Perceived Female Powerlessness In Hisham Matar's In The Country Of Men

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Turning the Tables: Exploring How Perceived Female Powerlessness can be a Survival Tool or Cause Submission in a Patriarchal Society
Hisham Matar’s novel In the Country of Men presents a young woman and mother, Najwa, who is surviving in a world ruled by men. Scheherazade, the protagonist of Richard F. Burton’s The Book Of The Thousand Nights And A Night, faces a similar predicament of trying to be successful in an intricately oppressive society. Examining the lives, choices, and actions of these two women reveal many commonalities and stark differences in how they handle their surroundings. Najwa and Scheherazade both appropriate a man 's world through their only viable weapons, words and beauty, to achieve their goals. Despite this similarity,
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When she feels helpless and alone, when her husband is gone, she turns to drinking and this becomes an outlet for her pent up emotions and disdain towards men and her hate towards Scheherazade. She explodes one day yelling “Don’t patronize me. You are all fools,” she continues “ But no, I must be a good wife, loyal and unquestioning, support my man regardless.” (Matar, 96) This again brings up the hardships of living in a patriarchal society, she has a duty to her husband, and despite her own wishes and beliefs, she must be “unquestioning” and most importantly stand by him, regardless of what her opinion on the matter is, for that is what society deems her duty as a wife to be. Najwa also shows disgust towards Scheherazade, warping the story to make her out to be a slave who is too much of a coward to choose death. She goes on to explain to her son that “ as soon as she was no longer tempting, useful; as soon as she was no longer beautiful: whack! Gone with the head,” (Matar, 17) This representation shows the hate and underlying sexism Najwa has in her. She refers to Scheherazade as a “harlot” and suggests that her use extends only as far as being an object for sex and entertainment, even referring to her as a “harlot.” In the actual story the ending is much different, it ends with Scheherazade and the king celebrating their marriage and giving thanks to Allah. Najwa’s personal interpretation of it shows more than that she hates Scheherazade, but it shows what she hates in herself. Her mother would yell at her, calling her a slut and creating expectations of what it meant to be a “good, virtuous chaste girl” (Matar, 173) when Najwa fails to meet these standards, she begins to put those names onto other women, shaming them to deflect her own shame and insecurities that she was only useful for her

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