Educated women Forced into Prostitution by Poverty: The Fiction of Lao She and Nawal el Saadawi

Diane Blair Goodpasture, Tennessee State University


This thesis addresses the issues of socialization and formal education, both explicit and implicit, for women as portrayed in the novellas, “Crescent Moon” written by Chinese teacher Lao She in the 1930s and Woman at Point Zero written by Egyptian psychiatrist Nawal el-Saadawi in the 1970s and how they ultimately lead to the protagonists' spiral into prostitution. This thesis will involve an analytical expose of the socialization, the formal, the hidden, and the null curricula to which the protagonists, both fatherless girls, are subjected by their patriarchal post-colonial societies. The contention of this thesis is that the formal education they receive is a farce designed not to foster independence and enlightenment but to socialize females into one of two tracks: Those from “good” families, meaning the ones who have fathers, are socialized to become proper wives. The fatherless daughters, who are seen as a burden to society and as having no value because they do not belong to a patriarch, are socialized to become mistresses and or prostitutes by the hidden and the null curricula. The hidden curricula are the subtle messages the girls receive during their formal education and the null curriculum is not being taught any marketable skills. These two works were chosen because the protagonists, despite their geographic, temporal, and religious differences, have very similar circumstances. They thus lend a cross-cultural dimension to this argument: A patriarchal consumerist society does not tolerate independent women. While prostitution is overtly condemned it is covertly encouraged, particularly for females without a male benefactor, women who are seen having no value to males, or worse as burdensome and or disruptive to the status quo are feared as “dangerous characters.” While prostitution as an institution is tolerated, independent women are not. By the hypocritical and misogynistic status quo they are seen as dangerous forces that must be contained and destroyed in order to ensure the continued privileging of the hegemony. During their informal socialization process the protagonists receive numerous messages that they have no value as females, but especially as fatherless daughters. As orphaned daughters they lack social and monetary connections and face far more stumbling blocks, some of them deliberately placed, than their peers with fathers. In summary they are basically shunned as pariahs in their respective societies. Their formal education is merely a form of daycare designed to keep them out of everyone's way until they are old enough to be married off, or if they are fatherless, to be prostituted. The ultimate goal of the hidden curriculum is commodification of women in order to privilege men. The null curriculum is the absence of imparting any skill sets of marketable value in their respective societies. The conclusion will examine various theories as to reasons for this perpetuation and what causes the two protagonists alone decide to rebel against playing a marginalized role in a farce despite their “training.” How the authors' views influenced the messages of these works along with autobiographical elements, and why they are still relevant for today, will also be examined.

Subject Area

Comparative literature|Asian literature|Middle Eastern literature|Ethnic studies

Recommended Citation

Diane Blair Goodpasture, "Educated women Forced into Prostitution by Poverty: The Fiction of Lao She and Nawal el Saadawi" (2011). ETD Collection for Tennessee State University. Paper AAI1492265.