The emotional, sexual, and psychological stereotyping of females begins when the doctor says, “It’s a girl.” -Shirley Chisholm The very words “It’s a girl” are considered inauspicious and are a source of disappointment for most families in Saudi Arabia. The Islamic country of Saudi Arabia believes in the superiority of men and considers women worthless or rather worth only her ability to bear sons. Princess is one such book that reveals the atrocities faced by woman in Saudi Arabia, irrespective of their class. It’s a ghost written story by Jean Sasson about the life of a Royal Princess of the ruling Saud dynasty of Saudi Arabia. The protagonist’s name is changed to Sultana to protect her identity which we see was a futile effect as revealed in Sasson’s next book “Daughters of Arabia” It is difficult to appreciate the privileges we have, until we acknowledge the cruelty around the world. The first reading of the book left me thanking my stars to be born in a family, which did not discriminate against me for not being a male. The life of women in Saudi Arabia is indeed pitiful. No matter how close a woman is to the throne, ultimately she is an object for sex and for bearing “sons”. Princess is not a feminist writing. It just states facts of the appalling life of women in Saudi Arabia. Princess Sultana does have certain feminist traits, which she uses to gain the little independence she can within her household. The oppression begins from childhood. Sultana remembers being beaten for eating an apple that was desired by her brother. Being the only son in a family of nine daughters, he was given all freedom by their father. Sultana had all the luxuries, money and family influence. No common man could harm her but the threat came from inside not outside. Her father and brother were a threat and to some extend her husband Kareem “By treating women as slaves, as property, men have made themselves as unhappy as the women they rule, and have made love and true companionship unattainable to both sexes.” (P 22-23, Princess) Sultana gets this point across to her husband and perhaps that’s why leads a comparatively better life than most other woman in the country. The book deals with horrific expressions of oppression, which any other country would treat as violation of human rights. During the early 90’s when the book was written, woman in Saudi Arabia had no rights at all. They could not vote, or go to school after they reached puberty. Home tuitions were provided and that too only to a selected few. The women were confined in their houses and when they stepped outside the boundary of their house they were trapped in their veils. The veil concealed not a part of the body but a state of mind. Most women took it in their stride and were trained to bear the brunt of the male in her family. Young girls were married off to men thrice their ages, so as to produce heirs. Sultana’s father’s fifth wife was just a few years older than her! A Muslim man could have up to four wives with the consent of his previous wives, which was ironic because no woman had the right or the power to speak against any male, especially her husband. Tales of rape, torment and murder are prevalent throughout the text. A woman who was raped was executed for her supposed seduction to the rapist. For defying any law, women were stoned to death naked and all this was lawful. “The mere suspicion of sexual misconduct, such as kissing, can bring death to a young girl. In addition, public congratulations are given from the men of religion for the father’s “notable” act of upholding the commands of the Prophet!” (P 62, Princess)
What actually tore me apart was that there are women who believe these laws are right, for their benefit and in keeping with the Islamic culture. Amidst this entire sultana rose like a phoenix from its ashes. The trilogy-containing princess, princess sultana’s daughters and princess sultana’s circle portrays how sultana defied the men in her life and gave the same courage to her daughters and other female relatives. The book is a must for all females to uphold their self-respect and dignity in this male chauvinistic world and also for the males to be able to love respect and cherish all women.
Reviewed by Shubhli Bhalla