Oil and Women: Invisibility as Power in Nawal El-Saadawi’s Love in the Kingdom of Oil

in Seen and Unseen: Visual Cultures of Imperialism
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This contribution examines the social implications of Nawal El-Saadawi’s novel Love in the Kingdom of Oil. Love in the Kingdom of Oil, as well as being an important text about women’s rights concerning the veil in an Islamic nation, is also concerned with the world of oil, and can be classed as an important work of Islamic petrofiction. In this way, Love in the Kingdom of Oil allows El-Saadawi’s overarching message about the visual implications of women wearing the veil to be recaptured in a different contemporary crisis: an environmental one. More than this, in this novel El-Saadawi hints at the fact that one more thing connects oil and woman – the dominance of patriarchy. If the oil industry is a system controlled by patriarchy, El-Saadawi suggests that oil, as an object, is feminine. Oil is objectified and utilized just as women are; on the one hand displayed as commodity and, on the other, kept from sight. This chapter, then, attends to the way in which El-Saadawi challenges the negative visual representation of both the veil and the oil world by exploring the parameters of invisibility and visibility. I argue that El-Saadawi is concerned with challenging preconceptions by making what is usually visible invisible, and vice versa. As such, oil flows freely on the ground instead of underground in pipelines, and women walk around unveiled. This chapter argues that by exploring the limits of women’s visibility and the veil, El-Saadawi makes an important contribution to the conversations of visual imperialism and women’s Muslim identity.

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