Creating a Man, a Mouse or a Monster? : Masculinityas Formulated by Syrian Female Novelists through the Second Half of the 20thCentury
This literary study examines the formulation of masculinity in Syrian novels authored by women. The thesis covers the period between 1959 and 2000, corresponding to both the development of the female-authored novel in Syria and the creation of the modern Syrian state. This research engages with studies of masculinity in general and literary masculinity studies in particular. Drawing on the seminal work of Raewyn Connell as well as engaging with studies on masculinity and feminine narratology in Swedish, English and Arabic, the thesis analyses the formulation of literary masculinity through the fictional societies’ ideal masculinity on the one hand, and the female characters’ views and reactions to masculinity on the other. From a general survey of the field, 34 novels undertaking the formulation of gendered relations were identified and chosen for this study. From this selection, five themes emerged, forming the foundation of this thesis’ main chapters.
The five themes explore, in turn, how stereotypes are utilised to critique gender roles, ways in which male and female characters collaborate to formulate gender norms, how female characters capitalise on patriarchy in order to enhance their lives, male characters as symbols for social and political change and finally, the difficulties included in the performance of masculinity. Each theme is exemplified through one novel, which is analysed in detail. Throughout the five chapters, the main novel chosen for analysis is put into conversation with other novels with similar themes but from different decades. This allows for an examination of changing ideals of masculinity in addition to the theme itself.
The first theme, how stereotypes are utilised to critique gender roles, is studied through a close reading of al-Ẓahr al-‘ārī (The Naked back) by Hanrīyit ‘Abbūdī. The analysis illustrates how the expected normative behaviour of men and women is utilised in order to comment on the formulation of gender roles. The chapter further demonstrates ways in which what is seen as gender specific behaviour can be appropriated by the opposite gender. This is further developed through the examination of female writers taking over the male voice through a first person male narrator. The second theme, ways in which male and female characters collaborate to formulate gender norms, is discussed through a close reading of the novel Khaṭawāt fī al-ḍabāb (Steps in the fog) by Malāḥa al-Khānī. This chapter illustrates the similar expectations that both male and female characters have on their sons and fellow male characters. This includes taking on the role of provider and protector, even in the cases where the female characters are able to look after themselves.
The third theme, how female characters capitalise on patriarchy in order to enhance their lives, is elaborated through a close reading of Ayyām ma‘ahu (Days with him) by Kūlīt Khūrī. This theme demonstrates how the female character constructs herself and her world around the idea of a perfect male, whom she thinks will save her. The analysis examines what is seen as ideal traits in a man. It further discusses the change of the female character and how her initial utilisation of patriarchal structure transforms into a critique of the same structure.
The fourth theme, male characters as symbols for social and political change, is seen through a close reading of Dimashq yā basmat al-ḥuzn (Damascus, o smile of sadness) by Ulfat al-Idlibī. The chapter connects between changing social ideals and ideal masculinity. Through Bayrūt 75 (Beirut 75) by Ghāda al-Sammān, the fifth theme, the difficulties included in the performance of masculinity, is studied. The problematic masculinity presented is then put in contrast with what appears to be a suggestion that a performance of femininity could be an alternative to unsuccessful masculinity.
Whereas the novels differ in their presentation of masculinity and the utilisation of ideal masculinity, they agree on a set of core traits summarised in a hegemonic ideal of masculinity as an ability to provide and protect. The ways in which this should be performed is however closely connected to the female characters’ ideas of emancipation and women’s rights. The female writers’ formulation of masculinity can hence be said to mirror the development of the female characters and their awareness of women’s rights.
The thesis hopes that its original contribution to knowledge is the identification and examination of constructed masculinities in Syrian female-authored fiction. Moreover, this thesis studies a body of Syrian fiction previously largely unstudied in Western academia, and in a framework of Swedish, English and Arabic secondary sources.
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