In the Iraqi literary production of the 1940s and 1950s, the figure of the woman prostitute appeared repeatedly, signaling a crisis in the ways Iraqi men imagined and articulated the contours of women’s liberation. Through an examination of works by Jabra Ibrahim Jabra, Fuʾad al-Takarli, and Badr Shakir al-Sayyab, this article argues that the innovative aesthetic forms and themes adopted by men writers and their dedication to political and cultural renewal (tajdid) and social reform used the figure of the prostitute to articulate a vision of women’s liberation that emphasized secular, urban, and middle-class notions of domesticity and respectability. The literary prostitute was a marginal figure used to envision a new era of women’s rights through her exclusion and excision from the imagined national future. The instrumentalization of the figure of the prostitute in Iraqi literary production revealed the limits of representation of the masculine imagination.

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