In an interview with NPR, Leila Slimani discusses her inspiration for her book “Sex and Lies: True Stories of Women’s Intimate Lives in the Arab World” after its recent publication in English.
With the release of her 2020 English edition of the book, “Sex and Lies: True Stories of Women’s Intimate Lives in the Arab World,” Slimani is challenging the status quo.
The Paris-based Moroccan author stressed the need to nurture women’s sexual freedoms and equality in Morocco, noting that such liberties are not a matter of Western values. “You know, I believe in universality and I think that a desire to be free is not something that belongs to the Western world,” she said.
“We all want to be free. I want to be free. And I was not born in France or a Western country, I was born and raised in Morocco. And I can understand freedom, equality, justice. And anyone from China to Peru and Morocco can ask for that—for justice, for freedom, for equality.”
Slimani said that critics who accuse her of having a colonialist mindset, promoting sexual liberation, and forcing Western values are mistaking her cause.
“I think that it’s a misunderstanding—it’s a complete misunderstanding of what I am trying to do.”
A message to Moroccan society: ‘Women’s lives matter.”
Sarah McCammon, the host of NPR’s “All Things Considered” July 16 broadcast, asked Slimani about her inspiration for her book and its latest release in English.
McCammon compared the secrecy around sex and the social pressure to be a virgin in Morocco to the American Christian Purity movement. She asked Slimani, “who do you see as the audience for this book?”
“In every religion women are depicted, are described as a provocateur, as a temptress—as the figure of Eve who is eating the apple and everything is a mess after that,” the best-selling author replied.
“I want to speak to everyone and to use a very famous quote now, I would say that what I want to say to Moroccan society is that women’s lives matter.”
She added, “When they [women] speak about sex, people are just going to judge and to say ‘you’re a whore and we don’t want you here.’ And I want to tell them no, that’s not true. Those women matter and we have to listen to them.”
Slimani’s impassioned non-fiction work shines a spotlight on women’s experiences, issues, and sexual freedoms in Morocco. The author draws attention to the fact that women’s sexual autonomy remains under the threat of law or social shaming, and their intimate desires are wrongly considered taboo.
Learning inequality and the challenge of freedom
While men’s sexual desires are considered normal, women’s curiosities, desires, and sexual liberation are labeled as “dirty” and “impure.” Moroccan society teaches girls and women that they do not have the same sexual rights as men, Slimani argues.
“For women, it’s very difficult to live openly and to speak with honesty about your sexual lives. People want you to be a hypocrite and a liar and to hide yourself.”
Slimani added that the Moroccan society is in denial of the fact that despite laws surrounding pre-marital sex and adultery, “everyone is having sex in Morocco, like everywhere else.”
While growing up in Morocco, the author said she was constantly reminded of the dangers associated with being a girl and the repeated reminders of her “potential to provoke rape” or attack. Instead of admonishing men for their behavior, she said that conversations centered around the woman’s role as a “temptress.”
Slimani recalled that from a young age, she never believed she could fit the mold of a “good girl,” or fulfill the ideals that Moroccan society demanded of girls and women in order to be seen as pure enough to uphold the country’s idealistic image and expectations of women.
The French-Moroccan author raises the volume on the social and cultural pressures that chokes women’s freedoms in the North African country.
She notes the challenges associated with rebelling against patriarchal standards and the powerful fears that women have when breaking the norm.
“I meet a lot of women who said to me, ‘yeah, I would love to be free, but I’m not sure it’s worth it. I am going to lose so much being a free woman. Maybe I’d prefer to be alienated and do what society wants me to do because I’m too afraid to be free.’”