A MASCULINIST CRITIQUE OF WOMEN OPPRESSION AND EMANCIPATION IN EL SAADAWI’S WOMAN AT POINT ZERO

 Nawal El Saadawi is among the most prominent African feminist writers, an internationally acclaimed radical African female novelist, a physician, psychiatrist and human rights activist. Her works includes: non-fiction, short stories, dramatic literature and prose fiction. After her graduation from the medical school, during the early years of her medical practice, in her medical research conducted in Kanatir Women Prison, she observed that women’s physical and psychological problems are connected to the oppressive cultural practices, patriarchal oppression and female intra-gender oppression (El Saadawi, WPZ, 2015). At the early years of her medical practice, El Saadawi becomes the Director at the Ministry of Public Health. As a dissident and prolific writer, she published in 1972 Women and Sex addressing and vehemently castigating various oppressive acts perpetrated on women (El Saadawi, 1972). In response to her expository and confrontational writings, the Egyptian government, through the Ministry of Public Health disengaged Nawal El Saadawi from all her appointments ranging from her position as the Director in the Ministry of Public Health, the Chief Editor of a Health Journal and finally, as an Assistant Secretary General of the Egyptian Medical Association. Her disengagement from various appointments rekindles her energy as a controversial feminist rather than dampening and crippling her morale. Since her dismissal, El Saadawi has been seen prolifically devoting her creative works towards exposing the wrongs done to the women. She thus reveals with unique clarity, the hierarchy of oppression the Egyptian women are subjected to. El Saadawi aesthetically portrays how women in her geographical milieu are doubly oppressed and molested firstly, by their fellow women and then, the men as evidently captured in her novel, Woman at Point Zero.

            Nawal El Saadawi is particularly disturbed as to why the women constitute the greatest obstacles to the happiness and fulfilment of their fellow women. In an interview with Adeola James, Emecheta also reveals that over the years, the bulk of the women unhappiness have been largely caused by their fellow women. She remarks: “Half of the problems rest with women, they are busy bitching about one another such that when changes are suggested, our women don’t like it (James 1990:36). More so, it could be said that women oppression as evidently presented in El Saadawi’s novel is sown in the home by the women, watered and harvested by the society. The idea that the emergence of female oppression begins in the home by the mother is amply popularized by some feminists like Flora Nwapa Quoted in James (1990) that “The oppression of the women starts in the home” (James 1990: 136). Similarly, men are not also left out in the oppression and suppression of women. Since the novel, Woman at Point Zero focuses primarily on exploitation, intimidation and sexual harassment of the women, Malti-Douglas (1991:137) describes the novel as: “a searing feminist indictment of male-female relation.” Essentially, Malti-Douglas strongly affirms that men play a crucial role in the oppression and molestation of the women. With the aforementioned oppression of women emanating from both patriarchal and matriarchal perspectives, the novelist, El Saadawi reveals the primary reason for her writings. While citing El Saadawi, Alkali (2012:14) observes that ‘Nawal El Saadawi confesses to the initial purpose for her writing as inspired by anger. She claims to write in order to release her anger. ‘What angered me most, she writes, “were oppression: oppression of women and oppression of the poor.” It is with this spirit of anger that El Saadawi presents bluntly and indiscriminately the oppressive situation the women are forced to live with in her male centered milieu. Since women oppression and molestation are perpetuated by both men and women in an essentially male dominated society, it thus becomes very glaring that women’s emancipation in this society might be difficult to achieve. Observing the unpleasant atmosphere in which most African women live, one of the most prominent African writers Aidoo (1973) opines: “There is no difference then. No difference at all between the white men and their apes. So, it should be easy now to see that there have never been people to save anybody but themselves, never in the past, never now and there will never be any savior if each will not save himself. No savior, only the hungry and fed” (p. 15). The heroine of El Saadawi’s Woman at Point Zero is constructed along this background. She perennially suffers the turbulence of oppression and molestation from both patriarchal and matriarchal power before her pathetic and unjustifiable execution by the authority.

            Before discussing the novel under study on the basis of women oppression, it will be essential to consider definitions of some key concepts such as oppression and Masculinist theory. The word “oppression” has been viewed differently by different scholars. For instance in Barker’s view, “oppression” is described as:

the social act of placing severe restrictions on an individual, group or institution. Typically, a government or political organization that is in power places these restrictions formally or covertly on oppressed groups so that they may be exploited and less able to compete with other social groups. The oppressed individual or group is devalued, exploited, and deprived of privileges by the individual or group which has more power (Barker, 2003).

            Johnson (2000) in his description of oppression alludes: “for every social category that is privileged, one or more other categories are oppressed in relation to it. The concept of oppression points to social forces that tend to press upon people and hold them down, to hem them in and block their pursuit of goal in life. Just as privileged tends to open doors of opportunity, oppression tends to slam them shut.” (Johnson, 2000:39). From whatever perspective we view it, oppression generally has to do with the relationship of domination and exploitation economically, socially, culturally and psychologically. In the context of this paper therefore, oppression will be seen as any unjustifiable use of power or authority either openly or otherwise with persistent injustice and cruelty that makes the person been oppressed fe