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Sex and Lies: True Stories of Women's Intimate Lives in the Arab World

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The women of Morocco speak out about the secrets and lies of their intimate lives in this fearless exposé by the bestselling author of The Perfect Nanny and Adèle. “All those in positions of authority–politicians, parents, teachers–maintain the same line: ‘Do what you like, but do it in private.‘“ In Morocco, adultery, abortion, homosexuality, prostitution, and sex outside o The women of Morocco speak out about the secrets and lies of their intimate lives in this fearless exposé by the bestselling author of The Perfect Nanny and Adèle. “All those in positions of authority–politicians, parents, teachers–maintain the same line: ‘Do what you like, but do it in private.‘“ In Morocco, adultery, abortion, homosexuality, prostitution, and sex outside of marriage are all punishable by law. Sexuality is both an obsession and a taboo, provoking violence, frustration, secrecy, and shame, and women have only two choices: They can be wives or virgins. Leila Slimani was in her native Morocco promoting her first novel, Adèle, about a woman addicted to sex, when she began meeting women who confided the dark secrets of their sexual lives, from assault to their closeted homosexuality to the perils of leading a sexually liberated lifestyle. Their vivid, often harrowing testimonies, combined with Slimani’s passionate and intelligent commentary, make a galvanizing case for a sexual revolution in the Arab world.


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The women of Morocco speak out about the secrets and lies of their intimate lives in this fearless exposé by the bestselling author of The Perfect Nanny and Adèle. “All those in positions of authority–politicians, parents, teachers–maintain the same line: ‘Do what you like, but do it in private.‘“ In Morocco, adultery, abortion, homosexuality, prostitution, and sex outside o The women of Morocco speak out about the secrets and lies of their intimate lives in this fearless exposé by the bestselling author of The Perfect Nanny and Adèle. “All those in positions of authority–politicians, parents, teachers–maintain the same line: ‘Do what you like, but do it in private.‘“ In Morocco, adultery, abortion, homosexuality, prostitution, and sex outside of marriage are all punishable by law. Sexuality is both an obsession and a taboo, provoking violence, frustration, secrecy, and shame, and women have only two choices: They can be wives or virgins. Leila Slimani was in her native Morocco promoting her first novel, Adèle, about a woman addicted to sex, when she began meeting women who confided the dark secrets of their sexual lives, from assault to their closeted homosexuality to the perils of leading a sexually liberated lifestyle. Their vivid, often harrowing testimonies, combined with Slimani’s passionate and intelligent commentary, make a galvanizing case for a sexual revolution in the Arab world.

30 review for Sex and Lies: True Stories of Women's Intimate Lives in the Arab World

  1. 5 out of 5

    Warwick

    Leïla Slimani's first novel caused a bit of a stir when it came out. With its libidinous protagonist, Adèle, who neglects her child and lurches through a series of destructive affairs, it was especially indecorous (some critics implied) for a North African novelist. And yet it is precisely those in the Maghreb, Slimani argues in this unacademic but fascinating study, who are ideally placed to tackle themes of sexual dysfunction. ‘Living or growing up in societies where sexual freedom does not ex Leïla Slimani's first novel caused a bit of a stir when it came out. With its libidinous protagonist, Adèle, who neglects her child and lurches through a series of destructive affairs, it was especially indecorous (some critics implied) for a North African novelist. And yet it is precisely those in the Maghreb, Slimani argues in this unacademic but fascinating study, who are ideally placed to tackle themes of sexual dysfunction. ‘Living or growing up in societies where sexual freedom does not exist turns sex into a permanent obsession.’ Adèle's background was never mentioned in the novel, but her father was called Kemal and there were intriguing references to the Arab Spring going on in the background. Now Slimani confesses that the character is to be read, at least in part, as ‘a somewhat extreme metaphor for the sexuality of young Moroccan women’. These are the people to whom Slimani now turns directly: the bulk of this book is extended interviews with women about sex, many of whom reached out to Slimani after reading her novel. The picture of Morocco that emerges is one of near-total moral hypocrisy – a culture with a complete disconnect between public ethics and private behaviour. It is against the law to have sex before marriage, or outside of marriage, or with someone of the same sex as you. Of course, this does not stop people doing these things; it just means they have to be done in secret, which makes them potentially physically unsafe, legally dangerous, and psychologically damaging. If you are comfortably off, you might be able to afford an apartment, or a French-run hotel to meet your boyfriend – or, if you're meeting in an empty lot or a car park, you might be able to afford to pay off any police that come round. Otherwise even these options are closed to you. Sexuality is therefore filtered, like everything, through economic or class-based structures. Behind a lot of it is the fetish of female virginity. Men are not supposed to have extramarital sex, but everyone forgives it when they do; this was brought home to me in vivid terms when I lived in Rabat in the late 90s, and regularly had to help the guy I was staying with sneak prostitutes out of his parents' house unseen. This depressing process, which I did my best to avoid by determined sleeping or feigned misunderstanding, was seen as, at worst, a kind of manly peccadillo. Women, on the other hand, are ruthlessly punished for similar activity, and their sex lives must therefore be lived in utter secrecy. Almost everyone interviewed here has numerous stories of how all their most conservative, veiled friends have the most debauched private lives: but when they get married, as far as the world is concerned, they are virginally ‘pure’ (and may have a certificate from their father to prove it). Even sex itself is carried out with this in mind: ‘Girls act like frightened virgins. The first time they make love with a man, for example, they won't move. Because a lot of us have heard these terrible stories where men start hitting their partners [if they're too active], saying, “Where did you learn that?”’ « Les filles jouent les vierges effarouchées. La première fois qu'elles font l'amour avec un homme, elles ne bougent pas, par exemple. Beaucoup ont entendu des histoires horribles où des hommes ont attaqué leurs partenaires en leur disant : “Où est-ce que tu as appris ça ? ” » Culture is held ‘hostage to patriarchy and the religious,’ Slimani concludes. Western commentators tend to stress the ‘religious’ bit of that, but the situation is complex. The Moroccan law forbidding homosexual relations, for instance, has nothing to do with Islam – it was lifted wholesale from article 331 of the French penal code (since repealed). Colonialism, not sharia, is behind a lot of the repressive legal framework here. The Moroccan director Nabil Ayouch has an interesting take: ‘Nowadays, we set identities up in opposition to each other: sex is the Other, the decadent West, while Moroccan and Muslim identity is aligned with virtue and modesty. But we forget everything. We forget that it was we, the Arabs and Muslims, who shocked the West in the 15th century with our erotic writing. We invented erotology. We've become amnesiacs.’ « Aujourd'hui, on fait face à une opposition en termes identitaires : le sexe, c'est l'autre, l'Occident décadent, alors que l'identité marocaine et musulmane s'apparenterait à la vertu et à la pudeur. Mais on oublie tout. On oublie que c'est nous, les Arabes et les musulmans, qui avons au XVe siècle choqué l'Occident par nos écrits érotiques. On a inventé l'érotologie. Nous sommes devenus amnésiques. » Islamism has certainly increased in Morocco since I lived there in 1996–97, when face veils, for instance, were not ever so common; a lot more rightwing religious politicians are in power there now. Of course, the same can be said of the United States. It's debatable to what extent the religions involved are really to blame. ‘These things don't serve the cause of Islam,’ as one of Slimani's interviewees puts it. ‘They serve only one cause: men's.’ But then patriarchal social structures (as sometimes needs reminding) are maintained by all members of society. Otherwise, they would not be social structures. In Moroccan surveys, even more women than men say that they are opposed to sexual freedom (90 percent versus 78 percent), and even feminist groups in Morocco will usually not touch it, preferring not to devalue their cause by associating it with sex. Yet as Slimani argues, ‘To defend sexual rights is directly to defend women's rights.’ Among the consequences is the fact that between 600 and 800 illegal abortions are carried out every day in Morocco, a figure that I find incredible given that the UK only carries out five-hundred-and-something (legal) abortions a day with double the population. Though many things in this book are depressing and will lead to frequent accesses of rage, in fact overall there is a lot of positivity. Morocco has always been at the liberal end of the Muslim world, and it has a long tradition of that to call on; the current king, who's relatively progressive, also helps. Mass media and the internet make comparisons with other cultures unavoidable. Since divorce was legalised in 2004, a great many women have availed themselves of it, and there seems to be a growing feeling that very early marriages and abusive husbands are not the life sentences that they once were. If things were not changing, there would be no conflict around this issue – and on the evidence of this book, there is, a lot. This is not a work of academic sociology, but if you can accept that, Slimani has compiled a fascinating revelation of a society that is ‘very prudish and conservative…but at the same time completely obsessed with sex and performance’.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    So it’s no accident that Malika has remained single. She seems to have had many disappointments with men. "My ex went to school in France and he’s very liberal, very cool. Yet even he can only imagine marrying a younger woman who’s a virgin. And at the same time, he boasts of going to see prostitutes on a regular basis. When I expressed shock at all this, he said: ‘You’re intolerant. This is my right. I’m allowed both to want to fuck and to marry a virgin.’ He didn’t consider this in the So it’s no accident that Malika has remained single. She seems to have had many disappointments with men. "My ex went to school in France and he’s very liberal, very cool. Yet even he can only imagine marrying a younger woman who’s a virgin. And at the same time, he boasts of going to see prostitutes on a regular basis. When I expressed shock at all this, he said: ‘You’re intolerant. This is my right. I’m allowed both to want to fuck and to marry a virgin.’ He didn’t consider this in the least contradictory." This book did pretty much exactly what I expected it to - gave an insight into the sex lives and situation surrounding (mostly) female sexuality in contemporary Morocco - but somehow I still wanted something more from it. In fact, it encounters the same issue that many books on similar topics (misogyny immediately springs to mind) stumble upon: providing ample problematic examples and few practical solutions; a combination which ultimately makes for a frustrating reading experience. The issue in Morocco is more extreme than I first understood - a lot of the stigma around female sexuality within society is backed up by archaic laws - but reading this felt like being stuck in an echo chamber. I think it's great that Slimani has shed light on the current situation in Morocco and given voice to women whose perspectives would not otherwise reach a wider audience (although the majority of women she speaks to are educated and middle to upper class, so.. go figure), but the stories begin to feel repetitive after a while, and few solutions or ways forward are proposed. Overall I still think this is worth the read for its insights into the contradictory nature of how sexuality is viewed in 21st century Morocco.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    Review to come.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Claire

    Reality bites. The last nonfiction book I read was also set in Morocco (at the time referred to as the Spanish Sahara) written by a foreign woman living openly with her boyfriend, it couldn't be more in contrast with what I've just read here - although Sanmao does encounter women living within the oppressive system that is at work in this collection. In Morocco the ban on 'fornication', or zina, isn't just a moral injunction. Article 490 of the penal code prescribes 'imprisonment of between one m Reality bites. The last nonfiction book I read was also set in Morocco (at the time referred to as the Spanish Sahara) written by a foreign woman living openly with her boyfriend, it couldn't be more in contrast with what I've just read here - although Sanmao does encounter women living within the oppressive system that is at work in this collection. In Morocco the ban on 'fornication', or zina, isn't just a moral injunction. Article 490 of the penal code prescribes 'imprisonment of between one month and one year [for] all persons of opposite sexes, who, not being united by the bonds of marriage, pursue sexual relations'. According to article 489, all 'preferential or unnatural behaviour between two persons of the same sex will be punished by between six months and three years' imprisonment'. Leïla Slimani interviews women who responded to her after the publication of her first novel Adèle, a character she describes as 'a rather extreme metaphor for the sexual experience of young Moroccan women'; it was a book that provoked a dialogue, many women wanted to have that conversation with her, felt safe doing so, inspiring her to collect those stories and publish them for that reason, to provoke a national conversation. Novels have a magical way of forging a very intimate connection between writers and their readers, of toppling the barriers of shame and mistrust. My hours with those women were very special. And its their stories I have tried to give back: the impassioned testimonies of a time and its suffering. It's both a discomforting read, to encounter this knowledge and hear this testimony for the first time, and encouraging if it means that a space is being created that allows the conversation to happen at all, but overall it leaves a feeling of disempowerment, having glimpsed the tip of another nation's patriarchal iceberg. Article 489 is not drawn from sharia or any other religious source, it is in fact identical to the French penal code's former article 331, repealed in 1982. They are laws inherited directly from the French protectorate. In a conversation with Egyptian feminist and author Mona Eltahawy about the tussle between the freedom desired and the shackles forced upon women, Eltahawy responded by using words attributed to the great American abolitionist Harriet Tubman, who devoted her life to persuading slaves to flee the plantations and claim their freedom. She is meant to have said: "I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew were slaves." Emancipation, Eltahawy told me, is first about raising awareness. If women haven't fully understood the state of inferiority in which they are kept, they will do nothing but perpetuate it. Women are stepping out of isolation and sharing their stories everywhere, finding solidarity in that first step, sharing in a safe space, being heard, realising they are not alone. May it be a stepping stone to change.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Darryl Suite

    If there's one takeaway this book provides, it's that Moroccan culture has a huge obsession with women's virginity. And it was eye-opening (and upsetting) to read about just how far state and religion go to maintain that "virtue." 'Sex and Lies' explores women's rights, extra-marital sex, homosexuality within this atmosphere, even the extreme rejection of public displays of affection (that last one shocked the hell out of me). I appreciated reading these women's stories. If you're worried that the If there's one takeaway this book provides, it's that Moroccan culture has a huge obsession with women's virginity. And it was eye-opening (and upsetting) to read about just how far state and religion go to maintain that "virtue." 'Sex and Lies' explores women's rights, extra-marital sex, homosexuality within this atmosphere, even the extreme rejection of public displays of affection (that last one shocked the hell out of me). I appreciated reading these women's stories. If you're worried that their stories might feel voyeuristic, they're not. My only gripe is that this book can get quite repetitive, several of the same points being reiterated over and over. That was a bit frustrating. But overall, this is an insightful book. 

  6. 5 out of 5

    Cathy

    This is a book that delivers exactly what it sets out to do. It features a series of stories about the sex life of Moroccan women. So why do I feel it wasn't enough? I believe it is due to the fact that the author presents these stories, but she doesn't criticize far beyond misogyny and the light touch on the legal and social structure of Morocco. We have, therefore, the description of multiple experiences affected with the living conditions of women in that country, but few or no solutions are This is a book that delivers exactly what it sets out to do. It features a series of stories about the sex life of Moroccan women. So why do I feel it wasn't enough? I believe it is due to the fact that the author presents these stories, but she doesn't criticize far beyond misogyny and the light touch on the legal and social structure of Morocco. We have, therefore, the description of multiple experiences affected with the living conditions of women in that country, but few or no solutions are presented. Unfortunately, as the book progresses, the stories also become repetitive, which does not help to make the experience so rewarding. An interesting but frustrating reading.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Vanya

    “We should steer clear of western culture—look where it got them!”, “these feminists type are always ready to pick a fight,” “boys can stay out till late, after all it’s not they who are vulnerable”—These are just some of the innumerable statements that are made with abandon everyday around us. I am sure that as a woman in India, you must’ve encountered a version of these at least once (if you’re lucky) in your life. The scathing misogyny of these words filled my mind as I read Leïla Slimani’s s “We should steer clear of western culture—look where it got them!”, “these feminists type are always ready to pick a fight,” “boys can stay out till late, after all it’s not they who are vulnerable”—These are just some of the innumerable statements that are made with abandon everyday around us. I am sure that as a woman in India, you must’ve encountered a version of these at least once (if you’re lucky) in your life. The scathing misogyny of these words filled my mind as I read Leïla Slimani’s slim volume, Sex and Lies—a collection of real-life anecdotes of Moroccan women’s sexual lives. As I leafed through the stories, I was starkly aware of this little voice in my head that kept whispering in the background—this, all of this, isn’t just specific to Morocco. I knew these stories also as those of Indian women. Slimani’s first novel featured a female protagonist obsessed with sex. In the wake of its publication, she noted that more and more women approached her with stories of their own—of their private lives, their adventures and transgressions—many of which hadn't been voiced prior to that occasion. These conversations made Slimani realise an alarming but fundamental truth about the Moroccan society— that women didn't possess sexual freedom and control over their bodies. In this book, Slimani unpacks the role of the government and conservative religious voices in regulating desire. She dissects how anything ‘western’ is disparaged by those who vehemently claim that the ‘traditional Moroccan identity’ should be preserved at all costs. Women are an easy target as they are expected to uphold the honour of the community, endangering which is punishable by law. The age old conventions, however, are never held up to scrutiny. Times change, but laws are seen as infallible and in need of no change. So women have no choice but to stifle their desires or worse channel them behind a veil of secrecy and shame. This tiny book took up a giant space in my heart. I missed it when I wasn’t caught between its pages. A must read for one and all!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Emily Grace

    In Morocco, the only acceptable sexual activity is between a man and his wife. Where all forms of extra-marital sex, homosexuality and prostitution are not only frowned upon but also punishable by law, women appear to have two options: be a virgin, or be a wife. This wasn't what I was expecting. I had thought this to be a collection of Moroccan women's experiences regarding sex and relationships. The author even says in the introduction that her intention is "not to document a sociological st In Morocco, the only acceptable sexual activity is between a man and his wife. Where all forms of extra-marital sex, homosexuality and prostitution are not only frowned upon but also punishable by law, women appear to have two options: be a virgin, or be a wife. This wasn't what I was expecting. I had thought this to be a collection of Moroccan women's experiences regarding sex and relationships. The author even says in the introduction that her intention is "not to document a sociological study nor to write an essay about sex in Morocco" but to instead "render these women's words directly." But in the end, to me it really did read like a long-form essay with the passages from women used largely to drive and support the author's hypothesis about the sexual deprivation of Moroccans. Don't get me wrong, I think her hypothesis is thoughtful and accurate, it's just not what I had anticipated being the central focus of the book. Nonetheless, it was enlightening and heartbreaking and would recommend to anyone wanting to understand better the female experience in a punitive Islamist country.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Aya

    This is the book that every moroccan should read.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Isabella van Doorne

    I literally was unable to finish this book, because it seems Slimani uses the stories to confirm a narrative she constructed in het introdroduction. She often redirects the stories in her work to, what looks like, ‘prove a point’ and after a while the book just ‘repeats’ itself. This sadly led me to stop reading halfway through which happens for me very rarely... Slimani’s work is pretty problematic for several reasons, but in my personal opinion, mainly because she goes into very strict West vs. I literally was unable to finish this book, because it seems Slimani uses the stories to confirm a narrative she constructed in het introdroduction. She often redirects the stories in her work to, what looks like, ‘prove a point’ and after a while the book just ‘repeats’ itself. This sadly led me to stop reading halfway through which happens for me very rarely... Slimani’s work is pretty problematic for several reasons, but in my personal opinion, mainly because she goes into very strict West vs. East , free vs oppressed binaries that make Western ideals and countries look more ‘liberated’ and more advanced in comparison to Morocco. Also, Slimani grew up in Morocco but has mainly lived in France. She often uses her upbringing as a justification for her opinion to be ‘correct’. Although I agree that Other voices, specifically from the country discussed, need to be elevated, Slimani does not take into account her own mediation and many years spent living in Paris. For a work such as this, much more critical reflection is needed from the authors side.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Anna Rubingh

    This was a unique read in comparison to other feminist literature I have delved into. The sexual revolution in Morocco is still very much underground and women have a far bit to go before achieving equality. I felt empowered reading the stories of women who have sacrificed a lot and have gone through serious hardships that are hard to even fathom. There are also truly positive stories of liberal parents and successful women who go against the grain and are making real progress in their communiti This was a unique read in comparison to other feminist literature I have delved into. The sexual revolution in Morocco is still very much underground and women have a far bit to go before achieving equality. I felt empowered reading the stories of women who have sacrificed a lot and have gone through serious hardships that are hard to even fathom. There are also truly positive stories of liberal parents and successful women who go against the grain and are making real progress in their communities. An aspect of the novel I enjoyed was how it highlights the role men play within society and how the patriarchy harms them too.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Phoebe

    really powerful subject matter, but the translation was clunky and the writing felt kinda repetitive

  13. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth A

    I read this as part of the #invisiblecities2021 project. The goal is to read translated works from three countries each month. Invisible Cities Project | January 2021 | Selection for Morocco. Translated from the French by Sophie Lewis. I liked this nonfiction read, but didn't learn much that was new, and after the first couple of sections it was rather repetitive. My video review: https://youtu.be/1-QWB64GGOY I read this as part of the #invisiblecities2021 project. The goal is to read translated works from three countries each month. Invisible Cities Project | January 2021 | Selection for Morocco. Translated from the French by Sophie Lewis. I liked this nonfiction read, but didn't learn much that was new, and after the first couple of sections it was rather repetitive. My video review: https://youtu.be/1-QWB64GGOY

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jackson Lynch

    Shocking, alarming, beautiful, brave, strong, thought provoking and brutally honest are just some adjectives that come to mind. I had no idea what to expect when reading this book and now my mind is awash with a mass of emotions covering the entire spectrum from happiness to frustratingly fuming. This book has certainly opened gates to a whole new world of thought for me and one I hope to one day understand more compentatly and be able to put that knowledge to use.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Stan Georgiana

    #invisiblecities project for Morocco This book was educational for me, as I had only a vague idea about women's rights in Morocco or about the laws on sex. I really hope there is/ will be progress on this topic and they will obtain the sexual freedom they need and want. Some powerful voices in the book, women who rebelled and fought against the system. #invisiblecities project for Morocco This book was educational for me, as I had only a vague idea about women's rights in Morocco or about the laws on sex. I really hope there is/ will be progress on this topic and they will obtain the sexual freedom they need and want. Some powerful voices in the book, women who rebelled and fought against the system.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Fenna Rubingh

    always open to expanding my knowledge on cultures i don’t know much about and randomly picked this up. tons of extracts from moroccan women about sexual oppression and the obsession with virginity. while they have a long struggle ahead, there were still messages of hope for the movement

  17. 4 out of 5

    Biljana

    Before I started reading this book, I expected a more literary approach to the topic. It turned out to be a completely documentary experience and a harsh reality check - and that’s probably the best way to discuss this topic. I read it almost in a breath - if I had time to read one whole day, it would probably really be “in a breath”. Slimani presents different perspectives on the topic of sexual freedoms of Moroccan women, both through their individual stories and her own opinions on important e Before I started reading this book, I expected a more literary approach to the topic. It turned out to be a completely documentary experience and a harsh reality check - and that’s probably the best way to discuss this topic. I read it almost in a breath - if I had time to read one whole day, it would probably really be “in a breath”. Slimani presents different perspectives on the topic of sexual freedoms of Moroccan women, both through their individual stories and her own opinions on important events in Moroccan public life. In a way, she takes us roughly through the recent history of political and social life regarding this topic in Morocco. It’s a powerful book which will make you think of your own and experiences of your friends, be it as a woman, man, heterosexual or homosexual, it’ll make you think about your own #MeToo examples and about sexual inhibitions you’ve been confronted with in your own life. Since I read the Serbian version of the book, I’ll have a few remarks on the translation. 👇 __________ Veoma cenim šta radi izdavačka kuća Clio, pa sam tim pre iznenađena što mi deluje kao da ova knjiga nije imala lektora. Ili je lektor bio lenj. Prevod je sam po sebi solidan - francuski ne govorim, pa ne mogu da znam postoje li neke materijalne greške, ali sam i sama prevodilac i mogu da prepoznam prevodilačke zamke, u koje i sama umem da upadnem. Iz takvih zamki, koje često nastaju jer smo previše uronjeni u jezik s kog prevodimo, pa ne uspemo uvek da nađemo izraz koji zvuči najprirodnije na jeziku na koji prevodimo, najbolje može sa nas izvuče dobar lektor. Ovde sam naletala na više takvih primera i vrlo su mi boli oči, čini se da je lektor potpisan reda radi, da nije dovoljno iskusan ili da se jednostavno nije dovoljno udubio u svoj deo posla. Reč koja se izuzetno često koristi u prevodu, a bola mi je oči svaki put kad bi se pojavila, je glagolski pridev „prikraćen“ - reč koju nikad nisam čula ni pročitala u upotrebi, a mogla bi da znači „sputan“. Ako je nekome ko ovo čita pri ruci Matičin rečnik, volela bih da me obavesti postoji li uopšte ova reč zvanično u našem jeziku. :)

  18. 4 out of 5

    Marie-Therese

    3.5 stars

  19. 4 out of 5

    Annkathrin

    A series of essays exploring the different perspectives of Moroccan women - and some men, too - on the subject of sexual repression in a country with two faces: one that views sex and the liberation of women with suspicion, disgust, and outrage, in keeping with conservative Arab culture, and one that views sex as a commodity, and laws repressing any sensual expression as hurdles to be jumped and barriers to be circumvented, as long as this is done discreetly. Slimani portrays Moroccan society as A series of essays exploring the different perspectives of Moroccan women - and some men, too - on the subject of sexual repression in a country with two faces: one that views sex and the liberation of women with suspicion, disgust, and outrage, in keeping with conservative Arab culture, and one that views sex as a commodity, and laws repressing any sensual expression as hurdles to be jumped and barriers to be circumvented, as long as this is done discreetly. Slimani portrays Moroccan society as endlessly obsessed with sex as a result of its constant failure to reconcile these conflicting attitudes. Women are caught in the crossfire, their bodies raised as paragons of virginal virtue and family honour, or vilified as broken, soiled, whorish temptations and disposable vessels for pleasure. Men expect to be allowed to indulge in as much sex as they wish, but expect their future wives to be virgins, without realising the paradoxical irony of these demands. The law forbids sex, homosexuality and prostitution, but avoids confronting these practices, however rife, enforcing them inconsistently in a pattern of personal and politically-motivated denouncements where policemen might be paid to look the other way, but an angry mob might beat you to death even if they themselves are guilty of the same 'crimes'. Over the course of these sensitive yet open and honest essays, she exposes these hypocrisies and sheds light on the dangers faced by the women of Morocco forced to navigate this twisted cultural landscape in a way that leaves the reader filled with sympathy, weariness and outrage. An excellent insight to help readers understand the modern challenges and crisis of identity currently experienced by Moroccan society.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Monika

    ‘You might think that in a country like Morocco we’ve plenty of other battles to fight, that education, health and the struggle against poverty should come before personal freedoms. But sexual rights are a part of human rights; these are not minor rights, small boons that we can do without. To practice one’s sexual citizenship, to do with our bodies as we see fit, to lead a sex life without risk, one that brings pleasure and is free from coercion: these are fundamental needs’. Having read and lov ‘You might think that in a country like Morocco we’ve plenty of other battles to fight, that education, health and the struggle against poverty should come before personal freedoms. But sexual rights are a part of human rights; these are not minor rights, small boons that we can do without. To practice one’s sexual citizenship, to do with our bodies as we see fit, to lead a sex life without risk, one that brings pleasure and is free from coercion: these are fundamental needs’. Having read and loved both Adele and The Lullaby, I was keen to read the latest work by Slimani. In this book, the author gives voice to Moroccan women who are undergoing hardships in the country where 'sex is associated with the Other.' Slimani explores the hypocrisy of Morocco sending the message that many things in the country must remain underground, especially the most intimate ones – such as desires, dreams, and sexual identity. This is what these interviews are about – heartbreaking confessions that bubble up because it’s crucial to finally bring things to light. Slimani discusses the paradox unfolding around Morocco – while the country is supposed to be conservative, it is secretly obsessed with sex (for instance, Morocco is one of the top countries for pornography consumption). It was not easy emotionally to read various women’s stories as some of them are truly heartbreaking, featuring rapes, domestic abuse, prostitution, sexual orientation discrimination, and much more. But these testimonials are needed because only through them will these enormous problems be recognized and solved step by step – the book really gives this hope.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Madeline

    This is a really great introduction to both Moroccan culture and the more specific issue of having a free sex life within Moroccan society. It is illegal in Morocco to have sex outside of marriage, so people, especially women, have to keep their sex lives under lock and key. It was really interesting to read about how this book came to life, through Slimani's book tour for her first novel, Adele, which brought the topic of sex outside of marriage out from hiding. This book is told through the sto This is a really great introduction to both Moroccan culture and the more specific issue of having a free sex life within Moroccan society. It is illegal in Morocco to have sex outside of marriage, so people, especially women, have to keep their sex lives under lock and key. It was really interesting to read about how this book came to life, through Slimani's book tour for her first novel, Adele, which brought the topic of sex outside of marriage out from hiding. This book is told through the stories of multiple women, which Slimani transcribed and edited slightly for this book. The women Slimani talked to vary across social class, sexuality, and opinion on sexual freedom. I appreciated the variety in women, but at times the stories themselves seemed a bit similar—everyone had to hide what they were doing publicly, even if people spoke about it with their friends and in communities. However, as I knew absolutely nothing about Moroccan culture prior to this book, I still found it quite engaging. Other interviews with people focus more on law and how sex is represented in Islam. Many people use the conservative nature of Islam to justify these harsh laws, but Slimani, and those she speaks with, point out how Islam has not always been this conservative—sex used to be viewed as part of a healthy, holistic religious practice. The laws themselves are interesting, as some are directly based in French colonial rule of Morocco. People also say they do not want sexual freedom as it is rooted in Western culture, and they want to support a Moroccan culture free of Western influence, yet some laws are copied from French colonial law. Slimani makes it clear how hypocritical these laws, and the perspectives against them are. Overall, this is a really interesting and detailed introduction to the topic of sex in Morocco, as well as understanding some of the themes of Moroccan culture. Slimani also introduces some of the major events in the recent history of the movement for sexual freedom in Morocco. I loved reading about these protest movements and the inspiring individuals who are fighting for control over their own bodies.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    “By speaking up, by telling their stories, women employ one of their most potent weapons against widespread hate and hypocrisy: words”.  Synopsis:  “In Morocco, the only acceptable sexual activity is between a man and his wife. Where all forms of extra-marital sex, homosexuality and prostitution are not only morally frowned upon but also punishable by law, women appear to have two options: be a virgin, or be a wife.”   This was an eye-opening book and hard to put down; I read it in two sittings. It “By speaking up, by telling their stories, women employ one of their most potent weapons against widespread hate and hypocrisy: words”.  Synopsis:  “In Morocco, the only acceptable sexual activity is between a man and his wife. Where all forms of extra-marital sex, homosexuality and prostitution are not only morally frowned upon but also punishable by law, women appear to have two options: be a virgin, or be a wife.”   This was an eye-opening book and hard to put down; I read it in two sittings. It appears that the strict laws are creating a culture of lying, people are afraid to reveal their relationships to the outside world (even public displays of affection can result in imprisonment). “Do what you wish, but never talk about it” seemed to be a repeated theme in the stories of these women.  One thing that becomes apparent is that these laws impact the poorer communities to a far greater extent than the wealthy. The rich can often pay their way out of imprisonment, the privileged are more likely to be able to get away with relationships outside of wedlock, the poor are not. As Slimani states, “to defend sexual rights is directly to defend human rights”. One law that shocked me is that once couples divorce, the husband automatically gets custody of the children. I enjoyed reading these stories from a wide range of women and how Moroccan laws impact them. They are courageous to have shared these, it was an excellent book of essays. If you're looking for a short yet important non-fiction read, then pick this one up. 4.5 ✨

  23. 4 out of 5

    Ritu Pandey

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I picked this book up from my library and was hoping to read racy stories about women's sex lives in Morocco. It wasn't about that. I was completely surprised the way the book took over me. It focuses on the hardships of sex lives of not just women, but the younger generation in Morocco who wants freedom to have sex lives as they deem right but don't have the freedom to. All these stories (told by women) weave together the web of patriarchy that hangs over the lives of women, young people, homos I picked this book up from my library and was hoping to read racy stories about women's sex lives in Morocco. It wasn't about that. I was completely surprised the way the book took over me. It focuses on the hardships of sex lives of not just women, but the younger generation in Morocco who wants freedom to have sex lives as they deem right but don't have the freedom to. All these stories (told by women) weave together the web of patriarchy that hangs over the lives of women, young people, homosexuals- anyone not deemed "normal" according to the age old Moroccan culture. At times, the book reminded me of things I had seen in India. As a teenager I could not be seen out with a boy in public. Even if I wasn't doing anything "wrong". It's all about what would someone think if they saw us together- chatting, sitting in a coffee shop or just hanging outside of my tuition classes. The moral policing done by the actual police force is on another level and it is not done because they actually want to arrest you. They can be silenced with some green bills and that's all they care about. The book says - if you do it where it cannot be seen, then it is not a problem. Not exactly in those words but that's the idea. I could draw some parallels between what I saw in India in 2000. The book also, talks about how the Imams of Islam religion create all these regulations and force old cultural taboos down on the society. Islam is open to interpretation, the Quran is open to interpretation and they choose to twist it in a way that the responsibility of keeping the society pure lies on the shoulder of women- so women need to be virgins, they need to wear hijabs, they need to always be protected from the eyes of other men. The book also points out that the interpreters forget to focus on why men see women with such eyes that women need to be protected? Why is virginity given so much value that men sleep around before marriage but will marry only a virgin? It ultimately points out that it isn't the men who are the enemy here, but the patriarchal society which affects all people irrespective of gender and sexual orientation. It just affects some people more than others. I definitely recommend this book. It is an eye opener and a reminder that there is so much about this world that needs to be changed.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

    I'm on the fence about Leila Slimani. I loved 'Lullaby' but hated 'Adele'. Sex and Lies is her first non-fiction and it's a book I downloaded to read 'in situ'. Reading about Moroccan women and their sexual repression may well be a task best undertaken whilst IN Morocco. I would say it's an 'important' book but not a particularly impressive one. About half, perhaps less - it's not so easy to count with kindle books, is Slimani's opinions on the topic. The rest is extracts from interviews with pe I'm on the fence about Leila Slimani. I loved 'Lullaby' but hated 'Adele'. Sex and Lies is her first non-fiction and it's a book I downloaded to read 'in situ'. Reading about Moroccan women and their sexual repression may well be a task best undertaken whilst IN Morocco. I would say it's an 'important' book but not a particularly impressive one. About half, perhaps less - it's not so easy to count with kindle books, is Slimani's opinions on the topic. The rest is extracts from interviews with people she had spoken to a few years ago. Some of it is enlightening. A lot of it is scary. A lot made me feel really uncomfortable as I passed women in the streets. I tend to think of Morocco as one of the 'Islam-light' countries (apologies if that offends anybody) and have worked in companies where I spoke with professional Moroccan women on a regular basis. Now I find myself feeling sad about all the pressure most are under to preserve the 'honour' of their families. At one point Slimani says something like (I'm paraphrasing, perhaps) "The family honour lies between the legs of the unmarried women and girls". It's not a comfortable read. I can imagine Slimani will be widely criticised for what she's written. This has 'book about to be banned' all over it.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Dasha

    Following on the ideas of Mona Eltahawy, an Egyptian journalist and feminist, about the emancipation and change first starting with awareness, Slimani sets out giving the voice to Moroccan women talking about their private and sex lives: "By speaking up, by telling their stories, women employ one of the most potent weapons against widespread hate and hypocrisy: words." The intention as well as the purpose of the book are very valid, so it's a little frustrating that the testimonies are not actua Following on the ideas of Mona Eltahawy, an Egyptian journalist and feminist, about the emancipation and change first starting with awareness, Slimani sets out giving the voice to Moroccan women talking about their private and sex lives: "By speaking up, by telling their stories, women employ one of the most potent weapons against widespread hate and hypocrisy: words." The intention as well as the purpose of the book are very valid, so it's a little frustrating that the testimonies are not actually central to the book - they are rather used as examples to illustrate the author's theories. It's a question of my expectations as a reader, and I think still that the book is very relevant. I especially liked the chapter in which Asma Lamrabet analyses briefly the cultural history of Islam, and the influences that colonialism, as well as early Judaism and Christianism had on the current interpretation of the Islamic texts - that was a completely new and fresh point of view for me.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Kat

    3.5 stars. Important information about feminism & sex in Morrocco but told in a messy way. Here are some of the most impactful quotes: "But sexual rights are a part of human rights; these are not minor rights, small boons that we can do without." "These days, we're confronted with our own conflicting identities: sex is associated with the Other, the decadent West, while Moroccan and Muslim identity stands for virtue and modesty. But we're forgetting everything. We're forgetting that it's we Arabs, 3.5 stars. Important information about feminism & sex in Morrocco but told in a messy way. Here are some of the most impactful quotes: "But sexual rights are a part of human rights; these are not minor rights, small boons that we can do without." "These days, we're confronted with our own conflicting identities: sex is associated with the Other, the decadent West, while Moroccan and Muslim identity stands for virtue and modesty. But we're forgetting everything. We're forgetting that it's we Arabs, we Muslims, who shocked the West with our erotic texts in the fifteenth century. We've invented the realm of the erotic. We're suffering from collective amnesia." "As with every liberation, the erotic and above all the right to speak about it can only be won by bitter struggle. And this relies upon a rare freedom: the right to think for oneself. We must confront this most monumental taboo of all." **Invisible Cities Readathon (Jan): Morocco**

  27. 5 out of 5

    Nawal Q Casiano

    Interesting slim read that elucidates repressed sexuality in Morocco and the Arab world, and highlights the ways sex perpetrates the patriarchy amid an unjust, impossibly tense societal set up that exalts virgins and considers the West corrupt—> forces people to sneak, and allows the facade of chasteness to persist. Glad there’s been more dialogue; glad to learn more. Somehow didn’t love- possibly the tone or repetition.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Shima

    You do not need to be Morrocan to find this book fascinating. But if you live in an Arab or Muslim country, you might find it hits very close to home. In fact, I did a little experiment, I told my mom some anecdotes from the book without mentioning where they were from. When I was done she was looking at me like "And?" She'd thought I was talking about us, about Iran. P.S: This is one of the few books I do not recommend listening to the audiobook for. Personally, I found I often had trouble dist You do not need to be Morrocan to find this book fascinating. But if you live in an Arab or Muslim country, you might find it hits very close to home. In fact, I did a little experiment, I told my mom some anecdotes from the book without mentioning where they were from. When I was done she was looking at me like "And?" She'd thought I was talking about us, about Iran. P.S: This is one of the few books I do not recommend listening to the audiobook for. Personally, I found I often had trouble distinguishing when the writer was commenting and when it was still told from the different women's perspective. So pick up the physical book, immerse yourself and let yourself be astonished or saddened, depending on where in the world you live. But read it anyway.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Renée

    ‘Sex and Lies’ is an interesting read.. I did find that it wasn't necessarily the law that made a big deal about it... It sounds like the community (social/religious) groups that police it much more strongly and stringently than what the laws on the books say. Crazy! Amazing voices! Very sad with the oppression, lies and abuses the women have go through and endure, a very eye-opening read. ‘Sex and Lies’ is an interesting read.. I did find that it wasn't necessarily the law that made a big deal about it... It sounds like the community (social/religious) groups that police it much more strongly and stringently than what the laws on the books say. Crazy! Amazing voices! Very sad with the oppression, lies and abuses the women have go through and endure, a very eye-opening read.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Lavi

    This should be essential reading for western SJWs who claim they are oppressed by the patriarchy while having Only Fans accounts. There are places of darkness in this world, ruled by religion and a lack of education (the Middle East, parts of Eastern Asia, countries in Africa) so the efforts should be aimed towards those unfortunate societies and not towards the so-called "toxic white male". This should be essential reading for western SJWs who claim they are oppressed by the patriarchy while having Only Fans accounts. There are places of darkness in this world, ruled by religion and a lack of education (the Middle East, parts of Eastern Asia, countries in Africa) so the efforts should be aimed towards those unfortunate societies and not towards the so-called "toxic white male".

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