Latest News:
  • Welcome to ALT Magazine & Press: Hazawi Prize Announces 2023 Shortlist: (Sana'a, Yemen) - The shortlist for the 2023 Hazawi Prize for Yemeni Literature has been revealed, announcing the ten writers who have been selected as finalists for this prestigious award.
  • Now in its second yearly round, the Hazawi Prize recognizes exceptional contributions to fiction in Yemeni literature. Organized by the Hazawi Cultural Foundation, this annual prize aims to promote Yemeni literature and support creative writers.
  • This year's shortlist features both emerging and renowned Yemeni authors. The ten works advancing to the final round of judging are:
  • - Abdullah Faisal shortlisted for his novel, Spirits and Secrets.
  • - Aisha Saleh shortlisted for her novel, Under the Ashes
  • - Farouk Merish shortlisted for his novel, A Dignified Stranger
  • - Ahmed Ashraf shortlisted for his novel, A Painful Belt
  • - Ghassan Khalid shortlisted for his novel, A Sky that Rains Fear
  • - Hosam Adel shortlisted for his novel, The Lord of the Black Dog
  • - Asmaa Abdulrazak shortlisted for her novel, Shrapnels
  • - Abdullah Abdu Muhammad shortlisted for his novel, The Road to Sana'a
  • - Najah Bahkeim shortlisted for her novel, The Final Decision
  • - Samir AbdulFattah shortlisted for her novel, What We Cannot See
  • The winner will be revealed at an award ceremony in Sana'a later where they will receive $1,500 USD. Second and third prizes of $1,000 USD each will also be awarded. All shortlisted works are celebrated for chronicling Yemen's rich culture and wartime experiences. This prestigious prize continues highlighting the nation's thriving literary community.

Probing Patriarchy: Feminist Analysis of Entesar Asseri’s Flash Fiction Vignettes


Hatem Al-Shamea

Assistant Professor of English Literature,

University of Reading, UK


Entesar Asseri’s micro-stories (taken from her collection of flash fiction, Prayer in the Embrace of Water” translated by Hatem Al-Shamea) offer intimate glimpses into the inner lives of Arabic women. Applying feminist literary theory brings gender dynamics and patriarchal norms into focus. The brevity of the flash fiction format conveys the fragmentation women experience under oppressive systems. Asseri’s incisive vignettes subvert stereotypes and expose absurdities in male-dominated structures through satire and poignant metaphor.

1. Barren Dreams: Critiquing Reproduction as Woman’s Purpose in “Case”

In the micro story “Case,” a woman excitedly rushes to a toy store to shop for children’s toys, only to be jolted back to the reality of her infertility. Literary critic Luce Irigaray describes how patriarchal structures reduce women’s identities to their biological capacity for motherhood and reproduction (Irigaray 799-800). Women are valued primarily for their procreative and child-rearing roles within the family institution. 

Asseri gives voice to the anguish of Arab women who fail to fulfill societal expectations of motherhood due to infertility or other factors. As feminist scholars like Fatima Mernissi argue, the dominant patriarchal paradigm in Arab culture exerts immense pressure on women to bear children, especially sons, relegating childless women to pitied status (Mernissi 120-121). Asseri conveys how the toy shopping fantasy offers this barren woman a vicarious escape from her constrained social position.

However, the abrupt reminder of her infertility renders this fanciful escape temporary. The micro story’s brevity mimics the fleeting nature of such illusory freedoms. Asseri critiques the reductive cultural standards that judge Arab women’s worth solely through reproduction. By depicting this moment of imaginative freedom and subsequent pain, Asseri brings nuance to the marginalized experiences of childless women.

2. Flowing Sensuality in “Water’s Bosom”

Thematically, Asseri’s “Water’s Bosom” also explores cultural constraints on gendered embodiment and sexuality. A woman dreams her lover metaphorically sinks “into the bosom of the water” (Asseri 2). The aqueous imagery evokes the sensuality, fluidity, and movement associated with the feminine in nature.

Feminist philosopher Hélène Cixous urges women to reconnect with their bodies and sexuality through poetic, creative expression (Cixous 1529). Cixous suggests women have been taught to separate their minds from more sensual, “irrational” aspects of their selves under phallocentric logic (Cixous 1527). Asseri’s oneiric, poetic language liberates the erotic feminine from its cognitive prison. The micro story’s ambiguous dream logic provides a liminal space for the woman’s expression of sensuality and desire.

As Arab feminist scholars like Fadia Faqir argue, women’s sexuality is often repressed and associated with shame in conservative Arab contexts (Faqir 147). Asseri’s mystical imagery offers a counter-vision of women’s embodiment and pleasure unconstrained by socioreligious norms. Just as femininity flows freely like water, Asseri’s prose poetry undoes linguistic repression of the erotic.  

3. Artistic Agency in Oppression: “Inscribing on Walls”

Asseri’s brief tale “Inscribing on Walls” utilizes a male prisoner’s creative impulse to offer insight about women’s confinement and self-actualization. The prisoner practices his art by drawing idyllic domestic scenes of motherhood and marriage on the walls of his cell. For feminist scholar bell hooks, creativity emerges from oppression as a “labor of love” and an act of resistance (hooks 210).

Asseri draws parallels between the literal imprisonment of the male convict and the figurative imprisonment of women in domestic spaces and gender roles. Hooks argues that feminist art not only exposes injustice but also asserts selfhood and agency from within oppressive conditions (hooks 210-211). The prisoner’s illicit art offers him self-realization, just as Arab women find empowerment through creative mediums that defy societal silencing. 

Ultimately, the prisoner artistically liberates himself by devising an imagined escape. Asseri suggests creative imagination similarly provides a source of freedom for confined women. Her micro parable offers an allegory for women reclaiming creative authority over their own stories, rather than being defined by others. 

4. Grotesque Imagination in “A Letter from Planet H”

Horror imagery in Asseri’s “A Letter from Planet H” reconnects women’s creativity to the physical body and subconscious. After having a disturbing dream, the female narrator realizes the frightening dreamscape emerged from her own mind. This aligning of women’s writing with raw emotion and the body echoes Hélène Cixous’ argument that feminine texts stem from deep, unfiltered psychic sources (Cixous 1529).

Where women have been conditioned to filter or repress certain thoughts to conform to societal standards of femininity, Asseri’s horror dreamscape conveys women’s ability to access imaginative depths beyond the boundaries of ordinary consciousness. The narrator’s realization that her own mind produced these disturbing visions aligns with Cixous’ appeal for women to unleash repressed aspects of their inner selves through writing (Cixous 1528).

Moreover, the juxtaposition of feminine creativity with gruesome horror imagery subverts stereotypical depictions of women as delicate and demure. Critic Mary Russo notes that surreal, grotesque imagery has been extensively deployed in feminist art to resist female aesthetic objectification (Russo 65). Asseri’s embrace of uncanny dream logic expands representations of Arab women’s complex inner lives. 

5. Religious Satire Unravels Patriarchy in “Washing”

Finally, Asseri’s micro story “Washing” satirizes gendered religious hypocrisy when a preacher moralizes about avoiding money laundering, then literally washes his own illicit earnings. Feminist critic Judith Fetterley notes that humor is often deployed in women’s writing to unravel power relations and expose absurdities in male-dominated social structures (Fetterley 143).

Asseri ironically connects the preacher’s corrupt actions to his pious speech to highlight religious patriarchal hypocrisy. Washing away his sins through a ritual cleansing evades true self-reflection. Scholar Kathryn McClymond argues that feminist authors like Asseri use satire to critique the marginalization of women within institutional power hierarchies (McClymond 503). Asseri highlights discrepancies between reputations and realities to destabilize moral authority used to enforce gender inequality. 

By shedding light on the perspectives of diverse Arab women through incisive flash fiction vignettes, Asseri composes feminist counternarratives that destabilize repressive patriarchal norms. Her focus on confinement, desire, creativity, and satire gives voice to women’s struggles under intersecting structures of oppression while unveiling their resolve and resilience. 


Asseri, Entesar. Flash fiction stories (Trans. By Hatem Al-Shamea). ALT Magazine & Press. 2016.

Cixous, Hélène. “The Laugh of the Medusa.” Signs, vol. 1, no. 4, 1976, pp. 875-893.

Faqir, Fadia. “Intrafamily Femicide in Defence of Honour: The Case of Jordan.” Third World Quarterly, vol. 22, no. 1, 2001, pp. 65–82.

Fetterley, Judith. “My Antonia, Jim Burden, and the Dilemma of the Lesbian Writer.” Leslie Fiedler and American Culture, edited by Steven G. Kellman and Irving Malin, Associated University Presses, 1999, pp. 143-157.

hooks, bell. “An Aesthetic of Blackness: Strange and Oppositional.” Lenox Avenue: A Journal of Interarts Inquiry, vol. 1, 1995, pp. 65-72.

Irigaray, Luce. “Women on the Market.” Literary Theory: An Anthology, edited by Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan, Blackwell, 2004, pp. 799-811.

McClymond, Kathryn. “Comic Writing in Alejandra Pizarnik’s La Condesa Sangrienta.” Symposium: A Quarterly Journal in Modern Literatures, vol. 50, no. 4, 1997, pp. 199–223. 

Mernissi, Fatima. Beyond the Veil: Male-Female Dynamics in Muslim Society. Indiana University Press, 1987.

Russo, Mary J. The Female Grotesque: Risk, Excess, and Modernity. Routledge, 1994.

1 thought on “Probing Patriarchy: Feminist Analysis of Entesar Asseri’s Flash Fiction Vignettes”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Shopping Cart