Post-9/11 Representations of Arab Men by Arab American Women Writers

Affirmation and Resistance

by Marta Bosch-Vilarrubias (Author)
©2016 Monographs X, 228 Pages
Series: Masculinity Studies, Volume 6


Post-9/11 Representations of Arab Men by Arab American Women Writers: Affirmation and Resistance examines the portrayals of Arab masculinities in novels published after September 11, 2001, by women of Arab descent in the United States. The book provides a historical account of the mainstream representations of Arab masculinities in the United States, using them as a contrast to the realities experienced by Arab men in the American diaspora. Considering the construction of male and female Arab American identities, this book illustrates the role of feminism in Arab American literature written by women and its influence on women’s depictions of Arab men. Through an analysis of representative works by Diana Abu-Jaber, Laila Halaby, and Randa Jarrar, among others, this volume demonstrates how Arab American women’s anti-racist and anti-sexist struggles inform their nuanced portrayals of Arab men. This book will be essential for professors and students of ethnic American literatures in general and Arab American studies in particular, as well as for those interested in women’s studies and masculinity studies.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Chapter One: (De)Constructing Arab Masculinities in the United States: The Racialization and Sexualization of Arab Masculinity in America
  • Arab Americanness as a Racial Construction
  • The Historical Racialization of Arabs by the United States Government
  • The Historical Vilification of Arab Men in the United States: A Discursive Survey of the US Stereotyping of Arab Masculinity Pre-9/11
  • Understanding Post-9/11 Arabo-Islamist Masculinity: 9/11 as a National Trauma
  • Sexualizing Abjection: Constructing the Arab Male as Terrorist
  • Muslim and Terrorist: Discursive Strategies of Abnormal Masculinity in the Post-9/11 Prime-time Drama Homeland
  • Chapter Two: The Social and Identitary Construction of Arab and Arab American Masculinities
  • Politicizing the Study of (Ethnic) Masculinities from a Poststructuralist Scope
  • Discourses on Arab/Middle Eastern/Islamic Manhoods: Ethnographies on Arab Male Performativity and (Neo)Patriarchy
  • The Hierarchy of Patriarchy: An Assessment on Discourses of Traditional Arab Manhood
  • Neopatriarchy: The First Step Towards the Creolization of Arab Masculinity
  • Post-1967 Neopatriarchal Arab Masculinity: Challenges and Potentialities of (Post-)Modern Arab Manhoods
  • Emerging Arab Masculinities: Moving towards Gender Equality
  • Thirdspace and Heterotopies in the Construction of Arab American (Masculine) Identities
  • Constructing Arab American Identities
  • Tendencies in the Construction of Arab American Masculinities: A Contradictory Thirdspace of Cross-Cultural Refraction
  • The Construction of an Arab American Identity: Ethno-Politics, Discrimination, and Social Construction in the Graphic Novel Arab in America: A True Story of Growing Up in America, by Toufic El Rassi
  • Chapter Three: Arab American Feminisms and Arab American Women Writers
  • Feminism as a Genealogy: Creating Alliances among Transnational Feminisms
  • Women-of-Color Feminisms: The Political Force of Writing Between Borders
  • Arab American Feminisms: The Construction of Arab Women-of-Color Feminist Genealogies in the United States
  • Arab American Women Writers: A Feminist History of Arab American Literature and Performance Arts
  • In Love, We Remain Whole: Mohja Kahf’s Feminist Poetry against Sexism and Racism
  • Chapter Four: Post-9/11 Representations of Arab American Men by Arab American Women Writers
  • Men in Crisis: Unsettled Masculinities after 9/11
  • 9/11 and the Consequences of Racialization in Laila Halaby’s Once in a Promised Land
  • Failed Heterosexuality in Frances Kirallah Noble’s The New Belly Dancer of the Galaxy: Moving Towards a Non-Binary Understanding of Masculinity
  • Understanding Masculine Identities as Fluid in Post-9/11 America: Some Conclusions
  • Arab American Fathers: Post-9/11 Representations of Patriarchs Navigating a Thirdspace of Cross-Cultural Refraction
  • Multiple Fatherhoods in Laila Halaby’s West of the Jordan and Susan Muaddi Darraj’s The Inheritance of Exile: Stories of South Philly
  • The Transformative Power of Daughters in Challenging Patriarchy in Alicia Erian’s Towelhead and Randa Jarrar’s A Map of Home
  • The Representation of Fathers in Post-9/11 Arab American Literature Written by Women: Some Conclusions
  • Arab American Feminists and Beloved Men: Post-9/11 New Arab American Masculinities Written by Women
  • Prejudice, Exile, and Romantic Love in Diana Abu-Jaber’s Crescent
  • Alternative Male Characters in Alia Yunis’s The Night Counter: Building Feminist Affective Bridges
  • Mahjar Feminism and New Arab American Men: Some Conclusions
  • Conclusions
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Series index

← viii | ix →



This book would not have been written without the companionship, inspiration, and support of many people.

I dedicate this study to my late grandfather, Francesc, or Frank, as he would put it, a self-taught historian, the first person in my family to publish a book. He was a source of inspiration and I will forever be indebted to him for his unwavering belief in me. I am also particularly grateful to my parents, for their love and support throughout the long process of writing this book.

To my significant other, Aaron, for his unflinching love, affection, and his invaluable readings of my work. And also to his family, for adding an American perspective to my writing process.

My most sincere thanks go also to Dr. Àngels Carabí, without whom my research would not have culminated in this volume. Thank you for believing in me and my research project from the beginning. The learning experience resultant from being part of the research projects Àngels has directed has been inestimable in my career.

Since this book is a revised version of my PhD thesis, I am mostly grateful also to both of my PhD supervisors, Dr. Àngels Carabí and Dr. Josep M. Armengol, for their useful insights into my work. Their belief in my project and their encouragement have been invaluable in the completion of this study. ← ix | x →

Also, to those and every one of the teachers, colleagues, and friends that have been around throughout this writing process. Without each and every one of you, this book would have not been what it is. My sincere thanks to you all.

← x | 1 →



It was not a street anymore but a world, a time and space of falling ash and near night. He was walking north through rubble and mud and there were people running past holding towels to their faces or jackets over their heads. They had handkerchiefs pressed to their mouths. They had shoes in their hands, a woman with a shoe in each hand, running past him. They ran and fell, some of them, confused and ungainly, with debris coming down around them, and there were people taking shelter under cars.

The roar was still in the air, the buckling rumble of the fall. This was the world now. Smoke and ash came rolling down streets and turning corners, busting around corners, seismic tides of smoke, with office paper flashing past, standard sheets with cutting edge, skimming, whipping past, otherworldly things in the morning pall. (Don DeLillo, Falling Man, 3)

I was in New York City, under the Twin Towers, two weeks before September 11, 2001. Before getting there, we had taken a sightseeing-bus tour which had informed us about the 1993 First World Trade Center bombings perpetrated by Islamic fundamentalists. Sitting at home in Barcelona on 9/11, and amidst incredulity towards the images that kept appearing over and over on television, I remembered those stories about terrorism that the sightseeing tour had informed us about, thought about the implications those terrorist attacks would have worldwide, and I could not help but wonder how my life could have changed if I had ← 1 | 2 → been there just two weeks later. This study stems from the impact of September 11 personally and is an attempt at making sense of the consequences of these attacks for Arab Americans and Muslims in the United States.

This book examines the representations of Arab American masculinities in Arab American literature written by women after 9/11. It explores the impact of 9/11 on the depiction of Arab men in the United States, as well as the role of feminism in these portrayals. The present study probes the powerful stereotypes which are inscribed in the minds of Americans and demonstrates how, due to their perpetuation in the media and popular culture, these entrenched images result in racial discrimination. It also argues that Arab Americans, being knowledgeable about both the Arab world and the United States, have a crucial role in trying to demystify and positivize the figure of the Arab in the Americans’ minds. Last but not least, the present study contends that literature, seen as a tool for social change, works to provide new and more realistic images about the Arabs. By helping to deconstruct Arab masculinties, I feel I am contributing to the visibilization of Arabs in the United States and to diminishing sexism.

It is my contention that, within the field of American literature, Arab American Studies are nowadays an essential endeavor. As Ibrahim Aoudé argues, “Arab Americans should be perceived by Ethnic Studies as an ethnic group that, in the social and political flux of transnationalism, globalization, and the present conjuncture, is the sine qua non for examining ethnic and racial relations in the United States” (153). Moreover, Arab American Studies are still an emergent field of research. Investigation about Arab Americans has been conducted mainly in the last two decades. Books have been published providing a history of Arab immigration to the United States, like Gregory Orfalea’s The Arab Americans: A History (2006) or Alixa Naff’s The Arab Americans (1999). There are also a few studies published about the construction of Arab American identity, such as Ernest McCarus’s The Development of Arab-American Identity (1994). In fact, since the 1990s, Arab American literature has been gaining a growing attention in the American literary scene. The present study proves that Arab American women writers from different countries are offering new and particularly interesting visions about what it means to be Arab American, as they have become especially prominent in the last decades.1 Actually, most of them are encountering fewer difficulties to publish than their male counterparts because they are often seen as “harmless” in contrast to Arab men, who are stereotypically related to terrorism and perceived as a political threat (Elia 158). Thus, this book shows how the literary portraits of Arab Americans currently being published are mainly those offered by women writers. Their preeminence is evident in scholarly research about Arab American literature, such as Amal Talaat Abedelrazek’s Contemporary Arab American Women ← 2 | 3 → Writers: Hyphenated Identities and Border Crossings (2007), Steven Salaita’s Modern Arab American Fiction: A Reader’s Guide (2011), or Carol Fadda Conrey’s Contemporary Arab-American Literature: Transnational Reconfigurations of Citizenship and Belonging (2014). Given the preponderance of women writers, this study contends that a focus on feminism is of utmost importance. Anthologies like Joanna Kadi’s Food for Our Grandmothers: Writings by Arab-American and Arab-Canadian Feminists (1994) have added to the feminist discussion, as well as articles such as Mervat F. Hatem’s “The Invisible American Half: Arab American Hybridity and Feminist Discourses in the 1990s” (1998) and, more recently, books such as Rabab Abdulhadi, Evelyn Asultany, and Nadine Naber’s Arab and Arab American Feminisms: Gender, Violence, and Belonging (2011). Within feminism, Masculinity Studies emerged in the 1990s as a necessary result of gender denormativization. As Judith Kegan Gardiner puts it, “[F]eminists need to engage masculinity studies…because feminism can produce only partial explanations of society if it does not understand how men are shaped by masculinity” (2002: 9). The present study addresses this need and uses it in the analysis of Arab American manhoods.

In terms of sociological analyses of Arab masculinities, some research had been previously conducted, with books such as Lahoucine Ouzgane’s Islamic Masculinities (2006), and Mai Ghoussoub and Emma Sinclair-Webb’s Imagined Masculinities: Male Identity and Culture in the Modern Middle East (2000). These studies focus on the construction and social practices of Arab masculinities, but provide no reference to diasporic enactments of them. Recently, sociological and ethnographic articles are being published about the construction of Arab American masculinities, like for example Krisine J. Ajrouch’s “Gender, Race, and Symbolic Boundaries: Contested Spaces of Identity among Arab American Adolescents” (2004), and Declan T. Barry’s “Measuring Acculturation among Male Arab Immigrants in the United States: An Exploratory Study” (2005). Whittaker Wigner Harpel’s Master’s Thesis Conceptions of Masculinity among Arab Americans (2010) also added to this endeavor, but the field is still incipient. While literary studies on Arab American women writers are currently filling the shelves of ethnic literature, they mostly explore Arab American women and characters and rarely analyze their representation of men. Although women have often been regarded as the object of the male gaze,2 this study intends to reverse the trend and focus on the way women look at men. Therefore, the aims of my study are to (a) show the plurality of representations of masculinities offered by contemporary Arab American women writers in order to help visibilize Arab American literature, (b) analyze the influence of Arab American feminism on gender depictions, and (c) go deeper into the construction of Arab (American) masculinities. This analysis will contribute to demonstrating the solid existence of an Arab American ← 3 | 4 → literature, as well as to proving the potential contemporary Arab American literature has for deconstructing stereotypes.

To do so, the book is structured in four main parts, which examine the context, causes, and potential consequences of the specific portrayals of Arab American masculinities published by Arab American women after 9/11. The first chapter covers the historical vilification and racialization of Arab American masculinities, focusing on the stereotyping of Arab men in the United States. It thus deals with Arab American masculinities as seen “from the outside,” while the second deals with the discourses on Arab American identities and masculinities “from the inside,” that is, drawing on both sociological and ethnographic perspectives. The third examines the development and characteristics of Arab American feminism, as well as its influence on Arab American women writers. Finally, the fourth chapter provides a literary analysis of the male characters in a group of selected novels by women writers published after 9/11. Within these four chapters, there is also an assessment of the relevance to the construction of Arab American masculinities of other cultural artifacts in Arab American contemporary culture, with references to television, cinema, art, theater and poetry.

Chapter 1, entitled “(De)Constructing Arab Masculinities in the United States: The Racialization and Sexualization of Arab Masculinity in America,” analyzes the mainstream perception of Arabs in the United States, especially Arab men. It defines Arab Americans and their waves of immigration to the United States so as to examine the socio-economic composition of the group and their history of assimilation and discrimination. Taking Arab Americanness as a racial construction, this section also contains an account of the history of vilification of Arab men in the United States, starting with the historical invisibilization of the group by the US government (officially, Arabs are white), and continuing with the American inheritance and adaptation of Orientalist discourses. A history of Arab stereotyping in the US before and after 9/11 is also provided. Furthermore, from a historical point of view, I consider the discursive processes involved in the construction of Arab masculinity as racialized and sexualized from a mainstream perspective, with a special emphasis on the nationally traumatic experience of 9/11. There is also a focus on the consequences of September 11 for the perception of Arab men as a threat in the United States. This part ends with an analysis of the vilification of Muslim men in the first season of the prime-time drama Homeland.


X, 228
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2016 (March)
Masculinity Role model Jarrar
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2016. X, 228 pp.

Biographical notes

Marta Bosch-Vilarrubias (Author)

Marta Bosch-Vilarrubias received her PhD in English from the University of Barcelona, where she is currently an adjunct professor. She has extensively published on Arab American studies and the representation of masculinities in Arab American literature written by women. Her publications include Transitory Masculinities in Post-9/11 Arab American Literature Written by Women» in Alternative Masculinities for a Changing World (2014), Contemporary Terrorist Bodies: The (De-)Construction of Arab Masculinities in the United States» in Embodying Masculinities: Towards a History of the Male Body in U.S. Culture and Literature (Lang, 2013), Post–9/11 Representations of Arab Masculinities by Arab American Women Writers: Criticism or Praise?» in Men in Color: Racialized Masculinities in U.S. Literature and Cinema (2011), and The Representation of Fatherhood by the Arab Diaspora in the United States» in Lectora: Journal of Women and Textuality (2008).


Title: Post-9/11 Representations of Arab Men by Arab American Women Writers
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