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Is Darina a Liberated Woman in Al-Joundi’s The Day Nina Simone Stopped Singing

Throughout the course of the memoir, Darina puts herself out there, showing us all the events in her life that led up to her father’s death. She leaves nothing back, no gory detail, no matter how unseemly. One may argue that is because, as her father says, she is a liberated woman and does not care what the public thinks of her life or her decisions. However, throughout her memoir, it is clear from her actions that she is in fact not a liberated woman. Darina may claim she is a liberated woman fighting for her right to do as she wants, but in reality it is apparent that she is still her father’s little girl and needs a constant force in her life to guide or command her.

            While Darina’s father claims that he wants to liberate his children, he seems to want to control them. He forbids them from religion altogether and also will not let them enter in the war effort, even though he went to “liberate Palestine” at one point. The first instance of Darina and her father disagreeing though can be seen when she openly tries to become religious, “He was choking and I retorted, ‘You have to respect my convictions, that’s what you taught me.’…’Convictions, my ass, come on, drink, I’m telling you,” (Al-Joundi 88-89). From here she completely breaks down and does what he says, and it is apparent he has no intention for his daughter to lead her own life with her own beliefs.

The influence of Darina’s father can also be seen in her sex life. When her second marriage fails, Darina’s father suggest, “’…why not try women, perhaps that’s where you’ll find your happiness?’” (Al-Joundi 121). Darina has no problem following this advice, and while some people may think she is so liberated that she is fine with changing genders, it is clear from past encounters with her father that Darina just listens to what her father says.

Another crucial element missing from Darina’s liberation is that she is still concerned with what the public thinks of her. When one thinks of a liberated woman, it is of a female that is in complete control of her life and has no regard for what animosity the public may have towards her. However, Darina is still shackled by the torments of name calling and rude gossip, “In the city I was being called every name under the sun and thought I would become a respectable woman once I was married,” (Al-Joundi 105). If Darina was truly liberated and lived by her own convictions as her father wished, she would not need a husband to become respectable, but instead could do it for herself.

Darina’s “memoir” is both frank and deceptive. She bares her soul for us to see and judge, but under the pretense that she has led this trailblazing life. It is true that she was scandalous and participated in many things women typically would not, but that is not the definition of liberated. Darina could only be a truly liberated woman if she chose her own path and did as she wanted, with no regard for her father’s restrictions or societies.

The Lack of Female Development in Aswany’s The Yacoubian Building

            Unlike the other readings in this semester thus far, a male writes this novel. It is evident through the book that while he may feel he sympathizes with the plight of Egyptian women, he obviously does not. The stories and dimensions of the female characters show Aswany’s true perception of women. While all females are more concerned about providing for their family and less self-centered than the male characters, the women all follow the central plot line of selling their body to a man in power in order to provide for their family or a greater cause.

            The character that exemplifies Aswany’s stereotype best is Busayna. She goes from job to job to try to support her mother and siblings. Each boss expects some sort of sordid compensation from her and she is quickly disillusioned. The other females are older and already have come to expect their fate. Hagg starts to have sexual dreams and essentially buys a beautiful woman, Souad, to sleep with him to satisfy his desires. Taha would never purposely use a woman, but instead his wife uses him to further the goals of her religious group.

While it may be accurate to show the sexual harassment and objectification women go through in Egypt or even the Middle East as a whole, Aswany never delves further than this issue. No female ever fights the issue or voices their concern over being treated this way. It is a shame that a self-proclaimed activist and liberal author lets male characters talk about and show change through terrorist organizations and rigged political parties, but seldom gives women a voice. It seems that when political change, fighting, or rights is concerned, women are rarely considered. Busayna briefly voices her disgust against the conditions her whole generation is under, “You don’t understand because you’re [Zaki Bey] well-off. When you’ve stood for two hours at the bus stop or taken three different buses…then you’ll know why we hate Egypt,” (Aswany 138), but that is the closest a female comes to gaining some dimension.

It is surprising that Aswany makes his female characters less dynamic given his passion for womens rights in his personal life. He has written several articles addressing the topic of lack of women’s freedom in extremist nations. In one article dealing with this issue he addresses that it seems “the extremist view is that they (women) are only bodies and instruments for either legitimate pleasure or temptation, as factories for producing children,” (Al-Aswany, 2009). His argument in this article ties in perfectly with what his characters went through, and yet he never went further with it. If he feels so passionately about it, why did he never have any of his female characters so one-sided and never attempt to address this pressing issue?

 References

Al-Aswany, A. (2009). When women are sinners in the eyes of extremists. The                             

Independent, Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/ alaa-alaswany-when-women-are-sinners-in-the-eyes-of-extremists-1810447.html