...Slimani returns to Morocco for an intimate non-fiction examination of that country’s sexual mores. In a series of revealing and often enraging interviews, she speaks to women from all walks of life about sex. Some of her interlocutors prefer to remain anonymous, while others live openly and in defiance of the strict policing of their private lives ... The issue is not about morality but about politics, she insists. If we believe in individual liberty, the struggle against sexual oppression is of primary importance. As long as a woman’s body is still controlled by society, as long as her virtue is a public matter...she cannot be independent of the patriarchy. Slimani scorns the French intellectuals who accuse her of 'opportunistic Islamophobia' or of peddling Orientalist stereotypes. In this short, powerful book, superbly translated by Sophie Lewis, she has written a stirring call to arms for Moroccan women to experience what she has fought for herself: 'the right to think for oneself”, what she calls 'the most monumental taboo of all'.
LeÏla Slimani’s novels are described in France as 'livres chocs', meaning books that scandalise. She ventures into dark corners of the psyche, describing base impulses that many are ashamed to even think about ... Sex and Lies tells the stories of 14 of these women and two men, from a range of backgrounds. Slimani, a former journalist, reports their words directly — they need no embellishment. As an account of sex lives, it is as revealing as American journalist Lisa Taddeo’s bestseller Three Women, but it has a more urgent political mission ... Sex and Lies tells devastating stories in a spare style, but it’s not all bleak — Slimani is too clever and nuanced for that. It’s a positive sign that the people she speaks to refuse to be cowed by the repressive regime ... There is a quiet revolution under way where behind closed doors people are having sex with whoever they want ... Like Adèle did before it, this slim pink book of impassioned pleas, and of human impulses that resonate, is one step to more women breaking free.
These women are not victims and Slimani is careful not to portray them as such ... Sexual taboos can be more challenging to write about than political ones ... Unfortunately, in a world full of xenophobia, racism and sweeping generalisations about the Other, it is becoming harder and harder to have nuanced conversations. But this is exactly why we need to have open debates. Gender inequality and sexual subordination are not side issues. They are at the heart of everything. We must confront this taboo, this injustice and inequality, that affects the lives of people – men and women – in so many untold ways. For that I salute Leïla Slimani for writing this important, honest and brave book.
Moroccans’ motto is simple, says Leila Slimani: ‘Do what you wish, but never talk about it.’ The consequences of this double-standard are profound, especially for women who speak out about the violence and repression they are subject to. Slimani, journalist and author of a bestselling novel, Lullaby, combines their courageous stories of defiance with reflections on her own experience and the emerging resistance among young people. The result is a gripping portrait of a society riven by inner conflict, poised on a power-keg of desire.
Publishing these stories is brave, both because of reaction in Morocco and more progressive critiques: Slimani writes that she expects to be accused of 'purveying ‘orientalist clichés’ and of fuelling Islamophobic discourse'. Yet, as she points out, Arab culture has a long history of eroticism, with more puritanical views arising from around the 19th century. Theology scholar Asma Lamrabet tells her that the obsession with virginity seems to have been imported from Europe, and she has been unable to find any clear text in the Koran banning sex before marriage ... While a step away from her previous work in tone, Sex and Lies is a continuation of a theme for Slimani: nobody wins when the true nature of our selves is hidden for the sake of appearances.
Slimani, who is influential not only because of her journalism but also because she is Emmanuel Macron’s personal representative for French language and culture...attempts, somewhat brusquely, to head off inevitable criticism that she is indulging in 'opportunistic Islamophobia', and has sold out to the west. My worries would be rather different, namely the random quality that arises from depending on those who came to her over such a short period, and the reliance on statistics from 2010 and from 2015, when she was on her book tour. I would also have liked to hear more from rural, traditional, and especially older women – not just a self-congratulatory chat with her housekeeper – and perhaps from one or two young men, who are also, in their way, victims of the system.
It was while on a book tour of Morocco discussing Adèle that Slimani hit on the idea for Sex and Lies ... Many young women approached her at readings, wanting to tell her about their own sexual experiences, and it is these stories — that ‘shook me, upset me, that angered and sometimes disgusted me’ — that she has collected in this slim volume ... There is plenty of horror here ... Much of this is fascinating, but since Slimani sets no boundaries around her study, it is hard to know what it all amounts to ... In the same way that Lisa Taddeo’s bestselling Three Women, published last year, was criticised for showing only a partial view of female sexuality (the women were all white, under 40 and predominantly straight), one can’t gain much of an overview of Moroccan women’s sexuality from these pages. Perhaps because the stories are told in the women’s own words, they don’t live in quite the same way as Slimani’s fiction does. But the author deserves credit for giving a voice to those for whom ‘just being myself is activism’.
To write this book, Slimani had to be, by some measures, brave. Not the kind of brave that jumps in front of a bullet, but something more subtle and galvanising. Provocative might be the word ... Irish eyes will easily recognise sentences like: 'Do what you like, but do it in private' or 'Everyone knows it – but no one will acknowledge or confront it', as well as stories of women facing criminal charges for having abortions, stories of babies found abandoned ... It did not feel far from home. What the book demonstrates so clearly are the ways in which women’s bodies are the battleground for colonial and cultural tensions. If Morocco’s objective is to differentiate itself from the West as Ireland once wished to differentiate itself from Britain, by imposing a brutal sort of morality, it is the women who suffer ... In many ways Slimani represents both sides: Europe, Morocco. But she also acknowledges her distance ... It’s risky to jump in and pretend to understand – 'both' can easily become 'neither' when it comes to identity – but risk is Slimani’s middle name. She is teaching us to be intersectional feminists, which is a fancy way of saying your empathy should reach past your own self-interest to the interest of those who are different to you. And if you’re really free, then exercising that freedom is no risk at all.
Provocative and disturbing, fervent and moving, Sex and Lies offers a glimpse into a world often hidden from view, allowing Moroccan women to express in their own words their desires and hopes for a sexual revolution in their society.
It is difficult to argue with the facts presented in Sex and Lies — women, in large parts of the world, including Morocco, are deprived of sexual rights and ownership over their bodies. It is problematic, however, that Slimani makes hypocrisy a centrepiece of her argument, which rests on disputable generalisations ... Hypocrisy and sex have long been intertwined, not only in Morocco. In the west, the #MeToo campaign has exposed horrific tales of sexual assault by powerful men and of social complicity that guaranteed them years of impunity ... It is remarkable that Slimani avoids any exploration of the role of the Moroccan authorities in perpetuating the inequalities she abhors— even as she writes about the case of Hajar Raissouni, a young journalist who was arrested along with her fiancé as she left her doctor’s office...This is in keeping with the book as a whole, which does not lack for passion and which raises legitimate questions — yet is nonetheless weakened by a narrow focus that often neglects context, history and politics. The result is a culturalist reading of Morocco that has little to say about how women’s freedoms can be enhanced. That is a shame as it is a subject that deserves real examination.
While this is not the first study of female sexuality in Morocco, Sex and Lies is well executed: the novelist paints vivid portraits of her interviewees. But whether Slimani’s efforts will effect change remains to be seen. After its French publication in 2017, Sex and Lies caused something of a stir in Morocco, but the laws remained unchanged.
From discussions of the oppressive myths and painful contradictions surrounding female virginity to the general societal acceptance that anything is permitted, if in secrecy, echoes abound among the testimonials. Slimani connects her subjects’ words with her own deep understanding of Moroccan politics, inequalities, and penal codes, while sharing her strong belief that change will only come from allowing individuals a greater freedom to think and speak for themselves.
In this powerful collection of first-person testimonials, French-Moroccan novelist Slimani...exposes the 'systemic hypocrisy” of Moroccan attitudes toward female sexuality ... Balancing potent anecdotal accounts with incisive cultural analysis, Slimani makes a persuasive case that breaking the silence around sexuality is essential to advancing Muslim women’s social and economic rights. This eye-opening account strikes a resounding chord.