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Economies of desire, fictive sexual uprisings. Saudi chick lit: the girls are doing it

Al-Rasheed, Madawi (2011) Economies of desire, fictive sexual uprisings. Saudi chick lit: the girls are doing it. Le Monde Diplomatique.

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Saudis are reluctant to respond to the revolutionary effervescence sweeping neighbouring Arab countries. With the exception of the Shia in the Eastern province, most Saudis have been co-opted into accepting limited political, human and civil rights in return for royal largesse. Even so, a revolution of a different kind is definitely happening. Young women novelists are pushing the boundaries in unprecedented ways through producing Saudi versions of “chick lit”. A new generation is writing about women as sexual agents rather than submissive victims of patriarchal society; they include Raja al-Sani (Girls of Riyadh), Samar al-Muqrin (Women of Vice) and two pen names, Warda Abd al-Malik (The Return), and Saba al-Hirz (The Others). Their novels are published in Beirut, with the publisher al-Saqi taking the lead in promoting this new, daring literature (1). Over the last decade, the increase in the number of Saudi novels that deal with women as active sexual agents has been dramatic. In 2007, 55 novels (written by men and women) had sexual themes; that increased to 64 in 2008, and 70 in 2009 (2). Economies of desire, in which explicit sexuality is central, predominate. Many are shocked when Warda Abd al-Malik writes in The Return: “He took his clothes off and kept his long, stretched yellowish underpants. He didn’t offer me a glass of water or a rose. I didn’t see chocolates or fruits. I didn’t hear a word or a whisper. He didn’t caress me as I imagined. He just sat on top of me like a camel inflicted with leprosy.” Saudi women, and Arab women in general, go in for elaborate “sexual” talk between themselves, and in private, that may shock western middle class women, who are far more reserved in discussing their own sexual lives with female friends (even if they have no qualms over exchanging information gathered from Cosmopolitan or Elle or popular television series dealing with explicit sexuality). Saudi women’s conversations do not embarrass the speakers, nor are they criticised – provided they are among married women. And although the conversations often exclude unmarried girls, these girls talk sex all the time among themselves. What does shock Saudis, though, is the entry of sex talk into the public sphere through novels written by young women. These have unsurprisingly attracted criticism. Not many Saudis want to hear Samar al-Muqrin’s heroine reflecting on a hot night with her lover: “All barriers collapsed, I proceeded to quench the thirst that was looking for a real sigh coming from deep passions, not a sex machine that can be switched on and off after ejaculation.”

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2011 Middle East Studies
Divisions: Middle East Centre
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
Date Deposited: 15 Aug 2014 11:22
Last Modified: 12 Nov 2021 00:13

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