By Yakin Ouederni
A crisis in masculinity could have been a catalyst for the Arab Spring uprisings
that took the Middle East by storm in 2011. That’s what Moja Kahf proposes in
Constructions of Masculinity in the Middle East and North Africa (AUC Press, 2021). Co-edited by Kahf and Nadine Sinno, the book explores both hegemonic and
marginalized masculinities during colonial and postcolonial eras in the region.
A concept that is most often stereotyped and misunderstood in the MENA region,
masculinity is constantly changing and being redefined — and resisted. In this book, contributors from various disciplines, including linguistics, comparative literature, sociology, culture, gender, queer studies, film and history come together to analyze gender roles in different aspects of the region through literary criticism, film, discourse analysis, anthropological accounts and studies of military culture.
The works of novelists like Naguib Mahfouz, narratives of queer diasporic Arabs in the West, masculine roles in Iranian and Tunisian cinema, and gendered politics in Egypt are just some of the topics that are examined in different chapters of the book.
So why is studying masculinity important?
Kahf notes that studies on men in the MENA region need to come “up to speed” with women, as gender roles and our understandings of different social variables, politics and sexuality are continuously changing. It is through the study of men that there comes an understanding of the relationship between men and power and the patriarchal hold on society, which are the basis of several issues like sexual harassment.
The study of masculinity and the realization that there isn’t one homogenous
man can help us understand the different types of behavior as well as cultural,
political and social contexts that lead to harassment. What kind of man sexually
harasses and why? And how do we stop this behavior?
“By challenging internalized notions of masculinity and showing it to be complex
and multifaceted, the book encourages us all to think of how masculinities can be redefined and reimagined in the fight against sexual harassment and gender-
based violence,” Naqib explains.