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Arab Women Writing Their Sexuality

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Egyptian psychiatrist Nawal al-Saadawi and Syrian novelist Ghada al-Samman challenge the dichotomy of women's sexuality as both a deviant power of beauty and an object of social control. By reviewing some of the writings of al-Saadawi and al-Samman, I compare their analyses of sexual relations vis-à-vis social structures and religious regulations. I argue that by reclaiming their rights to sexuality, they not only contest the sexual hegemonic discourse but also the apparatus of social control. Both writers dispute general views of Arab female sexuality by successfully introducing taboo subjects into the public debate. I examine their popular writings that have publicly exposed the dogmatic subject of sexuality and its relational complexity to the public debate. The extent of al-Saadawi's influence is indicated by the vast audience for her literature and the heated reactions from conservatives and traditionalists alike. Similarly, al-Samman, who writes from an existentialist view, reaches Arab male and female readers and ranks highly among the most read Arab female authors. Al-Saadawi and al-Samman were, and remain, agents of change in a society that continues to undergo difficult transformations.

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