The Multiple Faces of Patriarchy: Nawal el Saadawi's 'Two Women in One' as a Critique on Muslim Culture

  • Naomi Nkealah
Keywords: education, marriage, Muslim culture, patriarchy, women



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.

Author Biography

Naomi Nkealah
Naomi Nkealah is a senior lecturer in the Department of Languages at the University of Limpopo (Turfloop Campus). She holds a PhD in African Literature from the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, and has published widely on various subjects, including gender, xenophobia, and human rights. Her articles have appeared in South African journals such as the English Academy Review, Literator, South African Theatre Journal, and Tydskrif vir Letterkunde (Journal of Literature). She has also contributed chapters to various books published internationally. Besides her academic work, she writes short stories and poems which have been published in literary journals such as New Contrast, Carapace and A Hudson View, as well as in various anthologies.