Hamid comments on gender roles and sexism throughout Exit West, but I felt this theme was somewhat separate from the story of Saeed and Nadia’s relationship. On multiple occasions, Nadia is harassed, assaulted, or generally faces the threat of violence from men: a man swears at her when she’s stopped at a red light on her motorcycle (42), she’s sexually assaulted in a crowd at a bank (63), and near the end of the story, a man comes into her workplace and threatens her with a gun (216). But these events struck me as distinct from the story of the couple. Despite the two being together throughout almost the entire story and being very close, Saeed doesn’t really have to reckon with or address any of this danger, as all of these events occur when he and Nadia are not together, and they do not discuss them.
I think the fact that Saeed doesn’t understand this aspect of Nadia’s lived experience is part of what causes them to split up. This disconnect between them is particularly clear in Saeed attitude towards Nadia’s robes, which she explained early on she wears “‘so men don’t fuck with me’” (17). It is understandable, after the many negative experiences she has had with men in her life, that she would continue wearing the conservative clothing as a form of protection. But Saeed doesn’t seem to recognize this, thinking that “it was inexplicable that she continued to wear her black robes, and it grated on him a bit…sometimes he wanted to shout, well take it off then” (187). This suggests that Saeed does not really understand Nadia at all. As is too common for people who experience sexual harassment/assault, Nadia’s experiences are not validated, and she is left to deal with them on her own.