تجربتي مع الذكورة / My Experience with Masculinity


Sherif Hetata



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حتاتة, شريف; Hetata, Sherif

Document Type

Research Article

Publication Title

Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics

Publication Date





[In this testimony the writer discusses periods of his personal, family and political life, analyzing them in the light of his concept of masculinity and the socio-cultural formation of gender. The following are excerpts from the testimony, published in the Arabic section. * One has to differentiate between "sex" and "gender". Sex is primarily related to one's body and physical relationships. Gender, on the other hand, is a construction of cultural and psychological qualities acquired as the result of belonging to a certain sex, how one's biological formation affects the way we interact with the social system around us, shaping what is referred to as masculinity and femininity. * When I started writing this article, a voice inside me kept asking: "what is the point of writing an article on 'gender'? Is it going to be one more article added to the body of literature written on the subject, without really contributing anything new?" I have looked in vain over the years for something new written in this or other fields. Maybe I have lost the wonder which I had in my younger days. Maybe nowadays it is only the sciences that are capable of being creative, while the humanities have little to say. Or maybe the problem lies in the gap that separates the educational system from people's everyday lives, in an academic teaching system that has taught us to think and write in an abstract manner, removing us from concrete reality and its different elements? How can I produce something that avoids this abstraction? Something that is mine, not taken from the experiences of others? Something that reflects both the simplicity of life and its complexity? * After some thought, I decided to take a risk. To write an article which deals with my life, with my masculinity or-to put it in more academic terms-with my "masculine gender" and what it has done to me through long years of living in a patriarchal class society. * My world was one of secret struggles, where one's emotions and thoughts are kept bottled up deep down inside oneself. So the soil in which feelings and words could grow, break down barriers and express themselves freely, was left barren. My revolt against oppression was transformed into a world of divisions and calculations where the self, the individual person, was marginalized and rendered insignificant. Women, wives, lovers, mothers and sisters, could flare up in one's imagination at times of struggle or desire, only to fall again into the abyss of forgetfulness. * When I met my wife, Nawal El Saadawi, I was perhaps more prepared than other men to accept a new stage of life. My mother had taught me to appreciate women's role. I had had a life that was ever-changing, ever-evolving, moving from one place to another. I had learned to take risks, to deal with the new and the unknown. * But in those days, I was not familiar with the term "feminism". At any rate, even if I were, it would not have meant much to me. * Soon, however, I realized that for Nawal it meant standing up for her rights, even when it comes to the simplest of things. At first, I found it difficult to accept this when it related to matters that I thought were without significance. Years later, I came to realize that little everyday compromises in the lives of women who try to follow an independent path can lead to losing their rights, to their submission to the oppression that both their society and family practise on them. * When we got married, Nawal was a well-known writer and I had lived through quite a rich experience that changed me from a clever, hardworking student and successful physician into a rebel who faced dangers and went through experiences he had never thought of before. I started to tell Nawal parts of my life. I thought it could be useful material for her to draw upon for her creative writing. * Nawal, however, kept urging me to write myself. She said to me: "when you tell me about your life, I can hear the voice of the artist inside you." * I started to write. It was difficult at the start, but soon my pen was moving smoothly over the lines. Words flowed out of me, as if a barrier had been broken. A silent dialogue began between me and the papers. I started to sit at my desk for hours every night and finished my first novel in two years. * From 1993 to 1997 I wrote an autobiography in three volumes. * A man cannot write a sincere and courageous autobiography as long as he remains unable to break free of the masculine shell that prevents him from seeing what lies deep inside him. In my writings, women play an important role, not as objects to write about but as active subjects.]

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