The Multiple Faces of Patriarchy: Nawal el Saadawi's 'Two Women in One' as a Critique on Muslim Culture
Nawal El-Saadawi is an internationally acclaimed feminist who has published several works, both fictional and non-fictional, which reflect the extent to which women in Egyptian society are oppressed by patriarchy. Patriarchy by its very nature permeates all levels of society—political, religious, social, and economic—and operates in various spaces, both urban and rural. Because it is essentially a power relation, it remains a major determinant of women’s access to power. Traditional patriarchy has, in both subtle and overt ways, denied women the same privileges it accords men. Nawal El-Saadawi’s Two Women in One challenges this status quo by presenting a female character who subverts the system with deliberation and precision. This article is an in-depth analysis of Two Women in One from a feminist perspective that frames transgression as the ultimate means of women’s escape from patriarchy. The analysis looks at the ways in which the female body is exploited to maintain patriarchal power and conversely at how the same body destabilizes male dominance. Power is interpreted as an essentially fluid concept, while transgression is read as crucial to women’s individual and collective emancipation. The article positions El-Saadawi’s novel within a repository of third generation narratives that engage with issues of gender and sexuality within specific cultural frameworks.