World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010


Making the Man: Contested Representations and Constructions of Masculinity in the Middle East (270) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED date: WED 21, 5.00-7.00 pm

· NOT_DEFINED institution: University of Manchester, UK

· NOT_DEFINED organizer: Nariman Youssef

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description: What is masculinity? Is it a label arbitrarily attached to male attributes? Or a fixed category of characteristics and modes of behaviour that some men (or women) may or may not adhere to? Is it a construct –changeable and context-bound –that moves across time and space? And if so, what is gathered under its rubric in the different eras and localities? Are its values performed into existence or defined in ideal representations that then inspire certain behaviours to be performed? Is there anything determinate about “masculinity” at all other than the label?
Traditionally, the focus on women and women's bodies as sites of negotiation and measures of change and/or modernity, has created the false impression of a fixed and universal male subjectivity. This problem has been duly addressed in Euro-American gender studies –indeed perhaps causing the ongoing shift from Women's Studies as a discipline towards the more inclusive Gender Studies and giving rise to the questions listed above—but it is still rarely reflected on when it comes to scholarship on the Middle East. With a few notable exceptions, studies of gender in the Middle East focus almost entirely on women and constructions or representations of femininity, and leave out questions about masculinity and male identities.
The aim of this panel is to address this gap by inviting varied and multidisciplinary discussions of masculinity in the Middle East. The papers presented here will share the linking thread of some conceptual and methodological questions, such as:
-Given the ongoing prevalence of using gender as a measure of cultural difference (or sameness) in discourses about the Middle East, how useful are concepts formulated in Euro-American contexts when applied to the Middle East?
-What needs to be done to build analytical categories of masculinity into existing discourses on gender in the Middle East?
The topis covered in the papers engage representations and constructions of masculinity from a number of angles:
-The link between constructions of masculinity and narratives of nationhood and citizenship;
-Masculinity ideals at times of war, and how they are reflected in war fiction;
-The dominance of certain masculinities over others –straight or gay, Western or Arab—and the cultural and social contestations of such dominance, whether as manifested in fiction, journalism, film, or social practice.

Chair: Hoda Elsadda (University of Manchester, UK)

Paper presenter: Jennifer Chandler (University of Manchester, UK), “Lusting After the Homeland: Male Anxieties and Fear for the Nation in Iran-Iraq War Fiction”.
It seems almost inevitable that war fiction represents idealised visions of masculinity and normalises them. Such visions come across in the two novels discussed in this paper, namely Muhsin al-Ramli’s Scattered Crumbs and Ahmad Dehqan’s Journey to Heading 270 Degrees. The Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) was not only a military endeavour but also an effort to capture the imagination of its participants along ideological grounds, and not just from, respectively, the Islamic revolutionary and Ba’thist perspectives, but also by lending each nation a legitimacy based upon an ancient past towards a shared future. The two novels will be studies comparatively against such historical background. It will be argued that just as the shadow of the effeminate is never far from these men, the war is a constant threat to the feminine which is nearly always embodied in the homeland itself. Whilst male characters may be taking flight from the female body, it is the female homeland that they run to. This relationship between a male character and his homeland often leads to the abandonment of women in favour of the idealisation of a gendered nation which is set to be ravaged by the enemy, casting the relationship between hegemonic masculinity and homeland into an erotic triangle with the enemy who wish to transgress her borders.

Paper presenter:Linda Maloul (University of Manchester, UK), “The Un- ideal: Masculinity in the Fiction of Ahadaf Soueif”.
Ahdaf Soueif is aware that whenever she says something in an interview, it is taken as an Arab –and nowadays a Muslim –point of view. This, as is suggested here, is also true of her fiction. Arab writers are often seen as 'native informants', and their characters as true representations of the Orient. This could explain Western interest in works by Arab writers in general, and an increasing interest in works by Arab women writers in particular. This paper offers an analysis of Soueif's representation of the Arab man in her first novel Aisha (1983), and her collection of short stories The Sandpiper (1997), and explores the reasons behind such representation. In her fiction, Soueif's focus on negative portrayals of Arab men could be taken to represent an Orientalist perspective (in a Saidian sense), which might go to bolster so many of the misconceptions about Arabs that exist in Western media and discourse. But is Soueif really simply taking advantage of the 'aesthetic value of the exotic', and the West's interest in the Orient, in order to get published? Or is she deliberately using Orientalist imagery to negotiate to her Western readers something different? To what extent might we argue that Soueif strategically employs this imagery to highlight and criticize certain behaviours?

Paper presenter: Dalia Mostafa (University of Manchester, UK), “Cinematic Representations of Masculinity and Fatherhood in When Maryam Spoke Out”.
This paper aims to raise some theoretical questions about the relationship between masculinity and fatherhood as social and cultural constructs, as represented in the Lebanese film When Maryam Spoke Out (Lamma Hikyit Maryam). The film was directed by Assad Fouladkar and released in 2002, and stirred some controversy in the Lebanese press. In the film, femininity and masculinity, as well as motherhood and fatherhood, are depicted as integral parts of a larger social, class, and political network which emphasises the absolute necessity of ‘having’ children. The married couple, who are seen at the start of the film as forming a loving and healthy relationship, are put to a tough test when Maryam, the wife, finds out that she is unable to bear children. The social pressures on the couple mount to the point that Maryam finds herself all alone and on the verge of insanity, leading in the end to her untimely death. Even though her husband resists the pressure to marry another woman who could bear him children, he finally succumbs while leaving Maryam behind to fight her own battle against her in-laws, her husband’s new wife, and the community at large. The film does not only question whether the male figure is solely responsible for Maryam’s demise, but also raises important issues about the social and political network which has played a major role in ruining the couple’s relationship through portraying the husband as ‘incomplete’ had he not become a father.

Paper presenter: Oumnia Abaza (The American University in Cairo, Egypt), “Ana Gay: Coming to Terms with Male Homosexuality in Egypt”.
This paper is based on a qualitative ethnographic study of a sample of twenty middle class and upper middle class men in Cairo, Egypt, who identify themselves as gay. The study asks questions about the formulation and maintenance of gay identity by Egyptian homosexual males, and shows that social, cultural, religious and political repression against Egyptian male homosexuals did not hinder them from developing and maintaining a gay identity. When was the term “gay” incorporated into their social identity, and what function does it serve for the individual's view of himself and in relation to others? One of the things that come across in this study is how the subjects have re-appropriated the Western notion of “gayness” and created a unique, particular and local understanding of what it means to be “gay”. At the same time, outside their subcultures, the Egyptian gay identity of these men is often perceived as a foreign body that the collective immunity system of the society still tries to reject. The theoretical question engaged with here is how useful –indeed how valid—it is to compare the histories of homosexual identity constructions in the West and the Arab World, and to apply insights gained from one to understand the other.

Paper presenter: Nariman Youssef (University of Manchester, UK), “When We Were Modern: Translated Men in the Egyptian Literary Press of the 1930s”.
This paper examines representations of masculinity in translation in the Egyptian press of the 1930s, particularly through a selection of essays and short stories published in two periodicals: the literary magazine Al-Risalah and the women's magazine Fatat al-Sharq. Writings on the modern history of gender discourses in the Arab world unfailingly reproduce –with varying degrees of complexity—certain questions about European or Western influence. This paper will be looking at texts translated into Arabic from European languages and contexts, in order to pose the question: Which ideals of masculinity were 'borrowed' from Western discourses, which were discarded, and how were both positioned? Thus, by seeing how ideals of masculinity were constructed, contested, etc. to formulate an emerging form of gendered citizenship, it will aim to bring a demystifying specificity to the question of European influence, as well as throw some light on what it meant to be a modern man in Egypt during the first half of the twentieth century.