wife is seen as superior to a prostitute. However, after leaving her job, Firdaus considers herself to be “a very successful prostitute” (97). This phrase is oxymoronic because a prostitute is seen as the least desirable job. Success is defined as achieving wealth, fame, or respect. None of these qualities are ever associated with prostitution, yet Firdaus dares to consider herself successful. To attach a highly desirable characteristic to a dire job is paradoxical. Furthermore, Firdaus prefers “to be a free prostitute, rather than an enslaved wife” (99). This oxymoron redefines the socially-accepted definition of freedom, because society assumes that a prostitute is bound to her job, and unable to escape the endless cycle of manipulative men and involuntary actions. As Firdaus considers herself “free,” she is commenting on the inequities in Egyptian society. In addition, Firdaus claims that “the more respectable the profession, the higher the salary, and a person’s price goes up as he climbs the social ladder” (99). As a prostitute, Firdaus charges the highest price for her body, and lives a life full of wealth and prosperity. By saying “a person’s price goes up as he climbs the social ladder,” it can be inferred that Firdaus considers herself to be at the top of Cairo’s social ladder, which is a paradox. Society perceives those at the top of the social ladder to be successful, and more importantly, respected. By placing prostitutes, whom society equates with the Untouchables, at the top of the social ladder, Saadawi is illustrating the different perceptions of success and respect, thus criticizing the profound inequities in Egyptian society.
Saadawi uses metaphors, along with contradiction, to reveal the the prevalence of the inverse relationship between power and respect in the workplace. While Firdaus was still in the corporate world, “the building….had two doors: one for the more important higher level employees which remained unguarded, and another for the lesser officials which was guarded by one of the employees, very much like some kind of a doorkeeper” (80). The distinction of these two doors serves as a metaphor to show the unmistakable differences between high- and low-level employees, and further in high- and low-class members of society. A superior employee is portrayed to be respected and powerful simultaneously; yet this concept is spurious. When top executives would approach Firdaus, she “had no wish to humiliate [her] body at a low price” (82). By specifically using the word “humiliate,” a bold, audacious tone is created, displaying a compelling respect for herself. This tone contrasts with the other female employees “who were guileless enough to offer their bodies and their physical efforts every night….just to ensure that they would not be treated unfairly” (82). Describing these other employees as guileless further emphasizes the poor connotations associated with the word, and manipulates the women’s innocence into naiveness. Also, by including the word “just” it is evident that the assurance of their job is not worthy of their “physical efforts.” By offering their bodies at such a low price, they are losing any power that they previously had in themselves. However, this is necessary to gain an austere amount of respect from superior officials. This inverse relationship between power and respect is illustrated by Saadawi’s explicit use of metaphors.
Saadawi’s strategic use of various literary techniques depicts the inverse relationship between power and respect, while simultaneously commenting on the inequities in Egyptian society. Saadawi uses tone, oxymorons, paradoxes, and metaphors to display the illusion and different perceptions of the importance of power and respect. In the end, Firdaus prioritizes the power that she finds in prostitution, and subsequently gains self-respect.
Prostitution as a Source of Power and Independence
In her essay “From the Women’s Prison: Third World Women’s Narratives of Prison,” Barbara Harlow argues that the solidarity that transcends race, gender, class, and other social categories is a vital component in the fight against oppressive forces. She also claims that Firdaus’s affiliation with the psychiatrist in Nawal El Saadawi’s novel Woman at Point Zero ultimately allows Firdaus to share her story and become part of the collective struggle against “the authoritarian political structures and patriarchal hierarchies of Egyptian society” (Harlow, 512). However, throughout the novel, Firdaus continually turns to prostitution as a way of life, and it’s her decision to become a prostitute that poses the question as to whether or not Firdaus can truly defy the social order of her society. For example, Harlow argues that Firdaus objectifies her body and sells it in a way that places her in a role subordinate to men. On the contrary, one may argue that as a prostitute, Firdaus gains more power and independence than other women in her society. Ultimately, Firdaus does obtain some degree of power and independence by proving to herself that she “owns” her own body and that she is the one who determines her own destiny. Therefore, Woman at Point Zero challenges “the social order which has assigned women to a subordinate position under the control of her male partners” (Harlow, 512) in that Firdaus controls the ways in which she utilizes her body as a prostitute to gain power and independence.The first time Firdaus becomes aware of her own power is when Sharifa introduces her to prostitution. Sharifa is the one who, through the skillful application of cosmetics, helps Firdaus to see her inner beauty and strength. Firdaus claims that Sharifa opens her eyes to unseen features of her face and body, making her more aware and understanding of them. And it’s with Sharifa’s help that Firdaus discovers that she has “black eyes with a sparkle that attract other eyes like a magnet” (Saadawi, 58). Beauty for Firdaus is one way she is able control her own body. For example, a man does not determine how Firdaus’s hair will be styled, what clothes she will wear, or how her make-up will be applied. Rather, it’s Firdaus herself who determines her appearance. Therefore, Firdaus uses her beauty as a way to lure and tease the men in her society. And while staying with Sharifa, Firdaus learns that she is the one who determines her own value. Instead of seeing her nose as big and round, Firdaus begins to see it with the “fullness of a strong passion that can turn to lust” (Saadawi, 58). She begins to embrace her appearance, which in return, raises her self-confidence, something she once lacked in childhood. By embracing her beauty and increasing her self-confidence, Firdaus is able to gain power and control, thus challenging the claim that men are in control of women. Although Firdaus learns to appreciate her beauty under the guidance of Sharifa, Firdaus decides to leave because she realizes that she needs to make her own money if she wants to obtain her own power and independence. And it’s not long after leaving Sharifa that Firdaus sleeps with a man who gives her a ten-pound note. This is the first time that Firdaus realizes that in order to obtain power, independence, and respect, she must acquire a lot of money. When Firdaus goes to the restaurant and gives the waiter the ten-pound note, she is treated with respect, and she realizes it’s the first time in her life that she eats “without being watched by two eyes gazing into [her] plate to see how much food [she] took” (Saadawi, 71). The waiter even bows over the table with a movement of “respectful humility” (Saadawi, 71) as he collects Firdaus’s money. This shows Firdaus’s control over him, which in return gives her a feeling of power and superiority that she has never felt before. The encounter with the waiter also helps Firdaus to understand how she can utilize her body in such a way that will allow her to acquire enough money to live independently. Firdaus’s apparent control also supports the claim that Woman at Point Zero challenges the social order that traditionally places men above women.After leaving the restaurant, Firdaus begins to believe in herself: she ceases to bend her head down or to look away. Instead, she walks the streets with her head held high and her eyes looking straight ahead. She even exclaims, “My footsteps struck the ground with force, with a new elation” (Saadawi, 73). As men pass her on the streets, Firdaus utilizes her control by declining the men’s invitations. She repeatedly mutters no, which puzzles them. One such male persistently asks Firdaus, “Well, why not?” and Firdaus confidently responds: “Because there are plenty of men and I want to choose with whom to go” (Saadawi, 73). As an independent prostitute, Firdaus begins to choose which men she will and will not sleep with. She also decides on the food she eats and the house she lives in. Because of this, Firdaus begins to believe in her own independence. In prostitution, Firdaus’s body becomes her own, to do with as she wishes. Firdaus even has free time to go to the movies and read books. She utilizes her free will, which once again challenges the statement that men are in control of women.Despite Firdaus’s accomplishments as an independent prostitute, her power is challenged when her friend Di’aa declares that Firdaus is not a “respectable woman” (Saadawi, 76). However, because Firdaus is so determined to be a respectable woman, she decides to look for work in an office instead of the streets. Firdaus gets a job but then she realizes that the men at the office think they can take advantage of her by raising her salary. Firdaus despises them for thinking such a thing, saying “the price of my body is much higher than the price that can be paid for it with a pay rise” (Saadawi, 81). She believes that as a prostitute she had been looked upon with much more respect and been valued higher than all of the female employees. Firdaus claims that she “feels sorry for the other girls who are guileless enough to offer their bodies and physical efforts every night in return for a meal, or a good yearly report” (Saadawi, 82). Unlike these women, Firdaus doesn’t let the men break her pride. For example, none of the officials are able to make Firdaus bow her head or lower her eyes to the ground. Although Firdaus is able to remain in control as an office worker, she decides that prostitution might be a surer path to dignity and self-determination than the “respectable” life of an office assistant.Upon quitting her job, Firdaus returns to the life of an independent prostitute, where she continues to challenge the social order by acquiring even more power than she had before. She is soon paid the highest price, becoming so successful that she obtains the power to employ any servant to wash her clothes or clean her shoes. Firdaus even donates money to a charity and gets her picture printed in the newspaper, which says that she is a “citizen with a sense of civic responsibility” (Saadawi, 100). By utilizing her body as a prostitute again, Firdaus convinces herself that she has chosen prostitution with her own free will. She claims, “my insistence on remaining a prostitute proved to me this was my choice and that I had some freedom, at least the freedom to live in a situation better than that of other women” (Saadawi, 97). Firdaus further believes that having to be a wife is much worse than being a prostitute, for marriage in Firdaus’s eyes is the “cruelest suffering for women” (Saadawi, 96). As a wife, Firdaus had to passively watch her husband make choices, beat her incessantly, and force her to have sex with him. But as a prostitute, she is free to do what she wants. Firdaus experiences the rare pleasure of being “completely independent, of enjoying freedom from any subjection to a man, to marriage, or to love; of being divorced from all limitations” (Saadawi, 95). This power and independence that Firdaus achieves proves that the novel challenges the social order that places women in a subordinate position.As mentioned above, Firdaus prefers prostitution to marriage as a way of life, for as a successful prostitute she is independent and self-supporting, free to choose the men with whom she will associate. Firdaus therefore utilizes her body as a prostitute to gain power and independence. And it’s this power and success that gives Firdaus the confidence to defy the social code and murder the pimp. Even though Firdaus is condemned to prison to die, she becomes part of a collective struggle against oppression when she agrees to share her story with El Saadawi. Ultimately, “Firdaus’s personal story ends with her execution, but the narrative of her life becomes part of a historical agenda” (Harlow, 512). In the end, it’s clear that Woman at Point Zero challenges the social code that places women in a position subordinate to men.