The Sand Child

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In The Sand Child, Tahar Ben Jelloun composes a multi-layered tale about Ahmed, a woman socialized as a man, who struggles to reclaim her sexuality. Ben Jelloun contrasts gender and sexual orientation to suggest that a person’s characteristics can be shaped and changed by will, but his sexuality is predisposed and will be the deciding factor of how he will act and identify himself within his community.

Ahmed, a product of society, is raised as a man and thus exhibits characteristics of a man. To receive the privileges granted to men, Ahmed conceals her feminine physique by binding her chest. Furthermore, her father trains her to be aggressive because society expects violence in men and weakness in women. “My father gave me a blow…and said, ‘Stop crying! You’re not a girl!’ He was right--tears are very feminine! I dried my eyes and went out looking for hooligans to fight…“(26). Even after Ahmed menstruates and realizes she is a woman, she continues her father’s lie. She does not downplay her masculinity, instead, she intensifies it by dominating her sisters and marrying her cousin. Ahmed’s tyranny over others is a public display of her manhood and a self-reassurance of her superiority. “I speak of servitude…I shall make her [Fatima] cry and let her indulge her feelings” (40). Although Ahmed is a woman by nature, nurture makes her a man.

Gender socialization is also shown through the women who are taught to accept inferiority in a male-dominated society. Ahmed’s mother submits to Hajji, allowing him to try cures for the “accursed seed” (9) that he believes, make her infertile for sons. The sisters, fearful of Ahmed, keep out of sight and silently obey her. Similar to men who comply with the expectations of superiority, women also comply with the expectations of inferiority. The consensus of society allows the inequality, and Ahmed addresses this in a speech to his sisters, “I don’t have to remind you that I’m a man of order and that if in our house women are...
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