Nawal El Saadawi 1980
The Naked (Hidden) Face of Eve,
Beacon Press, Boston. ISBN 0-8070-6701-6
NOTE: This extract is included as an essential reading for transforming the world. You are requested to purchase the book yourself as it is, without question, essential reading material.
Nawal El Saadawi is a leading Egyptian feminist, socialist, medical doctor, novelist and author of a classic work on women in Islam, The Hidden Face of Eve. She had a distinguished career as Director of Health Education in the Ministry of Health in Cairo, until she was dismissed summarily from her post in 1972, as a consequence of eher political writing and activities. Worse was to follow, for in 1981 she was arrested, together with some thousands of others, for alleged crimes agfainst the state. She was released only after the assasination of President Sadat.Memoirs from the Women's Prison III gives her account of this experience.
PART 1 The Mutilated Half
1. The Question That No One Would Answer
I was six years old that night when I lay in my bed, warm and peaceful in that pleasurable state which lies half way between wakefulness and sleep, with the rosy dreams of childhood flitting by, like gentle fairies in quick succession. I felt something move under the blankets, something like a huge hand, cold and rough, fumbling over my body, as though looking for something. Almost simultaneously another hand, as cold and as rough and as big as the first one, was clapped over my mouth, to prevent me from screaming. They carried me to the bathroom. I do not know how many of them there were, nor do I remember their faces, or whether they were men or women. The world to me seemed enveloped in a dark fog winch prevented me from seeing. Or perhaps they put 4ome kind of a cover over my eyes. All I remember is that I was frightened and that there were many of them, and that something hke an iron grasp caught hold of my hand and my arms and my thighs, so that I became unable to resist or even to move. I also remember the icy touch of the bathroom tiles under my naked body, and unknown voices and humming sounds interrupted now and again by a rasping metallic sound which reminded me of the butcher when he used to sharpen his knife before daughtering a sheep for the Eid' . My blood was frozen in my veins. It looked to me as though some thieves had broken into my room and kidnapped me ftom my bed. They were getting ready to cut my throat which was always what happened with disobedient girls fike myself in the stories that my old rural grandmother was so fond of telling me. I strained my ears trying to catch the rasp of the metallic sound. The moment it ceased, it was as though my heart stopped beating with it. I was unable to see, and somehow my breathing seemed also to have stopped. Yet I imagined the thing that was making the rasping sound coming closer and closer to me. Somehow it was not [email protected] my neck as I had expected but another part of my body. Somewhere below my belly, as though seeking something buried between my thighs. At that very moment I realized that my thighs had been pulled wide apart, and that each of my lower limbs was being held as far away ftom the other as possible, gripped by-steel fingers that never relinquished their pressure. I felt that the rasping knife or blade was heading straight down towards my throat. Then suddenly the sharp metallic edge seemed to drop between my thighs and there cut off a piece of flesh from my body. I screamed with pain despite the tight hand held over my mouth, for the pain was not just a pain, it was like a searing flame that went through my whole body. After a few moments, I saw a red pool of blood around my hips. I did not know what they had cut off from my body, and I did not try to find out. I just wept, and called out to my mother for help. But the worst shock of all was when I looked around and found her standing by my side. Yes, it was her, I could not be mistaken, in flesh and blood, right in the midst of these strangers, talking to them and smiling at them, as though they had not participated in slaughtering her daughter just a few moments ago. They carried rne to my bed. I saw them catch hold of my sister, who was two years younger, in exactly the same way they had caught hold of me a few minutes earlier. I cried out with afl my might. No! No! I could see my sister's face held between the big rough hands. It had a deathly pallor and her wide black eyes met mine for a split second, a glance of dark terror which I can never forget. A moment later and she was gone, behind the door of the bathroom where I had just been. The look we exchanged seemed to say: 'Now we know what it is. Now we know where lies our tragedy. We were born of a special sex, the female sex. We are destined in advance to taste of misery, and to have a part of our body torn away by cold, unfeeling cruel hands.' My family was not an uneducated Egyptian family. On the contrary, both my parents had been fortunate enough to have a very good education, by the standards of those days. My father was a university graduate and that year (1937) had been appointed General Controller of Education for the Province of Menoufla in the Delta region to the North of Cairo. My mother had been taught in French schools by her father who was Director-General of Army Recruitment. Nevertheless, the custom of circumcising girls was very prevalent at the time, and no girl could escape having her clitoris amputated, irrespective of whether her family lived in a rural or an urban area. When I returned to school after having recovered from the operation, I asked my classmates and friends about what had happened to me, only to discover that all of them without exception, had been through the same experience, no matter what social class they came ftom (upper class, middle or lower-middle class). In rural areas, among the poor peasant families, all the girls are circumcised as I later on found out from my relatives in Kafr Tahla. This custom is still very common in the villages, and even in the cities a large proportion of families believe it is necessary. However, the spread of education and a greater understanding among parents is making increasing numbers of fathers and mothers abstain from circumcising their daughters. The memory of circumcision continued to track me down like a nightmare. I had a feeling of insecurity, of the unknown waiting for me at every step I took into the future. I did not even know if there were new surprises being stored up for me by my mother and father, or my grandmother, or the people around me. Society had made me feel, since the day that I opened my eyes on fife, that I was a girl, and that the word Bint (girl) when pronounced by anyone is almost always accompanied by a frown. Even when I had grown up and graduated as a doctor in 1955, I could not forget the painful incident that had made me lose my childhood once and for afl, and that deprived me during my youth and for many years of married hfe from enjoying the fullness of my sexuality and the completeness of life that can only come from all round psychological equilibrium. Nightmares of a siniiiar nature followed me throughout the years, especially during the period when I was working as a medical doctor in the rural areas. There I very often had to treat young girls who had come to the out-patients clinic bleeding profusely after a circumcision. Many of them used to lose their lives as a result of the inhuman and primitive way in which the operation, savage enough in itself, was performed. Others were afflicted with acute or chronic infections ftom which they sometimes suffered for the rest of their days. And most of them, if not all, became the victims later on of sexual or mental distortions as a result of this experience. My profession led me, at one stage, to examine patients coming from various Arab countries. Among them were Sudanese women. I was horrified to observe that the Sudanese girl undergoes an operation for circumcision which is ten times more cruel than that to which Egyptian girls are subjected. In Egypt it is only the clitoris which is amputated, and usually not completely. But in the Sudan, the operation consists in the complete removal of all the external genital organs. They cut off the clitoris, the two major outer lips (labia majora) and the two minor inner lips (labia minora). Then the wound is repaired. The outer opening of the vagina is the only portion left intact, not however without having ensured that, during the process of repairing, some narrowing of the opening is carried out with a few extra stitches. The result is that on the marriage night it is necessary to widen the external opening by slitting one or both ends with a sharp scalpel or razor so that the male organ can be introduced. When a Sudanese woman is divorced, the external opening is narrowed once more to ensure that she cannot have sexual relations. If she remarries, widening is done again. My feeling of anger and rebellion used to mount up as I listened to these women explaining to me what happens during the circumcision of a Sudanese Girl. My anger grew tenfold when in 1969 I paid a visit to the Sudan only to discover that the practice of circumcision was unabated, whether in rural areas, or even in the cities and towns. In spite of my upbringing and medical education, in those days I was not able to understand why girls were made to undergo this barbaric procedure. Time and again I asked myself the question: 'Why? Why?' But I could never get an answer to this question which was becoming more and more insistent, just as I was never able to get an answer to the questions that raced around in my mind the day that both my sister and I were circumcised. This question somehow seemed to be linked to other things that puzzled me. Why did they favour my brother as regards food, and the freedom to go out of the house? Why was he treated better than I was in all these matters? Why could my brother laugh at the top of his voice, move his legs freely, run and play as much as he wished, whereas I was not supposed to look into people's eyes directly, but was meant to drop my glance whenever I was confronted with someone? If I laughed, I was expected to keep my voice so low that people could hardly hear me, or better, confine myself to smiling timidly. When I played, my legs were not supposed to move freely, but had to be kept politely together. My duties were primarily to help in cleaning the house and cooking, in addition to studying since I was at school. The brothers however, the boys, were not expected to do anything but study, My family was educated and therefore differentiation between the boys and girls, especially as my father was Mmself a teacher, never reached the- extent which is so common in other families. I used to feel very sorry for my young girl relatives when they were forced out of school in order to get married to an old man just because he happened to own some land, or when their younger brothers would humiliate and beat them for no reason at all, except that as boys they could afford to act superior to their sisters. My brother tried to dominate me, in turn, but my father was a broad- minded man and tried as best he could to treat his children without discrim- inating between the boys and the girls. My mother, also, used to say that a girl is equal to a boy, but I used to feel that in practice this was often not the case. Whenever tills differentiation occurred I used to rebel, sometimes violently, and would ask my mother and father why it was that my brother was accorded privileges that were not given to me, despite the fact that I was doing better than him at school. My father and mother, however, never had any answer to give me except: 'It is so . . .' I would retort: 'Why should it be so?' And back would come the answer again, unchanged: 'Because it is so . . .' If I was in an obstinate mood, I would repeat the question again. Then, at the end of their patience, they would say almost in the same voice: 'He is a boy, and you are a girl.' Perhaps they thought that this answer would be enough to convince me, or at least to keep me quiet. But on the contrary it always made me persist more than ever. I would ask: 'What is the difference between a boy and a girl?' At tills point my old grandmother, who very often paid us a visit, would intervene in the discussion, which she always described as being an 'infringe- ment of good manners', and scold me sharply: 'I have never in all my life seen a girl with such a long tongue as you. Of course you are not fike your brother. Your brother is a boy, a boy, do you hear? I wish you had been born a boy hke him!' No one in the family was ever able to give me a convincing answer to my question. So the question continued to tum around restlessly in my mind, and would jump to the forefront every time something happened that would emphasize the fact that the male is treated everywhere and at all times as though he belongs to a species which is superior to that of the female. When I started to go to school, I noticed that the teachers would write my father's name on my notebooks, but never that of my mother. So I asked my mother why, and again she answered, 'It is so.' My father, however, explained that children are named after their father, and when I sought to fmd out the reason he repeated the phrase that I knew wefl by now: 'It is so.' I summoned up all my courage and said: 'Why is it so?' But this time I could see from my father's face that he really did not know the answer. I never asked him the question again, except later on when my search for the truth led me to ask Wm many other questions, and to talk to him about many other things that I was discovering on the way. However from that day onwards I realized that I had to find my own answer to the question that no one would answer. From that day also extends the long path that has led to this book.
1. Eid is a four day festival which follows the month of fasting (Ramadan) among Muslims. lt is an occasion of great festivities. Another Eid is that celebrated about one and a half months later, Eid El Adha, the Festival of Sacrifice, in which a sheep or lamb is sacrificed. This is a repetition of Abraham's sacrifice of a lamb in place of his son.
5. The Very Fine Membrane Called 'Honour'
Every female Arab chiId, even today, must possess that very fine membrane called a hymen, which is considered one of the most essential, if not the most essential, part of her body. However, the mere existence of the hymen is not in itself sufficient. This fine membrane must be capable of bleeding profusely, of letting out red blood that can be seen as a visible stain on a white bed sheet the night a young girl is married. No g[rl can be more unfortunate than she whom nature has endowed with an elastic hymen, capable of widening and stretching at the moment when the man's finger or Ms sexual organ penetrates upwards in the vagina, for such a hymen will not bleed. No girl can suffer a worse fate than she whom nature has forgotten to provide with a hymen, or whose hymen is so delicate that it is tom away and lost by repeated riding on a bicycle or a horse, or by masturbation, or by one of those minor accidents that happen so often in childhood. No human being can know greater misery and humiliation than a girl whose hymen is thick, deprived of an orifice, and elastic. For then neither the male finger nor the man's penis can draw blood as it pushes the hymen before it like a rubber membrane. One day, when I still had my clinic in Benha, I was confronted with a case of the latter type. My 'patient' was a young girl, about sixteen years old, pale and so thin that she looked as though she had barely passed the age of twelve. It appeared to me as though undernourishment had prevented her body from filng out normally. The husband who had accompanied her during the visit explained to me that they had married about a year before, and that she was complaining of a fullness in the belly, which led him to think that she was probably pregnant. However, when I examined the girl, I could not find any signs of pregnancy. On the other hand, I noticed that she had been bom with a thick, elastic and and non-perforated hymen. The swelling of her belly was therefore due to the menstrual flow that had accumulated in her vagina, month after month, since the age of puberty, which she had apparently reached some tilne after marriage. The absence of an orifice in the hymen had prevented this flow from being discharged out of her body. With a jab of my sharp lancet I made an opening in the hymen, and let the old accumulated dark blood rush out through it.
It transpired, in the discussion that followed after the girl had got off the operating table, that the husband had accused her of not being a virgin, since she had not bled from the external genital organs on the night of marriage. If unmarried she might have found herself in an even worse position where others might have jumped to the conclusion that she was pregnant with an illegitimate child, since her parents would most probably have noticed the unusual swelling of her belly. This reminds me of a story I read many years later in the newspapers. The police had discovered the dead body of a young pregnant girl. It was thought that she had been murdered to defend the 'honour' of her family as very often happens in such cases. However, when the body was dissected by a medico- legal expert in the mortuary, his report showed that the girl had not been pregnant. The swelling detected in her belly was, as in the case I treated, due to the accumulated menstrual flow held back by a thick unperforated hymen. If we keep in mind the high percentage of anomalies that affect the hymen at the time when the embryo is still developing, and which are therefore bom with female children, it is easy to imagine what sufferings a girl may undergo without even knowing what has gone wrong. For it is known that 11.2% of girls are born with an elastic hymen, 16.16% with so fme a membrane that it is easily torn, 31.32% with a thick elastic hymen, and only 41.32% with what may be considered a normal hymen.' A mother once awakened me at dead of night in a panic. She wanted to know whether boiling water had any effect on the 'membrane of virginity', as it is called in Arabic, since her child had fallen into a deep tub of boiling water and the whole of her lower half had been immersed. The mother was more concerned with the poor child's hymen than she was with her life. The number of husbands, fathers and mothers who at one time or another turned up in my clinic to ask me about the hymen of a young bride or daughter cannot be counted. Very often the father or the mother would ask me for a medical certificate indicating that the daughter was a virgin, or that her hymen had been torn while she was playing some sport, or as a result of an accident (not related to sex, of course). Arab society still considers that the fine membrane which covers the aper- ture of the external gential organs is the most cherished and most important part of a girl's body, and is much more valuable than one of her eyes, or an arm, or a lower limb. An Arab family does not grieve as much at the loss of a girl's eye as it does if she happens to lose her virginity. In fact if the girl lost her life, it would be considered less of a catastrophe than if she lost her hymen. A girl who does not preserve her virginity is liable to be punished with physical death, or moral death, or at least with being divorced if she is found out at the time of marriage. Such divorce is of course accompanied by a scandal, usually restricted to family circles, but which very often inevitably spreads far and wide. Yet such a girl may be completely innocent of any sexual relation, but incapable of proving her innocence. This is due to the fact that patriarchal class society has imposed premarital virginity on girls and ensured that the very honour of a girl, and her family, is closely linked to the preservation of this virginity. If virginity is lost, this brings almost everlasting shame which can only be 'wiped out in blood', as the common Arab saying goes.
Virginity is a strict moral rule which applies to girls alone. Yet one would think that the first criterion of a moral rule, if it is indeed to be moral, should be that it applies to all without exception, and does not yield to any form of discrimination whether on the basis of sex, colour or class. However, moral codes and standards in our societies very rarely apply to all people equally. TWs is the most damning proof of how immoral such codes and standards really are. In history the ruling classes of by-gone days imposed the moral values of abstinence, stoicism and a renunciation of worldly pleasures on wage-earners to ensure that they were satisfied with their meagre pay, and would willingly join up to fight in armies for the defence of privileges which belonged to others. In the upper classes, however, all was permitted and the values of greed, lust, extravagance and pleasure were allowed to flourish on the misery of the masses. Since it is men who rule over women, they in turn permitted themselves what they forbade to women. Thus it was that chastity and virginity were considered essential for women, whereas freedom and even licentiousness were looked upon as natural where men were concerned. There are many people in Arab society who, to this very day, firmly believe that virginity can only be destined for girls and not for boys. God has provided them with a hymen as a means to proving virginity. Such reasoning is only a reflection of the backwardness that prevails in many aspects of our fife. The anatomical and biological constitution of human beings, whether men or women, can have no relation to moral values. Moral values are in fact the product of social systems or, more precisely, of the social system imposed by the ruhng class with the aim of serving certain economic and political interests, and ensuring that the situation from which that class draws benefit and power is maintained. The anatomical and biological characteristics of the body are aimed at something else, nwnely at fulfiling certain vital physiological functions related to the protection and maintenance of life. By what figment of imagination can we profess that the hymen was created in order to block the passage of the male sexual organ when it seeks to penetrate through the external genital organs of the female into the vagina, during the period prior to marriage? Such a function can only be considered a social and moral one, in no way related to the vital biological and physio- logical functions exercised in this part of the body. As a matter of fact, the hymen can be compared to the appendix since it has no real bodily functions to fulfil. If it had an important function we would not have found so many girls bom without any hymen at afl, or others with just a remnant. Indeed, if the hymen were so important an organ for the preservation of virginity, God or nature would surely have ensured that all hymens bleed at the first copulation, whereas in fact a very high proportion seem to suffer from an innate anaemia. More than 30% of girls have no bleeding at all during their first sexual act. What can this mean? Surely God has not sought to punish these girls by not providing them with the right kind of hymen, with a hymen capable of bleeding, therefore of indicating virginity. What justice is it that punishes a girl because she had a different anatomical constitution from others, or a wider hymenal aperture than is usually the case? It is well known that the organs of the human body, whether related to the reproductive system or to any other system, vary widely as regards size and even shape. No body completely resembles another. No body is an identical mould or finger-print of another. Each one of us has his or her own unique physical constitution, and leaves our own characteristic finger-prints on any- thing we may touch. Thus it is that the penis of one man differs from that of another. Similarly, the aperture of the hymen differs from female to female and so ftom virgin to virgin. What irony of fate, therefore, if a girl with a wide hymenal orifice marries a man with a diminutive penis!! Can this possibly be a sufficient reason for divorce or disgrace or even death, as it commonly is in societies where virginity is still considered a supreme value? Fortunately education, and in particular the education of an increasing number of girls, as well as the fact that more and more females are seeking paid work outside the home, are both contributing to relatively rapid changes in the personality of Arab women. These changes are making them more independent, more respectful of their own minds and bodies, less prone to submit their lives to unjust moral values imposed by a male dominated society. Such developments are leading to changes in the attitudes of society towards women, and are bringing to life new generations of Arab youth where the males no longer judge a girl by her hymen, or the flow of blood on the night of marriage. Change is taking place. But the vast majority of Arab men still insist on virginity in their partner at marriage. A girl who has lost her virginity runs a great danger if it is discovered at the time of marriage, especially in Upper Egypt, where her fate is often death at the hands of her own family. If a girl happens to have been provided by nature with an elastic hymen winch does not bleed on the first night of marriage, ignorance will be her executioner. For the rituals of marriage require that defloration be performed by the husband with his finger and that 'red blood be shed on the white sheet'. Very few people understand that the hymen varies in texture, size and consistency from one girl to another, just as the male sexual organ differs from man to man. Luck may have it that a girl with an elastic hymen marries a man with a diminutive sexual organ and, if finger defloration is not done, the inference will be that she is not a virgin, since no bleeding wffl occur. An educated husband will sometimes take his young wife to be examined by a doctor if he wishes to reassure himself of her virginity. Since gynaecological examination of virgins is rare, doctors do not often get a chance to see different types of hymens and are therefore liable to make mistakes. I remem- ber the case of a medical doctor who was asked by a newly married husband to examine his bride. The family of the bride were waiting outside the examination room, and when the doctor came out and informed them that the girl was not a virgin the news to them was like a stroke of lightning. One day later she was murdered by her cousin despite her protestations of innocence. Her body was examined by the coroner and it transpired too late that the doctor's diagnosis had been incorrect. Another victim had been sacrificed in the name of 'virginity'.
Many a husband rang the bell of my clinic in Giza and walked into my consultation room accompanied by a weeping young girl. In angry nervous tones he would explain to me that on the first night of marriage no 'red blood' could be discerned after sexual intercourse. Numerous were the nights which I spent by the side of a young girl in a small country house or mud hut during my years in rural Egypt, treating a haemorrhage that had resulted from the long dirty finger nail of a daya cutting through the soft tissues during the process of defloration. For in many villages this ritual ceremony in honour of virginity is performed by an ugly old crone, the daya who earns her living by amputating the clitoris of children, and tearing open the vagina of young brides. The father of the bride then holds up a white towel stained with blood, and waves it proudly above his head for the relatives assembled at the door to bear witness to the fact that the honour of his daughter and of the family is intact.
I used to attend some of these marriage ceremonies in order to follow at dose quarters what was taking place. On one occasion the daya embedded her long nail in the hymen, but ordy a few drops of scanty blood were forth- coming. To my horror, she pushed her finger up the vagina and the blood welled out in a steady stream. The white towel bathed in crimson flapped out over the father's head, the drums beat, and female voices emitted the long drawn out shrieks of joy. I realized that she had cut through the wall of the vagina. At the end of the night, in answer to my questions, she explained to me that on marriage nights she was very much in demand. Her fame, built up on her capacity for bringing forth a vigorous flow of blood in the process of defloration, had earned her an unusual popularity and a steady income ftom such auspicious occasions.
When the finger of a rural husband replaces that of the daya, then defloration becomes even more brutal. His only experience in the use of his hands is related to gripping the thick handle of the plough or the harrow. The daya at least has some notion of the female body. And nothing can be more brutal than a thick coarse finger plunging mercilessly into the external opening of the vagina, and boring up in an unknown direction. Thus it was that, on a cold winter's night, a young girl was carried into my clinic bleeding profusely between her thighs, only for me to discover that the husband's finger had perforated the interior vaginal wall into the urinary bladder. Yet this brutal orthodoxy in relation to women is accompanied, on the other hand, with almost unlimited licence for men. The Arab proverb goes: 'Only the pocket of a man can bring him shame.' For our society, therefore, @e is only the result of poverty, where men are concemed. Male ego grows in proportion to the number of his female conquests, and his sexual relations are a source of pride and occasions for boasting. Education has contributed to greater enlightenment in matters relating to sex and the situation of women in Arab society, and yet many educated men still maintain their traditionalist attitudes and values in this sphere. I personally have met many men who have higher degrees or have pursued their studies abroad and travelled widely, yet their emotional and mental constitution remains rigid and backward in so far as women are concerned. An engineer who had spent five years in West Germany, on his return to Egypt noticed what he thought were signs of pregnancy in his seventeen year old sister. He searched her room and found a bottle of medicine in the wardrobe which he carried to the nearby drugstore. The chemist informed him that the medi- cine he had brought for examination is used in attempts to induce abortion. The engineer rushed back to his house in a state of uncontrollable agitation, seized hold of a knife from the kitchen and stabbed his sister to death. In the post mortem examination it transpired that she was still a virgin and no evidence of pregnancy was detectable. Counsel for the defence, in Ms sub- mission to the court, pleaded for the engineer's release on the grounds that Ids motive in committing the crime had been the defence of his family's honour. He had been assailed by doubts about his sister's conduct and this had led him to commit the crime. His doubts had been misplaced, but his intentions were good. The court set him free without bail.3 So once again we see a situation where, even in case of a murder, a man escapes retribution because he is covered by traditionalist conceptions of honour, whereas these very conceptions lead to punishment where girls and women are concerned. The law is ahnost always on the side of men, and courts of justice very often dissolve marriages because the bride was found to have lost her virginity before marriage. Where women are concerned, harshness and even cruelty are the rule when- ever the law is applied. I have known a court of law pass sentence on a teacher because she entered a bathroom in which her female colleague was lying naked in the tub without knocking on the door. Another notable case was that in which severe legal punishment was meted out to a school teacher because she took her class and spent some time with them in a waterside cafe.' The murky fate which awaits a girl who loses her virginity often forces her to find some way out of the dilemma. The daughter of a rich family can go to a gynaecologist and pay a large sum of money to undergo a plastic repairal of the hymen. Whereas a poor village girl wifl depend on the subterfuges of the daya, which include fixing the date of marriage at the time of menstruation or placing a small bag full of chicken's blood at the opening of the vagina to ensure a red flow at the time of defloration. One day a young girl came to my clinic for a consultation. She was carrying a five months pregnancy, but when I examined her the hymen was still intact. She explained to me that the pregnancy had occurred after repeated superficial sexual intercourse and asked me to remove the child through an abdominal operation (a Caeserean section). I refused to comply with her request, so she left. Many years later I met her accidentally, and she explained to me that after my refusal she had been to another doctor who performed the operation for her. Now she was married to a successful engineer and had two children by him. In my imagination I often evoke the picture of this engineer, whom I never met, carrying out the ritual defloration on the first night of marriage with care, to make sure that his bride was a virgin, and happy to discover that her hymen was intact. For him, the incision extending perpendicularly along the abdomen mattered little, just as an incision in her heart or liver or even brain would have been of little significance, whereas a small tear in the hymen, a millimetre long, would have been sufficient to upset his whole world. There is a distorted concept of honour in our Arab society. A man's honour is safe as long as the female members of his family keep their hymens intact. It is more closely related to the behaviour of the women in the family, than to his own behaviour. He can be a womanizer of the worst calibre and yet be considered an honourable man as long as his womenfolk are able to protect their genital organs. There are certain moral standards for females and others for males, and the whole of society is permeated by such double moral standards. At the root of this anomalous situation lies the fact that sexual experience in the life of a man is a source of pride and a symbol of virility; whereas sexual experience in the life of women is a source of shame and a symbol of degradation. It is not difficult to realize the consequences of this double standard of morality. The males are let loose in search of sexual experience, in any form and no matter at what price,'in an attempt to prove their'virility and bolster their masculine pride, which are motives as strong as the satisfaction of sexual desire per se. Men are engaged in a perpetual chase after women and have recourse to declarations of passionate love, or showering them with gifts. In tills continuous urge to possess a woman, the male wfll tempt a poor servant, or land himself with a syphilitic prostitute, or victimize a young child, or entice a girl with promises of marriage. If the latter believes in his promises and surrenders herself to hipi, she is trapped. For then he will usually refuse to marry her because she has lost her virginity and society now considers her a fallen woman. She is abandoned to the sad fate of a dis- honoured female carrying an illegitimate child, whereas the male moves on to new conquests. TWs picture is typical of a large sector of urban society, and of the upper dasses in rural areas. However when we consider the working class in the cities and towns, and the peasants and agricultural Tabourers in the villages, many of the phenomena mentioned previously are rarely discernible. Early marriage, continuous hard work and the difficulties of life leave little room for sexual licence, although other manifestations of discrimination against women and sexual oppression remain an integral part of social behaviour. It is not difficult to understand why, under such circumstances, girls live in continuous anxiety and fear of losing their virginity. The upbringing of @ris in Arab families is calculated to keep them away from men, and to wam them of the dangers and subterfuges to wmch they are liable to fall victims at any moment. Physical circumcision, therefore, has as its corollary another form of circumcision that we may call 'educational circumcision' to which we must now turn.
I . Statistics of the Institute of Forensic Medicine, Baghdad, Iraq, 1940- 1970, published in The Iraqi Medical Journal dated 21 February 1972. 2. The Iraqi Medical journal, article by the medicolegal specialist, Dr. Wasfy Mohammed Ali, 21 February 1972. 3. A khbar El Yom, weekly edition, 18 May 1974, p. 1 0, under the title: 'He killed his sister and then discovered she was a virgin . 4. A khbar El Yom, weekly edition, 6 March 1976, p. I 0, under the title: 'The court of Appeal abolishes the contract because the wife was not a virgin.' 5. A khbar El Yom, weekly edition, 9 August 1975, p. I 0.
6. Circumcision of Girls
The practice of circumcising girls is still a common procedure in a number of Arab countries such as Egypt, the Sudan, Yeman and some of the Gulf states. The importance given to virginity and an intact hymen in these societies is the reason why female circumcision still remains a very widespread practice despite a growing tendency, especially in urban Egypt, to do away with it as something outdated and harmful. Behind circumcision hes the belief that, by removing parts of girls' external genital organs, sexual desire is minimized. This permits a female who has reached the 'dangerous age' of puberty and adolescence to protect her virginity, and therefore her honour, with greater ease. Chastity was imposed on male attendants in the female harem by castration which turned them into inoffensive eunuchs. Similarly female circumcision is meant to preserve the chastity of young girls by reducing their desire for sexual intercourse. . Circumcision is most often performed on female children at the age of seven or eight (before the girl begins to get menstrual periods). On the scene appears the daya or local midwife. Two women members of the family grasp the chfld's thighs on either side and pufl them apart to expose the external genital organs and to prevent her from struggling Re trussing a chicken before it is slain. A sharp razor in the hand of the daya cuts off the clitoris. During my period of service as a rural physician, I was called upon many times to treat complications arising from this primitive operation, which very often jeopardized the life of young girls. The ignorant daya believed that effective circumcision necessitated a deep cut with the razor to ensure radical amputation of the clitoris, so that no part of the sexually sensitive organ would remain. Severe haemorrhage was therefore a common occurrence and sometimes led to loss of life. The dayas had not the slightest notion of asepsis, and inflammatory conditions as a result of the operation were common. Above all, the lifelong psychological shock of this cruel procedure left its imprint on the personality of the child and accompanied her into adolescence, youth and maturity. Sexual frigidity is one of the after-effects which is accentuated by other social and psychological factors that influence the personality and mental make-up of females in Arab societies. Girls are therefore exposed to a whole series of misfortunes as a result of outdated notions and values related to virginity, which still remains the fundamental
The practice of circumcising girls is still a common procedure in a number of Arab countries such as Egypt, the Sudan, Yeman and some of the Gulf states. The importance given to virginity and an intact hymen in these societies is the reason why female circumcision stfll remains a very widespread practice despite a growing tendency, especially in urban Egypt, to do away with it as something outdated and harmful. Behind circumcision hes the belief that, by removing parts of girls' external genital organs, sexual desire is minimized. This permits a female who has reached the 'dangerous age' of puberty and adolescence to protect her virginity, and therefore her honour, with greater ease. Chastity was imposed on male attendants in the female harem by castration which turned them into inoffensive eunuchs. Similarly female circumcision is meant to preserve the chastity of young girls by reducing their desire for sexual intercourse. . Circumcision is most often performed on female [email protected] at the age of seven or eight (before the girl begins to get menstrual periods). On the scene appears the daya or local midwife. Two women members of the family grasp the chfld's thighs on either side and pull them apart to expose the external genital organs and to prevent her from struggling like trussing a chicken before it is slain. A sharp razor in the hand of the daya cuts off the clitoris. During my period of service as a rural physician, I was called upon many times to treat complications arising from this primitive operation, which very often jeopardized the life of young girls. The ignorant daya believed that effective circumcision necessitated a deep cut with the razor to ensure radical amputation of the clitoris, so that no part of the sexually sensitive organ would remain. Severe haemorrhage was therefore a common occurrence and sometimes led to loss of life. The dayas had not the slightest notion of asepsis, and inflammatory conditions as a result of the operation were common. Above all, the lifelong psychological shock of this cruel procedure left its imprint on the personality of the cMId and accompanied her into adolescence, youth and maturity. Sexual frigidity is one of the after-effects which is accentuated by other social and psychological factors that influence the personality and mental make-up of females in Arab societies. Girls are therefore exposed to a whole series of misfortunes as a result of outdated notions and values related to virginity, which still remains the fundamental criterion of a girl's honour. In recent years, however, educated families have begun to realize the harm that is done by the practice of female circumcision. Nevertheless a majority of families stfll impose on young female children the barbaric and cruel operation of circumcision. T'he research that I carried out on a sample of 160 Egyptian girls and women showed that 97.5% of uneducated families still insisted on maintaining the custom, but this percentage dropped to 66.2% ainong educated families.' When I discussed the matter with these girls and women it transpired that most of them had no idea of the harm done by circumcision, and some of them even thought that it was good for one's health and conducive to cleanliness and 'purity'. (The operation in the common language of the people is in fact called the cleansing or purifying operation.) Despite the fact that the percentage of educated women who have undergone circumcision is only 66.2%, as compared with 97.5% among uneducated women, even the former did not realize the effect that this amputation of the clitoris could have on their psychological and sexual health. The dialogue that occurred between these women and myself would run more or less as follows: 'Have you undergone circumcision?' 'Yes.' 'How old were you at the time?' 'I was a child, about seven or eight years old.' 'Do you remember the details of the operation?' 'Of course. How could I possibly forget?' 'Were you afraid?' 'Very afraid. I hid on top of the cupboard [in other cases she would say under the bed, or in the neighbour's house] , but they caught hold of me, and I felt my body tremble in their hands.' 'Did you feel any pain?' 'Very much so. It was like a buming flame and I screamed. My mother held my head so that I could not move it, my aunt caught hold of my right arm and my grandmother took charge of my left. Two strange women whom I had not seen before tried to keep me from moving my thighs by pushing them as far apart as possible. The daya sat between these two women, holding a sharp razor in her hand which she used to cut off the clitoris. I was scared and suffered such great pain that I lost consciousness at the flame that seemed to sear me through and through.' 'What happened after the operation?' 'I had severe bodily pains, and remained in bed for several days, unable to move. The pain in my external genital organs led to retention of urine. Every time I wanted to urinate the burning sensation was so unbearable that I could not bring myself to pass water. The wound continued to bleed for some time, and my mother used to change the dressing for me twice a day.' Vhat did you feel on discovering that a small organ in your body had been removed?' 'I did not know anything about the operation at the time, except that it was very simple, and that it was done to all girls for purposes of cleanliness, purity and the preservation of a good reputation. It was said that a girl who did not undergo tills operation was liable to be talked about by people, her behaviour would become bad, and she would start running after men, with the result that no one would agree to marry her when the time for marriage came. My grandmother told me that the operation had only consisted in the removal of a very small piece of flesh from between my thighs, and that the continued existence of tills small piece of flesh in its place would have made me unclean and impure, and would have caused the man whom I would marry to be repelled by me.' 'Did you believe what was said to you?' 'Of course I did. I was happy the day I recovered from the effects of the operation, and felt as though I was rid of something wmch had to be removed, and so had become clean and pure.' Those were more or less the answers that I obtained from all those interviewed, whether educated or uneducated. One of them was a medical student from Ein Shams School of Medicine. She was preparing for her fmal examinations and I expected her answers to be different, but in fact they were almost identical to the others. We had quite a long discussion which I reproduce here as I remember it. 'You are going to be a medical doctor after a few weeks, so how can you believe that cutting off the clitoris ftom the body of a girl is a healthy procedure, or at least not harmful?' 'This is what I was told by everybody. AH the girls in my family have been circumcised. I have studied anatomy and medicine, yet I have never heard any of the professors who taught us explain that the clitoris had any function to fulfil in the body of a woman, neither have I read anything of the kind in the books which deal with the medical subjects I am studying.' 'That is true. To this day medical books do not consider the science of sex as a subject which they should deal with. The organs of a woman worthy of attention are considered to be only those directly related to reproduction, namely the vagina, the uterus and the ovaries. The clitoris, however, is an organ neglected by medicine, just as it is ignored and disdained by society.' 'I remember a student asking the professor one day about the clitoris. The professor went red in the face and answered him curtly, saying that no one was going to ask him about this part of the female body during examinations, since it was of no importance.' My studies led me to try and fmd out the effect of circumcision on the girls and women who had been made to undergo it, and to understand what results it had on their psychological and sexual life. The majority of the normal cases I interviewed answered that the operation had no effect on them. To me it was clear that in the face of such questions they were much more ashamed and intimidated than the neurotic cases were. But I did not allow myself to be satisfied with these answers,, and would go on to question them closely about their sexual life both before and after the circumcision was done. Once again I wfll try to reproduce the dialogue that usually occurred.
'Did you experience any change of feeling or of sexual desire after the operation?' 'I was a child and therefore did not feel anything.' 'Did you not experience any sexual desire when you were a child?' 'No, never. Do children experience sexual desire?' 'ChiIdren feel pleasure when they touch their sexual organs, and some form of sexual play occurs between them, for example, during the game of bride and bridegroom usually practised under the bed. Have you never played this game with your friends when still a child?' At these words the young girl or woman would blush, and her eyes would probably refuse to meet mine, in an attempt to hide her confusion. But after the conversation had gone on for some time, and an atmosphere of mutual confidence and understanding had been established, she would begin to recount her childhood memories. She would often refer to the pleasure she had felt when a man of the family pen-nitted himself certain sexual caresses. Sometimes these caresses would be proffered by the domestic servant, the house porter, the private teacher or the neighbour's son. A college student told me that her brother had been wont to caress her sexual organs and that she used to experience acute enjoyment. However after undergoing circumcision she no longer had the same sensation of pleasure. A married woman admitted that during intercourse with her husband she had never experienced the slightest sexual enjoyment, and that her last memories of any fon-n of pleasurable sensation went back twenty years, to the age of six, before she had undergone circumcision. A young girl told me that she had been accustomed to practise masturbation, but had given it up completely after removal of the clitoris at the age of ten. The further our conversations went, and the more I delved into their lives, the more readily they opened themselves up to me and uncovered the secrets of childhood and adolescence, perhaps almost forgotten by them or only vaguely realized. Being both a woman and a medical doctor I was able to obtain confessions from these women and girls which it would be almost impossible, except in very rare cases, for a man to obtain. For the Egyptian woman, accustomed as she is to a very rigid and severe upbringing built on a complete denial of any sexual life before marriage, adamantly refuses to admit that she has ever known, or experienced, anything related to sex before the first touches of her husband. She is therefore ashamed to speak about such things with any man, even the doctor who is treating her. My discussions with some of the psycmatrists who had treated a number of the young girls and women in my sample, led me to conclude that there were many aspects of the life of these neurotic patients that remained unknown to them. This was due either to the fact that the psychiatrist himself had not made the necessary effort to penetrate deeply into the life of the woman he was treating, or to the tendency of the patient herself not to divulge those things which her upbringing made her consider matters not to be discussed freely, especially with a man.
In fact the long and varied interchanges I had over the years with the majority of practising psychiatrists in Egypt, my close association with a large number of my medical colleagues during the long periods I spent working in health centres and general or specialized hospitals and, finally, the four years I spent as a member of the National Board of the Syndicate of Medical Professions, have all led me to the firm conclusion that the medical profession in our society is sifll incapable of understanding the fundamental problems with which sick people are burdened, whether they be men or women, but especially if they are women. For the medical profession, like any other profession in society, is governed by the political, social and moral values which predominate, and like other professions is one of the institutions which is utilized more often than not to protect these values and perpetuate them. Men represent the vast majority in the medical profession, as in most professions. But apart from this, the mentality of women doctors differs little, if at all, from that of the men, and I have known quite a number of them who were even more rigid and backward in outlook than their male colleagues. A rigid and backward attitude towards most problems, and in particular towards women and sex, predominates in the medical profession, and particularly within the precincts of the medical colleges in the Universities. Before undertaking my research study on 'Women and Neurosis' at Ein Shams University, I had made a previous attempt to start it at the Kasr El Eini Medical College in the University of Cairo, but had been obliged to give up as a result of the numerous problems I was made to confront. The most important obstacle of all was the overpowering traditionalist mentality that characterized the professors responsible for my research work, and to whom the word'sex' could only be equated to the word 'shame'. 'Respectable research' therefore could not possibly have sex as its subject, and should under no circumstances tmnk of penetrating into areas even remotely related to it. One of my medical colleagues in the Research Committee advised me not to refer at all to the question of sex in the title of my research paper, when I found myself obliged to shift to Ein Shams University. He warned me that any such reference would most probably lead to fundamental objections which would jeopardize my chances of going ahead with it. I had initially chosen to define my subject as 'Problems that confront the sexual life of modern Egyptian women', but after prolonged negotiations I was prevailed to delete the word 'sexual' and replace it by 'psychological'. Only thus was it possible to circumvent the sensitivities of the professors at the Ein Shams Medical School and obtain their consent to go ahead with the research. After I observed the very high percentages of women and girls who had been obliged to undergo [email protected] or who had been exposed to different forms of sexual violation or assault in their childhood, I started to look for research undertaken in these two areas, either in the medical colleges or in research institutes, but in vain. Hardly a single medical doctor or researcher had ventured to do any work on these subjects, in view of the sensitive nature of the issues involved. This can also be explained by the fact that most of the research carried out in such institutions is of a fon-nal and superficial nature, since its sole aim is to obtain a degree or promotion. The path of safety is therefore the one to choose, and safety means to avoid carefully all subjects of controversy. No one is therefore prepared to face difficulties with the responsible academic and scientific authorities, or to engage in any form of struggle against them, or their ideas. Nor is anyone prepared to face up to those who lay down the norms of virtue, morals and religious behaviour in society. All the established leaderships in the area related to such matters suffer from a pronounced allergy to the word 'sex', and any of its implications, especially if it happens to be linked to the word 'woman'.
Nevertheless I was fortunate enough to discover a small number of medical doctors who had the courage to be different, and therefore to examine some of the problems related to the sexual life of women. I would like to cite, as one of the rare examples, the only research study carried out on the question of female circumcision in Egypt and its harmful effects. This was the joint effort of Dr. Mahmoud Koraim and Dr. Rushdi Ammar, both ftom Ein Shams Medical College, and which was published in 1965. It is composed of two parts, the first of which was printed under the title Female Circumcision and Sexual Desire, and the second, under the title Complications of Female Circumcision. The conclusions arrived at as a result of this research study, which covered 651 women circumcised during childhood, may be summarized as follows:
(1) Circumcision is an operation with harmful effects on the health of women, and is the cause of sexual shock to young girls. It reduces the capacity of a woman to reach the peak of her sexual pleasure (i.e. orgasm) and has a definite though lesser effect in reducing sexual desire.
(2) Education helps to hmit the extent to which female circumcision is practised, since educated parents have an increasing tendency to refuse the operation for their daughters. On the other hand, uneducated families stfll go in for female circumcision in submission to prevailing traditions, or in the belief that removal of the clitoris reduces the sexual desire of the girl, and therefore helps to preserve her virginity and chastity after marriage.
(3) There is no truth whatsoever in the idea that female circumcision helps in reducing the incidence of cancerous disease of the external genital organs.
(4) Female circumcision in all its forms and degrees, and in particular the fourth degree known as Pharaonic or Sudanese excision, is accompanied by immediate or delayed complications such as inflammations, haemorrhage, disturbances in the urinary passages, cysts or swellings that can obstruct the urinary flow or the vaginal opening.
(5) Masturbation in circumcised girls is less frequent than was observed by Kinsey in girls who have not undergone this operation.
I was able to exchange views with Dr. Mahmoud Koraim during several meetings in Cairo. I learnt ftom him that he had faced numerous difficulties while undertaking his research, and was the target of bitter criticism from some of his colleagues and from religious leaders who considered themselves
The Hidden Face of Eve
Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana, Guinea and Nigeria. It was also practised in many Asian countries such as Sri Lanka and Indonesia, and in parts of Latin America. It is recorded as going back far into the past under the Pharaonic Kingdoms of Ancient Egypt, and Herodotus mentioned the existence of female circumcision seven hundred years before Christ was bom. This is why the operation as practised in the Sudan is called 'Pharaonic excision'. For many years I tried in vain to find relevant sociological or anthropological studies that would throw some light on the reasons why such a brutal operation is practised on females. However I did discover other practices related to girls and female children which were even more savage. One of them was burying female children alive ahnost immediately after they were born, or even at a later stage. Other examples are the chastity belt, or closing the aperture of the extemal genital organs with steel pins and a special iron lock.' This last procedure is extremely primitive and very much akin to Sudanese circumcision where the clitoris, external lips and internal lips are completely excised, and the orifice of the genital organs closed with a flap of sheep's intestines leaving only a very small opening barely sufficient to let the tip of the finger in, so that the menstrual and urinary flows are not held back. This opening is slit at the time of marriage and widened to allow penetration of the male sexual organ. It is widened again when a child is born and then narrowed down once more. Complete closure of the aperture is also done on a woman who is divorced, so that she hterauy becomes a virgin once more and can have no seyual intercourse except in the eventuality of marriage, in which case the opening is restored.
In the face of all these strange and complicated procedures aimed at preventing sexual intercourse in women except if controlled by the husband, it is natural that we should ask ourselves why women, in particular, were subjected to such torture and cruel suppression. There seems to be no doubt that society, as represented by its dominant classes and male structure, realized at a very early stage that sexual desire in the female is very powerful, and that women, unless controlled and subjugated by all sorts of measures, will not submit themselves to the moral, social, legal and religious constraints with which they have been surrounded, and in particular the constraints related to monogamy. The patriarchal system, which came into being when society had reached a certain stage of development and which necessitated the imposition of one husband on the woman whereas a man was left free to have several wives, would never have been possible, or have been maintained to this day, without the whole range of cruel and ingenious devices that were used to keep her sexuality in check and hmit her sexual relations to only one man, who had to be her husband. This is the reason for the implacable enmity shown by society towards female sexuality, and the weapons used to resist and subjugate the turbulent force inherent in it. The slightest leniency manifested in facing this 'potential danger' meant that woman would break out of the prison bars to which marriage had confined her, and step over the steely limits of a monogamous relationship to a forbidden intimacy with another man, which would inevitably lead to confusion in succession and inheritance, since there was no guarantee that a strange man's child would not step into the waiting line of descendants. Confusion between the children of the legitimate husband and the outsider lover would mean the unavoidable collapse of the patriarchal family built around the name of the father alone. History shows us clearly that the father was keen on knowing who his real children were, solely for the purpose of handing down his landed property to them. The patriarchal family, therefore, came into existence mainly for economic reasons. It was necessary for society simultaneously to build up a system of moral and religious values, as well as a legal system capable of protecting and maintaining these economic interests. In the fmal analysis we can safely say that female circumcision, the chastity belt and other savage practices applied to women are basically the result of the economic interests that govem society. The continued existence of such practices in our society today signifies that these economic interests are still operative. The thousands of dayas, nurses, para-medical staff and doctors, who make money out of female circumcision, naturally resist any change in these values and practices which are a source of gain to them. In the Sudan there is a veritable army of dayas who eam a livelihood out of the series of operations performed on women, either to excise their extemal genital organs, or to altemately narrow and widen the outer aperture according to whether the woman is marrying, divorcing, remarrying, having a child or recovering from labour.6 Economic factors and, concomitantly, political factors are the basis upon which such customs as female circumcision have grown up. It is important to understand the facts as they really are, and the reasons that he behind them. Many are the people who are not able to distinguish between political and religious factors, or who conceal economic and political motives behind religious arguments in an attempt to hide the real forces that lie at the basis of what happens in society and in history. It has very often been proclaimed that Islam is at the root of female circumcision, and is also responsible for the under-privileged and backward situation of women in Egypt and the Arab countries. Such a contention is not true. If we study Christianity it is easy to see that this religion is much more rigid and orthodox where women are concerned than Islam. Nevertheless, many countries were able to progress rapidly despite the preponderance of Christianity as a religion. This progress was social, economic, scientific and also affected the life and position of women in society. That is why I firmly believe that the reasons for the lower status of women in our societies, and the lack of opportunities for progress afforded to them, are not due to Islam, but rather to certain economic and political forces, namely those of foreign imperialism operating mainly from the outside, and of the reactionary classes operating ftom the inside. These two forces cooperate closely and are making a concerted attempt to misinterpret religion and to utilize i ' t as an instrument of fear, oppression and exploitation. Religion, if authentic in the principles it stands for, aims at truth, equality, justice, love and a healthy wholesome life for all people, whether men or women. There can be no true religion that aims at disease, mutilation of the bodies of female children, and amputation of an essential part of their reproductive organs.
If religion comes from God, how can it order man to cut off an organ created by Him as long as that organ is not diseased or deformed? God does not create the organs of the body haphazardly [email protected] a plan. It is not possible that He should have created the clitoris in woman's body only in order that it be cut off at an early stage in life. This is a contradiction into which neither true religion nor the Creator could possibly fan. If God has created the clitoris as a sexually sensitive organ, whose sole function seems to be the procurement of sexual pleasure for women, it follows that He also considers such pleasure for women as normal and legitimate, and therefore as an integral part of mental health. The psychic and mental health of women cannot be complete if they do not experience sexual pleasure. There are still a large number of fathers and mothers who are afraid of leaving the clitoris intact in the bodies of their daughters. Many a time they have said to me that circumcision is a safeguard against the mistakes and deviations into which a girl miy be led. This way of thinking is wrong and even dangerous because what protects a boy or a girl from making mistakes is not the removal of a small piece of flesh from the body, but consciousness and understanding of the problems we face, and a worthwhile aim in life, an aim which gives it meaning and for whose attainment we exert our mind and energies. The higher the level of consciousness to which we attain, the closer our aims draw to human motives and values, and the greater our desire to improve life and its quality, rather than to indulge ourselves in the mere satisfaction of our senses and the experience of pleasure, even though these are an essential part Of existence. The most liberated and free of girls, in the true sense of liberation, are the least preoccupied with sexual questions, since these no longer represent a problem. On the contrary, a free mind finds room for numerous interests and the many rich experiences of a cultured life. Girls that suffer sexual suppressio%howeverare greatly preoccupied with men and sex. And it is a common observation that an intelligent and cultured woman is much less engrossed in matters related to sex and to men than is the case with ordinary women, who have not got much with which to fill their fives. Yet at the same time such a woman takes much more initiative to ensure that she wfll enjoy sex and experience pleasure, and acts with a greater degree of boldness than others. Once sexual satisfaction is attained, she is able to tum herself fully to other important aspects of life. In the life of liberated and intelligent women, sex does not occupy a disproportionate position, but rather tends to maintain itself within normal hmits. In contrast, ignorance, suppression, fear and all sorts of limitations exaggerate the role of sex in the life of girls and women, and cause it to swell out of all proportion and to end up by occupying the whole, or almost the whole,of their lives.
Circumcision of Girls References 1. This research study was carried out in the years 1973 and 1974 in the School of Medicine, Ein Shams University, under the title., Women and Neurosis. 2. Female Circumcision and Sexual Desire, Mahmoud Koraim and Rushdi Ammar, (Ein Shams University Press, Cairo, 1965). 3. Complications of Female Circumcision, the same authors, (Cairo, 1965). 4. See Dawlat El Nissaa, Abdel Rahman El Barkouky, first edition, (Renaissance Bookshop, Cairo, 1945). 5. Desmond Morris, The Naked Ape, (Corgi, 1967). p.76. 6. Rose Oldfield, 'Female genital mutilation, fertility control, women's roles, and patrilineage in modern Sudan', American Ethnologist, Vol. 11, No. 4, November 1975.
The Thirteenth Rib of Adam
To this very day, many people in Arab countries, and even all over the world, literally think that Eve was the first woman to appear on the face of the Earth. They also believe that she was born of Adam and grew out of one of his ribs, as the story goes in the sacred books firit of Judaism, then Christianity, and finally Islam. They are not aware of the fact that women trod our planet before these monotheistic religions descended upon men and long before the human race came to know anything about Adam and Eve. If we return to ancient history, many important facts related to the position of woman at home and in society will be revealed. We ' will also discover that the changes affecting her status and role were intimately related to the way in which the social and economic structure of society evolved. The unveiling of this relationship between the economic and social infrastructure of society and the position occupied by woman constitutes the key to understanding the reasons for the downward path that finally led her at the time of Judaism to a situation where she became a mere rib in the body of man. The ancient Egyptian civilization is more than 5,000 years old and historicaUy precedes the advent of Judaism, the first of the three monotheistic religions. We have been able to study it in the remains of cities, temples, and other constructions left behind, in the writings inscribed on papyrus and in numerous sculptures, drawings and engravings, remarkably preserved to the present day. The ancient Egyptians had their own religions, and their own religious practices and rituals, before the monotheistic religions made their entry on the scene. Judaism was influenced in many ways by the religion of the Pharaohs and in particular the monotheistic leanings of Akhnatoun's sun worship. In the successive dynasties of the Pharaonic era, periods were known when the women of Egypt occupied a Wgh place both in the affairs of their country and in the realm of religion. Ahnost throughout the thousands of years during which ancient Egypt flourished on the banks of the Nile, female gods reigned side by side with male gods over the destinies of human beings. The concept of religion developed in the human mind long before the monotheistic religions came to be known. Primitive human beings created the idea of gods in the world, or at least of some obscure forces beyond their understanding, endowed with capacities that they did not possess. These forces influenced, or even controlled the lives of people, since they could be generous and bestow rain, good harvests, and sufficient food upon them if they so wisfiedOn the other hand, much harm and evil might be the fate of people at their hands, which were also capable of sowing storms, disease and death, ffistorical studies indicate that the most ancient of all gods were female. In Pharaonic Egypt goddesses ruled over many areas and participated with male gods in deciding human destinies. We may cite as examples: Maait, the Goddess of Truth; and Naiyet, the Goddess of War and Floods, Isis, Sikhmet, Hathour and many others. The elevation of women to the heights occupied by goddesses was a reflection of their status within society before the systems characterized by the patriarchal family, land ownership and division into social classes came into being. With the advent of these systems the status of women gradually dropped over a period of time, but vestiges of the matriarchal system, more or less important, continued to survive in feudal or slave societies such as that of the Pharaohs.
The patrilineal system, which identifies children according to the father and ensures that they carry his name and inherit his property, only evolved at these later stages. Earlier societies tended to follow matrilineal patterns where the mother was the head of the family, and where children were linked in descent to the woman who had given birth to them. These societies were therefore govemed by what is known as the matriarchal system.' In the early periods of ancient Egyptian civilization, a legitimate son carried his mother's name and inheritance was often matrilineal (through the mother's hne), since it was the eldest daughter and not the son who inherited.2 The Greek historian, Herodotus, mentions that the Lukians named the son after his mother. Tacitus, the Roman historian, points out that the Germanic tribes used to give primary importance to the sister. In the pre-Islamic era, some of the Arab tribes also followed matrilineal practices. In Asia and Africa a few tribes remain who still follow the same pattem. It is a well-known fact of human history that the elevated status of woman in society, and in religion, was related to the fact that children carried her name. Under the matriarchal system women occupied a high social position and even ascended the throne of the gods. The monopoly established by male gods was related to the patriarchal system, and the naming of children after the father instead of the mother. The legal systems related to family structures, inheritance and the naming of children are also a reflection of socioeconomic relationships in a society. Economic life in the early stages of human history was dependent on very simple and restricted activities such as picking fruits and nuts, digging or pulling up roots ftom the earth, catching lizards and rats, or hunting certain animals. These primitive activities obliged humans to migrate continuously from one place to the other in search of food and suitable hunting grounds. 'Me forms of subsistence left no room for a surplus and the continued nomadic life made private property out of the question. In the absence of private property people were not divided into classes, into rulers and ruled. They were all equal members of the community. Simultaneously no division of tabour had yet arisen between individuals, or between men and women. It was a society without classes, without differentiation, without masters and slaves.4
Letourneau maintains that in all probability it was woman who first discovered the new technology of agriculture, due to her long experience in picking fruits and nuts, and extracting roots from the grounds It was also women who first took over the functions of agriculture and thus maintained, and even reinforced, their favourable economic status, reflected in social status, matrilineal parental relations and a matriarchal system, all of which were prevalent in the early stages of the agricultural era.
In these primitive agricultural societies women played an important role in the social economy, were equal to men within the political structures and occupied a front-line position in so far as the family system and marriage were concerned. Clans were matriarchal, children were named after the mother and were enrolled in the mother's clan and exogamy, that is marriage outside the clan, was the rule. In view of the role of women in the social economy, the man after marriage moved over to his wife's house, worked in the communal fields there and became an additional member of the tabour force in her clan. The need for an expanding tabour force also explains the practice of adoption in these tribes. Any clan had the right to adopt as many prisoners of war as required. They became a part of the clan and worked in its fields.' The economic importance of woman is manifest in the fact that she was free to separate from her husband by a personal decision on her part without mutual agreement. The husband was then obliged to leave his wife's household and clan and return to his own family and people. The children, however, were left behind with the mother. Women were also equal with men as far as leadership roles within the political structures were concerned and also headed religious rituals, ceremonies and forms of worship. Religious customs and practices did not differentiate between men and women in any way.' However, after some time, it became possible for men and women to settle down in one place. Agriculture became a steady source of food. When methods and techniques improved, it began to yield a surplus and the exploitation of other people's labour became a possibility. The idea of private property, especially in land, spread and replaced the communal ownership of the clan and with it the right to remain on the land generation after generation in order to cultivate it.8 Private property led man to deprive women of their prerogative in naming their children after themselves. His aim was to identify his children and hand down his property to them after his death. Property and inheritance therefore destroyed the foundation of matriarchal and matrilineal systems and led to the division of society into social classes.
With the expansion of private property these ancient societies became sharply differentiated into two main social classes: the landowners and masters of slaves on the one hand, who constituted a minority; and the vast majority of slaves, who owned nothing not even themselves, on the other. These developments were accompanied by a parallel degradation in the status and position of women, who first in the ruling classes of landowners and concomitantly in the rest of society passed under the economic, social and religious domination of men. Women lost their previous religious prestige and ceased to oversee and head religious rituals and ceremonies. Man monopolized religion for his own purposes and male gods prevailed, whereas women slid down to the lowest rungs of religious status. This process ran parallel to the development of private property. The old structures were replaced by systems based on exploitation and women were relegated to the bottom orders of society. With increasing male domination the patriarchal system started to hold sway as an accompaniment to the division of society into landowners (or masters) and slaves who were the property of masters.9
The father became the head of the family, the paterfamilias, and its religious head. He presided over religious rituals and ceremonies. With the patriarchal family the worship of ancestors became finally established as a means of reinforcing the position of the father.'o The father after his death thus rose to the level of the gods, whereas women were placed on the same level as herds of cattle whose master holds their life and death in his hands. The mother and her children became akin to the property, land and slaves owned by the father. The word familia among the ancient Romans in fact meant the fields, houses, money and slaves which constituted a man's riches and property, and which hp passed down the line as an inheritance. The woman was part of this familia, that is, part of his possessions. To elaborate in detail on the history of women in ancient societies or on the cult of female worship and goddesses would be a deviation from the main theme of this book, which is the situation of contemporary women in Arab and Islamic society. Nevertheless an approach which seeks to deal with the present without throwing any light on the past is in grave danger of missing, or misinterpreting, some of the fundamental truths relating to women in the Arab world. The present has its roots in the past, just as the future develops from the present. In this sense our knowledge, our understanding of society and our destiny are all influenced to an important extent by what has preceded in history. It is not possible to grasp why women live as they do in the Arab countries, nor to show the way out of their predicament, if we do not go back in history to religion. Just as it is not possible to know why women were relegated to an inferior position in religion if we know nothing about their status and situation in the societies and civilizations that preceded the three main monotheistic religions. To take this argument further, it is therefore wrong to attempt a study of women in Arab and Islamic society without referring to Christianity and Judaism, both of which preceded Islam and influenced it to a very marked extent in many aspects related to its fundamental concepts and teachings. It is equally erroneous to deal with the monotheistic religions and the position occupied by women therein, if we do not trace the paths that connect them with the religions belonging to a sifll more distant and misty past.
The story of Adam and Eve was born in Judaism, and through Judaism arose the idea that woman was sinful and that sin was sex. With this idea the separation between spirit (or soul) and body was consecrated and canonized for all time. Christianity followed in the wake of Judaism, and went even further in smelting and moulding the iron fetters of prejudice and rigidity in the attitudes and values related to women and sex. To reinforce these fetters and ensure their eternity Jesus Christ the Messiah was made to be bom a sacred male, a lord so chaste that women were forbidden to him and sexual relations with them were an experience that he was never to know, or even to seek. Furthermore he was made to be bom asexually from the womb of the Virgin Mary who had never known the embrace of a man. God filled her with the breath of his spirit and the embryo of the Messiah developed quietly in the silence of her womb. These religious concepts and thoughts lead inevitably to the separation of human beings from their bodies and from real life. Thus arose the phenomenon wMch was to be called the 'alienated experience of reality' as an expression indicating the splitting of human life into two. Henceforward two fundamentally contradictory notions of life were to be locked in struggle all through the ages up to the present day. First, was the ancient or primitive humanistic notion which believes in the essential goodness of the human body and its functions, and which derives its roots from the religions of Ancient Egypt that gave great emphasis to the vitality, generosity and richnes embodied in the physical qualities of both men and women. A second notion which spread its influence widely after Judaism and Christianity, and which leads to the alienation of the body ftom reality, encourages an escapist attitude towards the objective material world. Here the alienation is in relation to the material world, whether subjective or objective, where the term 'material' is used in its philosopmcal sense and not in the mundane sense usually attached to it. Human beings escape into the world of spirits, souls, ideas and illusions divorced from reality, and base their conception of the world and themselves on an 'idealist' approach. 'Idealism' again in a philosophical sense has very often been wilfully confused with 'ideals' or 'noble motives' whereas in fact there is no necessary relation between the two. The woman in Christianity was once again sacrificed at the altar. A victim of the Judaic Jehovah and of the highly patriarchal religious practices related to Judaism, she now fell a victim to the cult of the Virgin Mary and the chastity of a Christ raised above the human level of desires and physical needs. She was caught and crushed between the two millstones of this struggle between the body and the spirit or soul, or, to express it differently, between good as emanating from the spirit and evil with its roots and sustenance in the body. God had created man in his own image, and God was spirit. Woman on the other hand was the body, and the body was sex. Man alone was a complete portrayal of the God of the Heavens, on earth, but woman could never become complete until espoused to a man, for through marriage woman's body was at least endowed with a head. This head was her husband. In the Old Testament it is possible to trace the origin of this beheaded and distorted image of woman. Man was allowed to pray before God without covering his head since he resembled the Creator and was akin to Him. A woman, however, was enjoined to cover her head whert praying because, according to a common religious interpretation, she unlike man was found lacking in something essential. She was a body without a head. Since the main difference between a human being and an animal hes in the head, or in other words the brain, only man could be considered a complete human being. Woman was only an animal body dominated by passion, sensuality and an insatiable lust, carrying within herself evil as an integral part of her nature, a consecration of God's will and an embodiment of Satan in the human being. All the prophets known in history, all the high priests, and monks and friars and ftocked servitors of religion were men, dedicated to serving God and required to shun women for all life since women were descended fro-rn Satan. Artists of the Middle Ages have left behind many paintings and drawings depicting women kneeling on the ground behind Satan and trying to kiss his posterior. In the 13th Century Saint Thomas Aquinas and Albertos Magnus, who were considered the most prominent theologians of the time, propounded the idea that women were capable of having sexual relations with Satan. The Inquisition and its tribunals searched diligently for the women who had slept with Satan so that they could be burnt alive. There were certain signs and symptoms carefully defined by these conscientious dispensers of justice. They were called the signs of Satan and, once discerned in the victim, constituted irrefutable evidence of Satan's imprint. Arab men both in the pre-Islamic and Islamic eras enjoyed a great degree of sexual freedom whether within the family through multiple marriages and divorce, or outside it through sexual relations with concubines and women slaves. This was not an exclusive characteristic of the life of Arab men but holds true for other societies as well. Men have accorded themselves this wide degree of sexual freedom ever since the patriarchal system and patriarchal relations were established in society. The special privileges of men are not related to their geographical distribution, or to the country from which they came, or to the cultures of the East or the West, but rather to the socioeconomic structures of society. Therefore when a society remains patriarchal and characterized by class distinctions and divisions, men are accorded rights and freedoms of which women are deprived. Yet those who have written about the Arabs, and in particular the schools of imperialist and orientalist thought, have chosen to gloss over this fundamental truth. In so doing they have shown either an incomplete understanding of the factors that govern the relations between man and woman, or a conscious and premeditated bias which makes them portray the East and the Arabs in an unfavourable light. To them the sexual freedom practised by Arab men is a unique phenomenon unknown in other parts of the world, and Islam the only religion that has made of women the objects of sexual pleasure for men. To them the Arab male is exceptional in the fact that he practises polygamy or extra-marital relations as a normal part of his life. And yet afl men, in all corners of the earth, and in all the known periods of history since the world first witnessed the ascendancy of the patriarchal system over the more ancie,nt matriarchal society, have practised sex with women other than their wives, either openly or in secret, sometimes slipping under a dark doorway, and at other times flaunting their mistresses for all to see. Christianity viewed sexual laxity with greater severity than any other religion, and imposed virginity not only on Jesus Christ and his mother, Mary, but also on the men who donned the vestments or the robes of religion to become priests or monks or friars in the service of God. Yet despite the orthodoxy and sexual strictness inherent in Christianity's teachings, history is an uncompron-dsing witness to the fact that the 'holy men of God' had recourse to diverse and varied ways of expressing and satisfying their sexual needs, and that prostitution flared up as never before in the periods known for the predominance of puritanical attitudes and values. Luther's Reformation was partly an attempt to correct the abuses that had become rampant within the church." One of his observations was that a large part of the revenue of the Catholic Church was drawn ftom the dues paid by brothels. To him it appeared that the Church was working hand in hand with Satan since its very sustenance seemed to come from one of his favourite occupations. From the money of these b-othels, from the sweat of women's thighs, were built the 'beautiful houses of God' where people came to worship and pray. Revenues largely drawn ftom subscriptions and charity came ftom men who dipped their hands into their pockets and dropped a few pieces of silver or bronze into the wooden boxes of the church before continuing on their way to the brothel. For was it not understandable that they should seek God's mercy and forgiveness before sinning with a fellow woman? Prostitution was unknown until the patriarchal family established itself in society. 12 It was the only possible solution to a situation in which a single husband was imposed on every married woman whereas the man was ftee to have sexual relations with women other than his wife. The need arose for a category of women with whom the men could practise extra-marital intercourse whenever they felt the desire, and with it was born one of the oldest occupations in the world,an occupation assigned exclusively to women, and for which there was no altemative since, in its absence, with whom could the male practise 1-ds sexual licence? Thus it was that the patriarchal system established the social institution which came to be known as prostitution, and side by side with it a new social category, the 'illegitimate child' the fruit of sexual relations between man and the prostitute. The prostitute and the illegitimate child became the sacrificial victims slaughtered at the altar of the patriarchal god. It was they who were made to pay the price for the birth of the patriarchal family, its survival and its reinforcement. Men on the other hand were exempt, exonerated. No price was paid by them, no reputation sullied, no suffering incurred for the privilege of an unshackled sexual freedom and a free, or ahnost free, ticket to pleasure. Nothing except the process of dehumanization and alienation which was to be the common lot of both men and women throughout the long centuries, since the people of the earth were first divided into classes, and once divided into classes experienced what it meant to be differentiated according to sex, race, creed and colour, and the sum of their worldly possessions. The common lot of men and @omen, fragmented into body and mind, matter and spirit, belief and action, and torn asunder by the double standards that cut hke a sword through the personality.
To my mind the Arab men were perhaps more straightforward and honest than other men have been. They did not try to conceal their sexual life behind heavy curtains, or a smoke-screen of puritanical values. They reflected their relationships with women creatively and without inhibitions in literature and poetry.
I do not belong to the category of people who believe that to seek sexual pleasure is a sin, nor do I think it possible to consider men and women who insist on attaining sexual satisfaction and fulfihnent as afflicted with some form of deviation or depravity. On the contrary, it is Christian and Victorian puritanism and orthodoxy which consider sexual pleasure and desire to be the work of the devil, which are at fault and are a deviation from what is natural to the human being. Such attitudes were taken so far that there came a time when a new-born child was considered impure until it received a Christian baptism. They Were also the basis on which grew up the asexual rigidity of the Church characterized by a set of cold, severe Calvinistic values related to 'renunciation of the world ', chastity, virginity and 'sexual sin'.
These values, however, were applied in real hfe and practice not to the ruling classes but only to the ruled, not to men but only to women, and not to the rich but only to the poor. They acted as shackles upon the mind and fetters around the body, making it afl the more easy for the forces of reaction, oppression, and dictatorship to dominate and domesticate the vast masses of rhen and women living under their yoke. The patriarchal family was one of the important social changes that paved the way for the division of society into masters and staves, and a corner stone in the structure of the ancient empires built on colonization. In the same way, the puritanical values of the Christian Church at different stages of its development were utilized to enforce systems built on oppression and are still part of the arsenal of heavy weapons which maintain a continuous barrage in the war against the revolutionary struggles of women, coloured races, and the exploited classes living under semi-feudal or capitalist systems which have drawn their main support ftom imperialism and neo-coloniahsm.
History has shown the close link that exists between economics and religion, between economic relationships (and needs) and the moral and sexual values that predominate in a given society. These values change in different periods, under different social systems, and with the historical evolution of countries. Economic necessities and needs, which are in tum reflected in political changes and imperatives, act as a crucial factor in moulding the values that govem our lives and influence our sexual ethics. As an example of economic necessity engendered by the growth of European capitalism at the beginning of the industrial era finding its expression and legitimisation in the sphere of high morality, we may cite the concept of sublimation, which became a scientific theory cherished as one of the achievements of the Freudian school of psychoanalysis. The basic solid facts behind this 'noble' idea, however, are probably very different to what its propagators and disciples thought them to be. Society at that tune, and with it the rising capitalist class, was in urgent need of the greatest possible physical effort on the part of the workers in the mushrooming factories and industrial areas. This physical effort, the source of profit and capital accumulation, was particularly necessary at a stage where sophisticated technology and machinery were still to be discovered and invented. It was imperative that every drop of sweat and every ounce of energy be extracted from the bodies of workers, and this was only possible through maximising the degree of material, social and religious oppression. An important weapon in the armoury of exploitation was the creation of sacred values which made out of toil a supreme virtue. As an inevitable corollary to a life of toil, life's pleasures and sex had to be sacrificed, and the only way was to depict them as unworthy, degrading, lower forms of human activity, which were more suited to the world of animals than to that of men and women. Thus it was that capitalist accumulation was accompanied during this period by puritanical values, rr)orals and norms of behaviour which found their origin in a rigid Calvinistic Protestantism. At a later stage, however, when industrial societies witnessed a rapid advance in technology and machinery, when human physical effort was no longer so much in demand, when standards of living had risen and hours of work had dropped, when production had been multiplied a hundred fold and consumption had made rapid strides, the puritanical values and moral codes which taught renunciation and abstention to the working man and woman lost their significance and their function. In an era when the cry for more consumption became the order of the day, to preach the bible of sacrifice and the ethics of non-consumption became out of place. From then onwards, men and women had actively to be exhorted to follow the path of worldly desire and pleasure, to give free rein to their physical needs, and to worship the fetish of consumption. It was also necessary to divert the human race, which unfortunately was Teaming and understanding more rapidly than ever before, from pondering too deeply on the reasons for its woes, lest people discover what and who was responsible for the hunger and deprivation from which they suffered. It is easy to understand why segregation and the veil were imposed upon women at a later stage of Islam, whereas in the earlier stages women were allowed to move about freely and expose their faces for all to see. Even today, some of the Arab countries still maintain the customs that developed in later Islamic society. Segregation and the veil were not meant to ensure the protection of women, but essentially that of men. And the Arab woman was not imprisoned in the home to safeguard her body, her honour and her morals, but rather to keep intact the honour and the morals of men. In addition, the fact that men felt the need to prescribe such customs, and to keep the women away from participation in normal life seems to explode the myth of the powerful male and the defenceless and weak female. The tyranny exerted by men over women indicates that they had taken the measure of the female's innate strength, and needed heavy fortifications to protect themselves against it. To my mind, Islamic culture rests on the above premises, namely that woman is powerful and not weak, positive and not passive, capable of destroying and not easily destructible, and that if anyone needs protection it is the man rather than the woman. However, this is only one aspect of the situation, for truth is many-sided. On the other side lies the fact that this innate resilience and strength of the woman bred fear in the heart of primitive man. And it was this fear, or even terror, that led him to oppress and subjugate her with all means at his disposal, be they economic, social, legal or moral. All these means had to be mobilized and synchronized to place at his disposal an overbearing and formidable armoury, used exclusively to conquer the indomitable vitality and strength that lay within women, ready to burst out at any moment. The building up of this annoury was a logical consequence of a specific situation. For the potential force that lies within a being itself decides the counter-force required to hold him or her down and to suppress their capacity for resistance. It is not difficult to understand, therefore, why the severest and most violent of laws were those that govemed the sexual life of women, and decided what was permissible and what was impermissible for her. Burning alive and assassination were sometimes a merciful penalty for disobedience to these laws. There are men of science and anthropologists who believe that primitive woman was too powerful to be subdued by the laws laid down by men, and that she put up a violent and long drawn our resistance against the establishment of the patriarchal system during its early stages, and in defence of the wide freedoms and possibilities of natural expression she had enjoyed until then. Mary Jane Scherfey believes that one of the factors that delayed the onward march of male patriarchal civilization for more than 6,000 years, was the powerful sexual nature of primitive woman. 13
It is also not difficult to understand why, even today, there are men who will kill a woman if she oversteps the limits of the prescribed sexual laws or moral codes imposed upon her. We often hear about the father, brother or uncle in Upper Egypt who killed the daughter because, on the night of her marriage, defloration did not yield the expected patches of red blood on a white cloth, or about a husband shooting his wife because he saw her with another man.
The Thirteenth Rib of Adam References 1. For a description of the matriarchal system see the writings of Bachofen, Frederich Engels, Morgan, E. Sidney Harfland, W.H.R. Rivers and Robert Briffault. 2. See ElMara El ArabiafiMisr El Kadeema (Women in Ancient Egyptian History), by William Nazir, (Dar El Kalam Publications, 1965), p.34. 3. Tarikh El Arab Kabl ElIslam (History of the Arabs before Islam), Vol.5, Gawad Ali, (Religious Publications of the Iraqi Scientific Council, 1955), p.258 ff. 4. See Frazer, Shapiro, Spencer and Gillen, Thomas, Diamond, Letourneau, Property Its Origin and Development (London, 1892) for an account of the lives of 'Bushmen' in Southern Africa and Aborigines in Australia. 5. See the writings of Letourneau, Crossland, Robert Loy, Introduction to Anthropological Civilizations, (New York, 1947). 6. See Louis Morgan, Frazer, Gross and others. 7. See Sarwat El Assiyuti, The Family System in relation to Economy and Religion, (Arab Renaissance Publications, Cairo, 1966), p. I I 0. 8. Letourneau, Property Its Origin and Development, pp.49, 366-7. Also Sarwat El Assiyuti, op. cit., p. 1 12. 9. Frederich Engels, Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State. 10. Crossi; and Ali Badawi, Abhas fi tarikh El Sharai (Studies in the History of Religious Laws), (Legal and Economic Review, 193 1), pp.73 1, 746. Also Sarwat El Assiyuti, op. cit., p. 1 15. 11. Enarationes in imose wa, pp.43, 344, 25-35.. 12. T.E. James, [email protected] and the Law, (W. Heinemann), Ellis, Prost, and Shurtz. 13. Mary Jane Sherfey, The Nature and Evolution of Female Sexuality, (Vintage Books, 1973), pp.137-140.
Liberty to the Slave, But Not for the Woman
The monotheistic religions, inenunciating the principles relating to the role and position of women in life, as we have seen, drew inspiration and guidance from the values of the patriarchal and class societies prevalent at the time. These class societies were built on the division mainly into landowners and slaves, whether men or women. The messages that were carried to their peoples by the Prophets Moses, Jesus and Mahomet in their essence were a call to revolt against the injustices of the slave system. Tnie, there were differences in the content and the form of their revolutionary teachings due to the fact that each was born at a different time and in a different society with its own social and economic characteristics. But they all had in common this rebellion against the evils and injustices of slavery. It varied in extent and depth, yet was always there. As a result, since the position of women was closely related to the social and economic relationships predominant at the time, it was natufal, that any attempt to resist the injustices suffered by people, and to change the structure that was the basis of society, would overflow and encompass the position of women to a greater or lesser degree. This was particularly true in the earlier stages of the transformations resulting ftom Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Nevertheless the position of women remained inferior to that of men, in all three religions, but especially in Judaism. A Hebrew household was embodied in the patriarchal family, under the uncontested and undivided authority of the father who was very much like the Roman head of the familia. Each household among the 'Sons of Israel' was composed of a number of wives and concubines, their children and the wives of the male sons, the grandchildren, and the slaves.' The head of this large household was the father who was known as the roshe. He enjoyed absolute juridical and legal authority, chose his heir according to his sole wishes and disposed of his daughters in complete freedom since it was his right to sell any of them to whoever would pay the price he wanted.' The life of a child depended on his will since he could put an end to it whenever he so desired,' or offer the child as a sacrifice to God.' The biblical story of Isaac, the son who yielded to Abraham his father when the latter decided to sacrifice him to Jehovah, is well known. This right over life and death extended to all those who lived in the household and over whom the father wielded his absolute authority. For example he could kill the widow of his son by burning her if she committed adultery after having lost her husband. The woman in a Jewish household was part of the familia as in Rome, that is an integral part of the father's inheritance composed of money, property and slaves. The household comprised the women, the male slaves, the female slaves, the bulls, the donkeys and other things.' The husband was called the lord or master of the women' and they addressed him as 'my lord'." The birth of a son was an occasion for rejoicing whereas the birth of a daughter brought sadness and lamentation." Yet despite the tight fetters to which a woman had to submit, the man was free to have as many wives and concubines as he desired sexually and could even have intercourse with his daughters. The two daughters of Lot took tums in sleeping with their father until they both became pregnant and bore sons. Moab and Bennami Jacob 'took unto himself' two sisters." A man could divorce his woman at any time and the Old Testament recounts how Abraham expelled his slave Hagir the Egyptian and her son from his household and left them in the desert with nothing but some bread and a goatskin of water. They wandered over the burning sands until they were lost; they were never heard of again.
Polygamy was widely practised by the 'Sons of Israel', especially among the richer families and kings. David is known to have married many women and in addition to have kept a retinue of slaves and concubines. 14 Rehoboam married 18 women and owned 60 concubines and through them had 28 sons and 60 daughters." AndAbigah waxed mighty and married 14 wives and begat 22 sons and 16 daughters. 16 But Solomon excelled and surpassed all the other kings for he married 700 women, and kept 300 concubines. 1 7He began his kingly life with the murder of his elder brother because the latter tried to compete with him in the inheritance of their father's harem.'8 In opposition to the almost unlimited sexual freedom accorded to men, women were severely restricted. Virginity was an essential condition before a man would marry a woman, and if she was unable to prove her virginity he would immediately divorce her. However, when corruption and immorality became rife at the end of the 7th Century B.C., the man's right to divorce was no longer allowed in certain cases. Firstly, if the husband accused his wife unjustly of not being a virgin before marriage, the father and mother could arrange to display the marks of her virginity on a cloth before the elders of the city, upon which these elders would undertake to punish the husband and impose upon him a fine of 100 pieces of silver, to be paid to the father of the girl in recompense for having spoilt the reputation of a 'virgin of Israel'. The man was then obliged to accept her as his wife and forbidden to divorce her for the rest of his days.'9 Secondly, if the girl was a virgin and the man had indulged in premarital sexual relations with her, he would have to agree to pay the father 50 pieces of silver, to marry the girl and not to divorce her for the 'rest of his days'.20 If a woman divorced by her husband married a second man, who in his turn divorced her, or died, leaving her a widow, her first husband was not allowed to remarry her since 'she has been defiled' .21
The people of Israel in those days groaned under the burdens and oppression of a slave society, ruled by landowners who monopolized the land, the cattle and the tabour of the men and women. The family was highly autocratic and patriarchal, ruled by the iron hand of the father. In addition, a third category of oppressors had arisen; the priests who had annexed to themselves wide social powers which they used to enhance their authority and material position. One of the practices that was common was that of the 'bitter water'. A woman suspected of infidelity by her husband was dragged to the priest and submitted to gruesome torture which was supposed to prove her culpability or innocence. She was stripped of her clothes up to the belly, divested of all ornaments, and the tresses of her hair were let loose. She was then covered in a heavy black cloth tied by a rope to her breasts, and made to undergo the test of the 'bitter water'. 22 'Mis consisted of a mixture prepared by the priest and composed of sacred water, the sweepings of the temple and the ink dissolved from a piece of cloth on which, he invoked, in writing, everlasting damnation upon her were she proved to be guilty. She was made to drink [email protected] loathsome and nauseating potion from an earthenware pot and if any signs or symptoms of illness appeared (swelling of the belly and rotting of the thigh) she was considered guilty and eligible to any of the forms of punishment used against adulterers. The attitude of society towards adultery has varied according to the economic and social conditions prevalent at the different stages of human development. Primitive tribes and matriarchal societies used to accord sexual freedom to both men apd women. However, with the development of private property which reinforced the 'passion of acquisitiveness and ownership' and the development of the patriarchal system, the husband began to demand complete fidelity of his wife, which meant that no other man was to come anywhere near her. Men also expected chastity and virginity in the girls they were to marry. The patriarchal societies of the early days established a system of procedures for dealing with adulterous women which were inspired by, and drawn ftom, their autocratic oppressive social structures and the cruel tyranny of male dominance. The men who ruled the destinies of the people of Israel decided that a woman who committed adultery should be done to death either by burning her alive as Jehovah tried to do with his son's wife, Thamar, or by hurling stones at her until the last breath of life had fled from her crushed and bleeding body.23 This was the rule ordained in the Book of Deuteronomy.24 The man, however, could fornicate with as many wives, concubines and slave girls as he wished, and commit a thousand adulteries with impunity. Roman law differed little from Judaic customs since it also gave the man the right of life and death over his woman if she committed adulte ry. Islamic society, in its tum, was characterized by a patriarchal system built on private property and a class structure composed of a minority who owned the herds of sheep, camels and horses and who as traders travelled far and wide over the commercial routes of the Arab peninsula, and a majority who were slaves interspersed with a few independent plebians. Authority in Islam belonged to the man as head of the family, to the supreme ruler, or the Khalifa (political leader), or Imam (religious leader), or the Wali (governor of a province), or a witness. All these positions could only be occupied by men. Islam inherited ftom Judaism the penalty meted out to adulterous women, namely that of being stoned to death. In fact women were known to have been subjected to this savage and merciless death during the fife of the Prophet Mahomet and later on in the early stages of Islamic expansion. The Koran stipulates that both partners in adultery, the man and the woman, should be stoned to death. However, the fact that a man could have any number of wives, concubines and women slaves at his beck and call meant that the richer or more powerful men did not need to have recourse to illegal adultery. The owner of numerous herds or of the camel caravans, the men with influence and power over others, could change their wives at will and marry new women whenever they set their eyes on a beautiful face, or a young girl, or a shapely slave waiting to be sold in the market. Why should a man commit adultery if it is his right to divorce his wife at any moment and marry another woman, and to keep up to a total of four wives at one time and any number of concubines or girl slaves his right hand could afford? The religious laws or sharia, therefore, were meant to be applied only to women when they dared to challenge the patriarchal system which only allowed a woman one husband, a family and a roof, or alternatively left her a virgin and spinster to the end of her days should no man decide to purchase or marry her. The religious laws were also meant to punish poorer men (who owned only a few sheep or were small artisans and traders), and hired tabourers and slaves, all of whom often found it difficult to marry, or whose limited resources imposed a fidelity that lacked conviction and prevented them from changing wives, or marrying up to four, or owning the slaves and concubines whom they would watch, with envy in their eyes, being bought and sold in the market place. Christianity, however, differs from Judaism and Islam in that it was more severe in restricting the sexual freedom not only of women, but also ot men. Jesus Christ started by applying the rules to himself, and is said to have practised complete abstinence throughout his short but stormy, eventful and fascinating life. He therefore never married, like his mother the Virgin Mary who never knew what it was to lie in a man's embrace as the story goes in the New Testament. Jesus Christ went as far as to say: 'Ye have heard that it was said by them of old times, thou shalt not commit adultery. But I say unto you that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.'!2' Until the advent of Christianity, Jewish men used to apply the precepts of Judaism as embodied in the Old Testament and which pen-nitted a husband to divorce his wife without having to give reasons for such a step. The New Testament, as the Book of Matthew tells us, disavows this practice as being contrary to the wishbs of God: 'The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him: Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? And he answered and said unto, them: Have ye not read that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female? And said, for this cause a man shall leave father and mother and shall cleave to his wife, and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are not twain but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together let no man put asunder.' 26
Jesus Christ, however, opposed the stoning to death of a woman who committed adultery and prevented the Pharisees from enforcing this punishment in a saying that has become famous: 'Let Mm who is without fault throw the first stone at her.' Christianity, like Judaism and Islam, was born in the womb of a patriarchal slave society where Rome had the upper hand and extended her empire to distant lands, including Palestine. Christ was, no doubt, a revolutionary leader who expressed the aspirations and hopes of the slaves and poorer sections of society. He opposed the wealthy elements of the Jewish people who were hand in glove with the Roman authorities. He stood up against the injustices and oppression of the Roman overlords and fought stubbornly for his progressive ideas which, at the time, meant a radical change in society. He attempted to build up resistance in his own way against the exploitation and corruption of all those who were in power, whether they were Romans or belonged to his own community. But rather than depending on a revolutionary struggle against the slave system, he remained a proponent of non-violence and a propagator of human purity, human pity, and a strict moral code. The dawn of Christianity, therefore, emphasized the spiritual and moral aspects of its teachings, and castigated those who lost themselves in the material and sensual pleasures of fife, including sex. Male slaves and their womenfolk were the victims of the sexual freedom and licence practised by the Romans and the Pharisees of the Jewish community. Jesus Christ, by vigorously and uncompromisingly attacking adulterous practices, not only in women but also in men, was in fact giving voice to the interests of the slaves and poorer sections of society whose women were prey, waylaid at every corner by human wolves. T'he spiritual values of Christianity led to the outlawing of polygamy and shed doubt on those who indulged in repeated marriages. However, at a later stage, the religious hierarchies that grew and fattened on the teachings of Christ allowed the system of concubinage to creep in once more. Despite the limitations placed by Christianity on man's sexual freedom, woman was maintained in her inferior underprivileged situation as compared with him. Ihe patriarchal system still reigned supreme and grew even more ferocious with the gradual shift to a feudal system in the last years of survival of the Roman Empire. This change first took place at the outer reaches of the Empire where the authority of the Roman State was difficult to maintain, especially in the face of the continued incursions(of barbarian tribes. T'he Christian, or rather Catholic, Church drifted away more or less rapidly from the original teachings of Jesus Christ. The Catholic Church was itself the biggest landowner in Europe, and its estates and pasturages occupied one-fifth of all cultivated land. It was therefore natural for the cardinals, high priests and monks to hnk their interests very closely with those of the feudal landlords, and to ensure that their religious teachings served the feudal system and kept the serfs from revolting against their masters. With the reinforcement of this feudal patriarchal system, the women inevitably continued to suffer grievously. The weight of oppression weighed heavily on their lives, and the accusations of being Satan's afly and a source of evil and catastrophe to all men followed them mercilessly everywhere. Men exercised complete control over women through the social customs and laws that were applied in the home and outside it, and found no difficulty in killing or burning a woman alive for the flimsiest of reasons. Torture was commonly used on women in Europe. 27
In the 14th Century the, Catholic Church proclaimed that, if a woman dared to treat an illness or disease for which she had no special training, she would immediately be branded as a sorceress, the penalty for which was death. For the cure of body and soul is God's exclusive domain, and he alone has the right to delegate these powers to his representatives on earth, the male pri6sts. Death is therefore a just punishment for the woman sorcerer. 29 During the period we are describing, the priests maintained that a few drops of sacred water were enough to cure any disease, and that they alone had the secret of this knowledge and the right to use it. Woman was also the victim of the male philosophers and thinkers who moulded public opinion. We have already mentioned Tertulhan, who insisted on the relationship between women and Satan. Men, like Thomas Aquinas, supported this outlook which originated at a much earlier stage with Socrates, who is known to have said that man was created for noble pursuits, for knowledge and the pleasuies of the mind, whereas women were created for sex, reproduction and the preservation of the human species. As mentioned earlier, Christianity was against polygamy at the outset. But with the establishment of the feudal system, accompanied as it was by wars and famines and a heavy death toll, the head of the family, apart ftom satisfying his sexual desires, wished to have numerous children on whom he could depend to supervise and run his estates and participate in labour. As a result, polygamy and concubinage crept back on the scene. Among others, Saint Augustine, the Christian philosopher, made a spirited defence of men, saying that such a practice did not aim at the satiation of sexual appetite but rather at ensuring sufficient reproduction and a multiplication of people on the earth in conformity with God's will and in obedience to what he had ordained. For did not God say to the Sons of Israel from whom the long awaited Messiah would arise 'Increase and multiply'? Monogamy, therefore, remained in practice a moral code only for women, lest the patriarchal system be eroded and collapse. Glorification of virginity and the virgin led the Church to elevate the Virgin Mary to a higher place, and she came to be known as the Goddess of Heaven and Earth, a description that had hitherto been reserved for the ancient female goddess who had been worshipped before the era of Judaism. Above the head of the Virgin Mary were now placed the moon and stars of Isis, and in her lap lay the sacred child. This was nothing but a modified version of an old drawing of Isis and Horus. With this promotion of Mary to the level of a goddess went the cult of virginity upheld with cold rigidity until the present day. Islam started its early career around 700 years after Christ, when Christianity was already a well established religion. The Prophet Mahomet was profoundly influenced by the two other great monotheistic religions. In the journeys he undertook for commercial purposes outside the Hedjaz, he often met people who recited verses of the Old and New Testaments to him. Mahomet at the beginning of his life was a poor shepherd boy, living in a society of masters and slaves wmch seethed with passion, lust and the quest for lucre, cruel to man and above all women, licentious, idolatrous, eroded by vice and obscurantism. The Prophet's early teachings were directed against the class system based on slavery, and defended the rights of the poor and of women. But the patriarchal system was strongly entrenched in most of the tribes, except for a very few who still exhibited one or other form of matriarchal relations, and the structure built around the unquestioned predominance of man therefore remained as firm and as unshaken as ever. The continual tribal wars, in which many men were killed, the need to build up the new Islamic order, the large numbers of women prisoners of war and slaves, all tended to make out of polygamy a practice responding to social needs. Islam, therefore, put its religious stamp on sexual freedom for men and their right to have several wives, as well as concubines and women slaves. In actual fact, once apin it was the big slave owners, heads of tribes and rich men who were able to enjoy the benefits of such rights, since they alone had the means to buy or keep so many women. Pre-Islamic society, or what was later called El Gahelia (The Age of Ignorance), was a tribal structure built upon slavery. Prisoners of war were considered the property of the victors, and each man would take into his household a number which corresponded to his power and means. Islam brought no changes in titis area and permitted a man to share his home and bed with these women, and yet be under no obligation to marry them. Furthermore, this system of concubinage did not oblige him to recognise the children born of these relations. However, if the man did agree to this recognition, the child was immediately considered free, that is no longer a slave, and the woman, in her turn, was set free after the death of her master. The owning of concubines was also allowed in Christianity after the first heat of Christ's teachings had died down, and in Christian Ethiopia to this '4ay the presence of concubines in some households is a common occurrence. Egypt, however, abolished this extreme form of legalized prostitution at the end of the 10th Century (during the era of the High Priest, Abraham, who lost his life in 970 A.D. due to this decision). The history and literature of the Arabs are literally teeming with stories about the lives of these women slaves and concubines who were exposed to different forms of economic, social and sexual oppression. They were used by their masters to carry out household chores, such as cleaning, washing, cooking, collecting firewood etc., but also in home duties of another kind, namely singing, dancing and catering to their masters' sexual needs. In some cases the master would transform them into prostitutes as a means of making capital out of their bodies.30
Ibn Habib has written that, among the customs rampant in the (preIslamic) Gahelia society, was for men to make profit out of the opening between the thighs of women slaves, some of whom displayed a white flag in the market to draw the attention of those who desired to fomicate. And Ibn Abbas describes how: 'In the time of the Gahelia they used to force their women slaves into committing adultery and then pocket the price that was paid by the man. That is why a verse of the sacred Koran was sent: "Do not force your daughters into prostitution if they wish to keep their purity intact, because you pine after the ephemeral things of life. But for those who continue to do so, when what is done has been done, God remaffis forgiving and compassionate." The father married his daughters, very often against their wfll, to the men who made the highest bid. When a woman's husband died, the uncle or brother of the deceased visited the woman and threw his cloak over her uttering the words 'I have first right over her', after which he was ftee either to keep her with him, or to sell her at a price on the marriage market, with or without her approval, to prevent her from ever marrying again, or to strip her of whatever inheritance and money her late husband might have left. In some of the Arab tribes, a woman could be ravished by force if the man was strong enough to overcome the resistance put up by the men of her tribe. Once he had taken her to his household, it was his right to make her live with him as his wife. The ravishing could take place either during a war, or by a surprise attack or conspiracy. The poet Hatem El Tai proudly describes this practice in a line which says: 'We do not marry their daughters with their consent, but take them at the point of our swords.' Women very often fought desperately to avoid this fate even if death were the penalty. One of the well known phrases coined by these women was 'el mani a wala el dania'which means 'rather death than degradation'. Fatima Bint El Khorshib (Fathna, daughter of Khorshib), when ravished by Gamal Ibn Badr, threw herself headfirst from the palanquin in which she was being transported and died on the spot, of a broken neck. History tells of the sufferings and torture, often ending in death, which were the inexorable fate of women slaves bold enough to rebel against their masters or even just to disobey them, or to sing songs directed against those who held power or were heads of their tribes. Some of these women slaves even mustered enough courage to attack the Moslems and insult Mahomet, the Prophet of Allah.
Sarah was a famous slave singer who aimed her barbed words against the Moslems. She was among those whom Mahomet ordered to be executed on the day of his victorious entry into Mecca. In the region of El Nagir, it was recounted that some women had rejoiced when the Prophet died and Abu Bake, the first of the Caliphs, ordered their hands and feet to be cut off. Thus women who dared to give voice to their protest or opposition could be exposed to cruel punishment. Their hands might be cut off, or their teeth pulled out, or their tongues torn from their mouths. This last form of punishment was usually reserved for those who were singers. It was said of these women that they used to dye their hands with henna, brazenly display the seductions of their beauty, and beat time with their fingers on tambourines and drums in defiance of God, and in derision towards the rights of God and his Prophet. It was therefore necessary to cut off their hands and tear out their tongues.
However, there is no doubt that under Islam men and women slaves were given rights which they did not enjoy in the preceding period. Islam fought apinst the oppression of slaves and the poor, opposed injustice and corruption, and called upon the Arab tribes to cease their habits of alcoholism and gambling and to give up the practice of usury. But the pre-eminent position of man as compared to woman was not shaken. Man remained the master and the mentor. Marriage in essence was a property right or contract, the husband owning his wife by virtue of the dowry and of the fact that he supported her. The duty of the wife was to obey, whereas the husband could divorce her whenever he wished and marry more than one woman at a time. Thus it was that the Moslem Arab woman remained part of the man's property. Even today in the Arab countries, including Egypt, women are still subjected to marriage laws that have not changed radically since those early days. Whatever improvement there has been in the personal status of women, as wives or mothers, is not so much due to the law, still supported by powerful religious and conservative forces, but rather to the socioeconomic changes that have taken place in some countries like Egypt, Iraq, Syria, etc. One of our famous contemporary writers, the late Abbas Mahmoud El Akkad, has often sung the praises of the patriarchal tribal system which emphasizes that women are the property of men. Since security is a necessity in the hfe of those who inhabit the desert, it was essential that they should be known among their enemies and their fellow men for their capacity to defend and secure their property. Among all the forms of property protected by man, woman comes first.
I . Levi, The Family, p.79; and Duffaut, Systems and Organizations in the Old Testament. 2. See Chronicles I (Old Testament), Ch.7, Verse 7. 3. See Genesis, Ch.38, Verse 24. 4. See Genesis, Ch.48, Verses 14ff. 5. Genesis, Ch.21, Verses 7 ff. 6. Genesis Ch.42, Verse 37. 7. Genesis, Ch. 22, Verse IO. 8. Exodus, Ch.20, Verse 17. 9. Exodus, Ch.21, Verse 3. 10. Exodus, Ch. 1 8, Verse 12. 11. Genesis, Ch.35, Verse 17. 12. Genesis, Ch.29, Verses 15 ff. 13. Genesis, Ch.2 1, Verse 14. 14. Samuel 1, Ch. 1 8, Verse 27, Ch.25, Verses 39 and 43. Samuel II, Ch.3, Verses 3 and 4, and Ch.5, Verse 13. 15. Chronicles 11, Ch. I 1, Verse 2 1. 16. Chronicles 11, Ch. 13, Verse 2 1. 17. Kings I, Ch. I 1, Verse 3. 18. Kings 1, Ch.7, Verses 13-25. 19. Deuteronomy, Ch.22, Verses 13-19. 20. Deuteronomy, Ch.22, Verses 28-29. 21. Deuteronomy, Ch.24, Verses 14. 22. See Numbers Ch. 5, Verses I 11 8. 23. Genesis, Ch.3 8, Verse 24; and Deuteronomy Ch.22, Verse 2 1. 24. Deuteronomy, Ch.3 8, Verse 24; and Ch.22, Verse 2 1. 25. Matthew (New Testament), Ch.5, Verses 27-28. 26. Matthew, Ch. 1 9, Verses 3-6. 27. In the face of the inhuman suffering inflicted by torture a woman had to admit her guilt before the priest as the only way out and had to con cur that her body was inhabited by evil spirits and devils. See Jules Michelet, Christina Holi, Thomas Zsass and others. 28. Jules Michelet, Satanism and Witchcraft, p. 19. 29, Quoted in Christina Holi, Witchcraft in England, p.130. 30. El Mehbar, 240. 31. Nasser El Din El Assad, El Keyan Wal Aghani fi Asr El Gaheleya, 1960, pp.43-4. 32. Tafsir El Tabri (Maimanieh), Ch. 1 8, pp.92-3. al 33. Abu Farag El Asfahani, El Aghani, Vol. 16, p.2 1. im 34. Nasser El Din El Assad, op. cit., p.9 1. th 35. El Balathiri, Fetouh El Boldan, 1966, 1:102. an 36. Tarikh El Tabari, Vol.4, pp.2014-5. fa 37. Abbas Mahmoud El Akkad, Gamil Boussaina, p. 1 8.