Prostitution – clients/pimps (Sharifa & Marzouk) how they have a price, so in relation to the clients they are treated as merchandise, whereas for the pimps that are assets – paying a form of ‘tax’ to them in order to obtain protection but are they really? Prostitution is one of the major roles of possessions in Woman at Point Zero, as prostitution is all do with power through out the novel, and who has it.
Prostitution is in every culture but it varies, in Nawal El Saddawi’s Woman at Point Zero it illustrates how prostitution the ways in which women are victims to men, but also that women who choose to be prostitutes is a way to find freedom from sex work. This book is set around the 1960’s, Egypt. Firdaus, the heroine of the novel goes from being a child who is sexually abused by her uncle, to a married woman, to a prostitute, then to work in an office, then back to a prostitute. In the end of the novel the heroine come to the realization that women in Egypt are oppressed no matter what.
She believes that all women are on kind or another prostitute. Throughout the novel having clients and pimps are how they have a price for the human body, which was the standard in Egypt at this time, prostitution was very common at this time. There is a very thin line between being a prostitute and having a pimp. The novel is also narrated in first person while she explains her life, intending to capture the power Firdaus had over her own story of her life. And they way she wanted to explain it and the emotions that she felt at the time.
Firdaus escapes her husband Sheikh Mahmoud, and had met Sharifa a high-class prostitute, even though at first Firdaus believes that Sharifa is showing her how to have beauty and strength, she soon realizes that is really showing her these things to become more appealing to men, and to sell Firdaus’s body. “… like the fingers of the man who lay by my side. His nails, too, were clean and white… let the silken fingers touch my face and my lips, move down my neck and bury themselves between my breasts… Day and night I lay on the bed, crucified, and every hour a man would come in. There were so many of them.
I did not understand where they could possibly have come from. ” Pg 59, 61. Firdaus feels at first having sex with these clean wealthy men gave her power, and a strange pleasure, which coincides with the attention she gets from men. Firdaus goes on to resent the men she sleeps with and being a prostitute, due to it not being new anymore. She does not have any control of what happens with her body, “every hour a man would come in,” while before she believed she had the choice of who she slept with. Even though Sharifa creates Firdaus to become this attractive woman, she resents her.
Saddawi uses the repetition of my “my face… my lips… my neck… my breast,” to highlight the control that Firdaus believes she has of her own body with men, at the start, but then realizes while she works for Sharifa she has no power at all that Sharifa is not a mother figure, she is only there to control her. Throughout the time that Firdaus is a prostitute at the start to the finish she is able to evoke the emotion of desperation to her readers, not only the desperation to flee her old life but the desperation to feel something, anything. Sharifa’s imagination is constrained by patriarchal society, while Firdaus’s is not.
Sharifa only wants money and is willing to give into what powerful men have set up to attain what they want. At the beginning Firdaus reflects hows Sharifa behaves, but as time goes on she commands power over men, and not the other way around. Marzouk insists that he can protect Firdaus while she is under his wing. But he uses his protection as a power held over her. If she is under his protection he believes she will not escape him. “He was a pimp. I thought I could buy him off with a sum of money… But he refused… and insisted on sharing it… he said ‘Every prostitute has a pimp to protect her from other pimps, and from police.
That’s what I’m going to do. ’ ‘But I can protect myself,’ I said. ” Pg. 100. Firdaus hated that Marzouk believed he had power over her as she focused at this point at the novel at the strength that she had, as a prostitue she named her own price and she had her own terms. Saadawi highlights Firdaus’s strength when she says “I can protect myself,” she used short to the point sentences without complicated language, to easily connect to the readers Firdaus’s strength and what she had overcome to show her own personal power.
Firdaus has reached Point Zero when she is with Marzouk, she has the realization that love is non-existent in her world and that everyone has a motive, and not a good one. Firdaus is pushed to her breaking point by Marzouk, and wants to escape leaving behind her past, and looking onwards to the future. But at the moment that she tries to leave Marzouk tires to stop her, “I continued to look straight at him without blinking. I knew I hated him as only a woman can hate a man, as only a slave can hate his master. Firdaus at this point realizes that she has been a slave to Marzouk and all the other men she had been with, all this hate boiled up in this one moment, and after this argument she stabs Marzouk multiple times. This highlights that all along Firdaus was the most powerful part of the novel and that she believed that no one could have possession over her. Even though her whole culture is revolved around males being the dominant sex in any relationship and that women had no control over them, Firdaus had control over whom she slept with.
The novel constantly develops on the idea of men having all power over women, due to society at this time and even now in Egypt. Firdaus even though she is effected by the power of men and the role of possession they have over women, she defied this by creating a thin line between a prostitute and Firdaus, a prostitute has no control and is desperate while Firdaus has control of who she sleeps with, and become the most powerful at the end of the novel, she determines her own fate.