There is a chamber in de Young art museum beyond the Dali and the Monet, behind a hallway of Victorian thrones and relics from Teotihuacan. There is a golden doorway leading to an empty space — but nothing in this place attracts the flashing cameras of the city’s tourists. The first piece you see is a Frederic Edwin Church piece, “Rainy Season in the Tropics.” It’s an image that doesn’t leave you easily. An iridescent glamour shot of a lilac morning in a foreign paradise, the sheen of its mist sculpting rainbows that glow off the canvas.
I turn my attention to the glass woman in the center of the room. A woman of peace and prosperity, a mother and a daughter. I face my paradise of wild women in that painting and I am reminded that this paradise is long lost.
Nawal El Saadawi planted these wild seeds when I first tasted her tropical elixir on a lazy Sunday, with Woman At Point Zero propped on my knees and the moonlight resting on my face. She led me through Egypt’s prisons of pain and brothels of beasts. I witnessed daughters become women: their rape, their genital mutilation, their oppression. The way the corners of the mayor’s lip lift when new servant girls dance into his room and the way he breaks out in a smile when they limp out of it. The way women sell their bodies at a price or how they accept marriage as an alternative form of payment. All women are prostitutes of one kind or another.
Their objectification is justified by “religion.” The nation of Egypt and its sectors place God over emotion. They spill blood to blush their cheeks in the eyes of God. Faith is the mechanism that keeps children bound, men bowed and women silent. The ruling men use this rhetoric to distract the people from the cobra that is slowly coiling around them, crushing them as they pray.
Men, women and children are preyed on because of their faith. Unfortunately, women are more than willing to submit themselves to a higher power, making them beautiful little lambs circled by lions.
Faith is the acceptance of what we imagine to be true, but that which we can never prove. God is a perfect scapegoat, a perfect motivator. No one can prove he doesn’t exist and no one can question his intentions. These men whisper the word of God into their female victim’s ears while they pillage and destroy their innocence, their purity. They cut off their female pleasure and ostracize their joy. They use God to justify their own power, their own thrones.
The religious texts didn’t fall from heaven. We made them. In tumultuous times, we forge relics that transform our societies and unite us. Thus, our faith finds its origins in fabrication, a concept at the center of Saadawi’s spider web. Faith is a way to process the unprocessable. To answer questions we have not asked. To justify wars we have not waged. We believe, word for word, in metaphors and allegories of books that were written millennia ago.
Yet women cannot live life from under their veil anymore. Cannot bow to the phallic representation of Allah, watch their sisters die, or live as little broken girls. So, they burn themselves alive and from th
eir ashes, these lambs emerge as lions.
Nawal El Saadawi professed that she is a dangerous woman because she is “speaking the truth. And the truth is savage and dangerous.” I have seen what it means to suffer and I have felt what it means to be female. We are not at liberty to play dress-up anymore. As her characters raise their bloody fists in revolt, as Saadawi raises her pen, I raise my head because, like them, I am becoming a dangerous woman.
Anissa, 18, is from Union City, Calif., and attends Stanford University. She plans to be the first in her family to graduate from college. She has been a volunteer for Woof Animal Rescue and has helped clean coastal beaches.