Title: Men in the Picture: Representations of Men and Masculinities in Egyptian Cinema since 1952.
Authors: Van Eynde, Koen; M0321069
Issue Date: 16-Jan-2015
Abstract: Research of men and masculinities in the Middle East and North Africa remains scarce, to say the least. Only occasionally and irregularly researchers pay attention to the topic, while gender studies in the region continues to focus on women. Nevertheless, the term gender incorporates more than just women. In practice, however, we find little information on Egyptian and Arab men and masculinities.This lack is partly explained by the interests of gender studies in this specific geographic region, a discipline that is mostly interested in the social, economic and legal frameworks that regulate gender relations. In this sense, it mainly pays attention to the discrimination of women in these fields, but also to the positive aspects such as women (and men) trying to change gender relations and make them more equal, building formal and informal structures to implement change. One of the assumptions that were often made, is that the region suffers from the shackles of a patriarchal society, and that men thus find themselves automatically in a privileged position. Deniz Kandiyoti (1994) mentions how she changed her assumptions about Middle Eastern men as soon as she started to pay attention to their lived experiences. In her article The Paradox of Masculinity she states that patriarchy creates and maintains inequality that also affects men and male identities. Further, one can question the definition of patriarchy as it appears in this region. Mervat Hatem (1987) questions its use to explain social relations. Hatem argues that not only patriarchy, understood as a system that privileges some men over women and other men, but also class plays an essential role to study and deconstruct the social structure of which gender relations form an integral part.Thanks to the development of men studies in the English-speaking world, specifically the theory of hegemonic masculinity by Connell (1987), more and more attention is also given to the experiences of men and the construction of masculinities on a global level and in non-Western contexts. Using Connell’s theory and recognizing that masculinity is not – and never was – a stable entity, this study sheds light on the lacunae in the study of men in the Middle East and North Africa. More specifically, the main focus is on the construction of male identities and the performance of masculinities in popular culture in Egypt and particularly in Egyptian cinema.The main question at the start of this research was quite straightforward: how are men depicted in popular Egyptian films? This question gave rise to a number of sub-questions, related to identity, nationality, ethnicity, gender, class differences and generational conflicts. In the course of the research, my attention shifted from ‘how’ to ‘why’ men are depicted in a particular way, keeping in mind those elements that are part of our daily performance (Goffman 1990) of our identity. As such, this research is in the first place historical, analyzing how and why certain types of men and masculinities were able to develop andtake on hegemonic positions in specific moments in Egypt’s recent history.However, we cannot consider hegemonic masculinity as something that was able to develop itself in a vacuum to the essence it is assumed to be now. On the contrary, hegemony is not something one controls entirely, but rather it is the result of power relations that were developed and that continue to change and adapt to new situations. In this sense, a hegemonic masculinity can be contradictory, such as the aging leader who enjoys his privileges as a man and as leader, but who is also subjected to the challenges that aging brings with it in such a privileged position. Hegemonic masculinity is abstract and in all likelihood is not, as Connell (1987) asserts, the most prominent type in reality. Furthermore, there can be more than just one hegemonic masculinity in this globalized world, with local variants and even competition against the global hegemony of, for example, businessmen. The real and lived experiences of men can be diverse and differ from the ideal that is presented to them, an ideal that can change for that matter. Similarly, the way men experience their manliness is subject to different factors.A lot of attention was thus given to the context in which the films were and are produced and consumed. Stuart Hall’s study Representation (1997) proved to be a usable framework to start the analysis of representations of men and how meaning is created and transferred, transformed and reproduced. Representation is the process through which a message is communicated and understood meaningfully and successfully (Hall 1997: 10). It is therefore imperative that the production and consumption contexts are taken into account in the analysis of the films, considering that films are not produced, coded or consumed in a vacuum.An essential element for the analysis of masculine performances, is the concept of ‘stars’ (Dyer 1998). Stars, according to Dyer, create expectations through their specific and known performances, their famous star personas. Simultaneously, stars speak to us as an audience because of their ‘banality’, their recognizable features, as well as through their extravagant and glamorous lifestyle and their performances of ideal men and women. Stars thus take on an important place in the study of masculine performances, bringing with them a list of meanings and characteristics. As such, they also contribute to how the meaning of a masculine performance is then communicated to the public and how individual viewers read meaning into it, influencing audience reactions through their special status as ‘Star’.The analysis of the films has shown that masculine performances in Egypt, as presented on the screen by the stars, are all but singular. The diversity of on-screen performances in the course of the past decades, but equally so within the same decade and even within the same film, shows that the concept of ‘masculinity’ is not at all as stable as it might initially seem. The different paradigms of masculinity (Spicer 2001), cultural types that are not bound to specific periods but could return in other periods as well, are expressions of possible lived experiences of male identities.These paradigms form the basis around which this research is built. Using paradigms in this research does not mean that there is no room for differences within each paradigm. Here too we can discern differences depending on the particular performance by the star, the narrative or the interaction with other actors and the director. The most prominent paradigms discussed in this research, spanning from the 50s until more or less 2011, are the ma‘allim, the national hero, defeated men, soft men, the anti-hero, the futuwwa, the rebel and the new men. Apart from the male types, I have also included a paradigm of female masculinity in the type of the ma‘allima. A separate part of the last chapter also discusses two films of two very different female directors, aiming to analyze how two new female ‘pioneers’ from the 80s present male-female relations.Although men, male types and masculinity are represented differently in the films, some films appear to take a certain limited and ahistorical male type as an essence of what manhood is or is popularly believed to be. Some men’s gender identity is ridiculed or played down while other men’s performance is represented as ideal. Thus an essential manhood remains, constructed in terms of a steadfast male, simply because of his physical sex irrelative of his gender identity. Not only is a man expected to be sturdy and steadfast, the male ideal is also heteronormative. Although gender relations between men and women or between men themselves are depicted differently depending on the period in which the film was made, one of the conclusions of this research is that there is an essential difference between men and women portrayed on the screen. Each has his or her own restrictions and purpose in society, essential to the construction of their gender identities.The face and shape of this mediated society depends on the historical context and is one of the main elements of the analysis. In this research we find that films from the early periods after independence, the 50s and 60s, were influenced by and contributed to an official, modernist, rhetoric and a discourse inspired by the middle classes about what was to define the new, modern, Egypt. Later decades, and particularly after 1967, were less ideologically loaded and questioned the earlier positive stance towards ‘modernity’, as it was defined. The ‘codes of modernity’ (Armbrust 1995) were, however, not questioned by these films. These codes – antitheses of modernity and tradition, of Western colonialism and nationalism that resulted in promising syntheses at the end of the film – were still used to explain and portray reality, and to communicate meaning to an Egyptian audience. From the 70s onward these antitheses would no longer result in a synthesis heralding a promising future. As of 1967 these codes were problematized and critiqued, but continued to be part of a cultural ‘system’ to create meaning for a public that was accustomed to these codes.These codes no longer play a vital role in more recent films. Occasionally there are postmodern references to these codes, for example by referring to the icons of the ‘classical’ period (the 60s) or by using recognizable genre conventions. The references to these conventions and icons are, however, disentangled from their cultural and historical background and the audience is left guessing for its underlying meaning. Apart from that, men have once again taken hold of a hegemonic position after the disastrous seventies that were initially tarnished by the defeat in the war of ’67. As a consequence, films from this period discussed the reasons behind this loss depicting defeated men and a defeated masculinity, without a purpose and in crisis.The men in crisis discourse still reverberated in the 1980s, a discourse that assumed that a return to moral values – embodied by the futuwwa, an ideal, but human, male as described by Nagib Mahfuz – would bring back stability and security. Simultaneously we notice in the films from the 80s the myth of the ‘fat cats’, as described by Viola Shafik (2007), expressing the middle class angst for the lower classes who climbed the social ladder through expanding economic capital and purchasing power, but presumably lacked the cultural capital of the middle classes.The 90s and particularly the new millennium sparked a radical return to patriarchal norms with men – and more precisely one man assisted by a male ‘buddy’ – filling the screen. These ‘new men’ are only new in their Western clothing and lifestyle, while being the absolute opposite of equality. Next to them we discern the development of a new image of lower class male, a rebellious yet redeemed male who, despite his subjugated position as lower class, nevertheless possesses elements of an eternal masculinity: (man as) following up on his promises, protecting, providing. The contradiction in his experiences of his male identity relates to the concepts of patriarchy and class. As a male he can violently assume his position, but as a lower class his male identity is endangered from different sides, more specifically because he is depicted as a (sometimes criminal) youth, as a problem to deal with, leading us to the second conclusion.The concept of crisis returns in each decade in a different way. Masculinity, portrayed as a norm, is a difficult if not impossible to attain ideal. Throughout the years, the ideal male embodying masculinity has been portrayed differently. For those men unable to attain it, a crisis ensues. Representing these men in crisis (particularly from the 70s on), is explicative of this assumption of a masculine norm. It is only by assuming there is a norm, characterized by certain characteristics defined as masculine, that a crisis can ensue whenever men are unable to live up to it. When representing men in crisis, one thus assumes that this essence is real and stable – at least in the hearts and minds of the viewers.The interpretation and representation of this ideal essence of masculinity depends on the films’ contexts, as mentioned before. In the 50s and 60s the ideal is embodied by educated, kind yet charismatic men. In the 70s the ideal is found in ‘outdoorsmen’ looking for their masculine ‘nature’, as well as men who supposedly treat women with dignity and respect. In the 80s filmmakers return to an eternalized ideal, the futuwwa, associating masculinity with violence and control, and considering masculinity as a factor to bring stability in a chaotic world. In the 90s and the new millennium we find ideal men as trendy and hip, but who also define their masculinity through a return to a patriarchal ideal such as strict male control, violence and a feigned respect for women and children (manifestly grouped together). Simultaneously, the crisis that men experience in this most recent period is portrayed as a crisis deriving from society, a crisis they cannot control and they can only solve by returning to a masculine essence of power and violence. Their bodies are the only sites they are still in control of and are able to define.The films in this research in their own way have shown that gender performance is not a singular, stable and biologically conditioned matter. Having said that, a third conclusion of this research is the fact that the concept of masculinity is narrowly defined in essentialist terms. It is considered a stable gender identity that men (and sometimes women) should aspire to. Masculinity is coded as positive, creating the illusion of stability and security, of individuality and independence. This ideal masculinity is, however, not up for grabs, hence the crisis that certain men experience(d). On the contrary, it is only available for the best of men, it has to be earned by those capable enough to follow up the strict workout regime. It is a heavy task, a task that leading men have to take upon themselves. This so-called problem that masculinity brings with it, was very explicit in the films with the futuwwa character from the 80s, but implicitly appeared in earlier and later films too. It appeared when exposing the contradictories of male characters and (fictive) identities, removing unwanted or undesired ones and replacing them with a new ideal.The last chapter of this research is devoted to female masculinities, women exposing so-called male characteristics (in terms of attitude and clothing, not necessarily physically). Halberstam (1998) has analyzed masculine performances by women, questioning the link between the male body and its socio-political effect, which implies that masculinity is a direct consequence of being male. By studying female masculinity, Halberstam posits, we can get insights into how masculinity is shaped (id. 1). The most famous type of female masculinity is the ma‘allima, who, like her male counterpart the ma‘allim, comes from a lower working class area, who is often an independent woman and entrepreneur, owner of a shop or local café. She has a double gender performance, taking on a masculine stance when dealing with customers and other business owners, and a female stance or ‘emphasized masculinity’ (Connell 1987) when she is alone with her husband (or temporary flirt), creating the illusion that the male is still somehow in control. This successful double performance shows on the one hand that masculinity is not the privilege of men alone, but on the other hand it shows that a respected public gender performance in certain situations should be an imitation of what is generally considered ‘masculine’.In the last chapter I also analyze films made by female directors within the constraints of the commercial film production in Egypt. In style and use of genre conventions, the films are not different from those made by their male colleagues. The way the narratives are developed in these ‘women’s films’ – giving rise to the question whose point of view is privileged – can differ from their male colleagues’ films. Both directors discussed in this research, Nadia Hamza and Inas al-Daghaydi, give their female protagonists a dominant place in the narrative, essentially limiting the men’s role in the plot. Male and masculine domination are then questioned while new possibilities for feminine identities are laid bare and tested. Contrary to the previous conclusion of masculine normativity and different male-female roles, is that these female directors’ films show that masculinity does not need to be normative. Men and masculinities are presented here as one of the many possibilities to live and construct one’s gender identity, as individual and not as part of undefined and all-encompassing groups such as ‘men’ and ‘women’ with supposedly clear and distinct gender roles. Finally I would like to add that this research contributes to the growing discipline of Middle Eastern Media Studies, a discipline that is once again pioneered in English-language academia. The research also contributes to Gender Studies more generally and I hope it will be a valuable contribution for Men Studies which are up to this point relatively limited in the region. This research is the start, a first more comprehensive analysis of how male identities are depicted in a popular mass medium in the Arab world, and can serve as the start for a further evaluation of the complex concept of identity and how it is formed. More specifically the need arises for additional study of the discourse of crisis and how this discourse portrays, influences and shapes male identity and the performance of masculinity both in reality and on screen.
Table of Contents: Acknowledgements vii
Transliteration ix
Contents xi
Introduction 1
1. An overview of Egypt’s recent history - 1896-2011 9
1.1 The Nahḍa in nineteenth century Egypt and the “liberal experiment” 10
1.2 Building a national cinema industry: 1923-1952 14
1.3 The Free Officers’ revolution and Public Sector filmmaking 19
1.4 The 1967 defeat and 1973 ‘victory’: What after socialism? 21
1.5 Mubarak and the decline of cinema productions 23
1.6 A decade of protests 26
2. Literature overview 29
2.1 Gender studies 29
2.2 Masculinity and Men studies 34
2.3 Film studies 40
2.4 Gendered representations 47
2.5 Conclusion 51
3. Theoretical concepts 53
3.1 Egyptian cinema in the world 53
3.2 Women’s studies and queer theory as conceptual frameworks for the study of masculinities 63
3.3 Systems of representation 69
4. Methodology 75
4.1 Star studies 77
4.2 Cultural types and paradigm films 79
4.3 Four major periods in Egypt’s history and film industry 81
4.4 The film text and textual analysis 90
5. Criminals and heroes 95
5.1 The Ma‘allim: Violence and power 97
5.2 The national hero 113
5.3 Discussion 120
6. Defeated men in crisis and ‘soft men’ as the new norm 123
6.1 Defeated men 126
6.2 ‘Soft men’ in the picture 142
6.3 Discussion 153
7. Eighties Men: Historical Heroes and Contemporary Anti Heroes 155
7.1 Fatwana in Egyptian historical dramas of the 1980s 158
7.2 The pessimistic future of the anti-hero 174
7.3 Discussion 187
8. Rebel Masculinities, Revolution and New Patterns of Paternalism 189
8.1 Rebel Masculinities 192
8.2 The ‘New’ Man 210
8.3 Discussion 221
9. Female masculinities 225
9.1 The ambiguous case of the ma‘allima 230
9.2 The case of female directors 243
9.3 Discussion 258
Conclusion 261
Bibliography 269
Filmography 286
Index 289
Appendix 1: Nederlandse samenvatting 295
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: TH
Appears in Collections:Near Eastern Studies, Leuven

Files in This Item:
File Status SizeFormat
Men in the Picture 23.12.2014 final.pdf Published 2201KbAdobe PDFView/Open


All items in Lirias are protected by copyright, with all rights reserved.