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  • 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.

Women’s Agency and Patriarchal Constraints in Fikria Shihra’s “Al-Thajjah”


Hatem Al-Shamea


Fikria Shihra’s novel “Al-Thajjah”2020, provides a nuanced depiction of women’s lives and the complex gender dynamics within Yemeni society. Its central female characters are portrayed navigating patriarchal constraints while asserting individual desires and agency. This paper analyzes representations of women and gender relations through the lenses of feminist theory and psychoanalysis. Prominent themes of honor, masculinity, and women’s negotiations of oppression emerge through close examination of characters like Ghaliya, Shareefa and Halima.

Honor and its Constraints on Women

The notion of honor and its role in oppressing women through strict social codes is a prominent theme established from the beginning of Fikria Shihra’s novel Al-Thajjah. Through the character of Ghaliya, the text provides insight into how notions of honor shape women’s experiences and constrain their abilities to freely express agency or experience autonomy over their own lives. As an unmarried divorced woman living within the male-dominated household of her brother Mukhtar, Ghaliya faces social stigma, restricted mobility, and lack of independence due to her compromised status according to norms of honor (Shihra, 2020, p. 9).

Ghaliya’s situation reflects anthropologist Lila Abu-Lughod’s observation that within patriarchal societies, “women’s honor resides not in themselves as individuals but in their bodies and the women related to them” (Abu-Lughod, 1986, p. 87). In other words, a woman’s worth and social value is primarily defined in relation to the men around her and the honor attached to their kinship networks, rather than as an autonomous individual. For Ghaliya, her divorce calls into question the honor not just of herself but of her male relatives, placing strict limits and judgment upon her actions and identity within the community as a result.

The internalization of such honor-based social policing is made clear through Ghaliya’s profound feelings of isolation, lack of social belonging, and inability to freely love or pursue relationships outside the bounds of patriarchal control over female sexuality and choice of partner. As she realizes that as a divorcee, “no man may want” her (Shihra, 2020, p. 9). Ghaliya’s compromised sense of dignity and interior view of herself is shaped according to the honor codes that circumscribe and police female embodiment, desire, and independence.

Psychoanalyst Nina Coltart’s work sheds light on how restrictions on female sexuality serve to maintain male dominance and fulfill narcissistic fantasies of control. Specifically, Coltart asserts that within patriarchal contexts, “female sexuality often serves as an indicator of male status, offering a narcissistic sense of male potency and femininity under male control and ownership” (Coltart, 1992, p. 65). For Ghaliya, her viability as a marriage partner, social role, and embodied experience of selfhood remains defined according to masculine judgments of honor, not her own interiority or autonomy.

The limiting effect of such honor-based social policing upon Ghaliya’s daily experiences, mobility, sense of self, and capacity for intimate relationships emerges clearly through the text. It exemplifies how disciplinary norms of female honor function ideologically to assert ongoing patriarchal dominance through policing female bodies, reputations, and sexuality according to the interests of the male-dominated status quo in which Ghaliya must navigate her existence as a divorcee.

Masculine Power and Its Effects on Women

Fikria Shihra’s novel offers nuanced depictions of masculine power dynamics and their influence shaping gender relations within the text’s patriarchal Yemeni setting. Characters like Tahir Al-Radi and Nasser exhibit tensions between constructing dominant masculine personas and underlying fragilities arising from changing social conditions that challenge traditional expressions of patriarchal authority. Their interactions with female characters provide critical insight into how constructions of masculinity intersect with practices of control, ownership, and domination exerted over women.

Tahir Al-Radi demonstrates overt tendencies to validate masculine status through female bodies, most clearly seen through his treatment of wife Sherifa. As Coltart notes is common cross-culturally, Tahir depicts Sherifa’s desirability and ascribed honor as reflections upon himself, enabling a “narcissistic sense of male potency” derived from exerting control over femininity (Coltart, 1992, p.65). Sherifa’s coerced marriage to expand Tahir’s ambitions despite her reluctance exemplifies norms positioning women as embodying masculine honor dependent upon male authority.

Meanwhile, tensions emerge for those experiencing threats or loss of masculine privilege and land-based power traditionally legitimizing patriarchal rule. Characters like Nasser respond with volatile anger suggesting fragilities beneath overt shows of dominance. Exploring contexts producing “secondary masculinities” stressed by declining capacities for land ownership highlights intersecting dynamics of gendered insecurity and reasserted oppressive conduct (Connell and Messerschmidt, 2005, p.832). Portrayals offer critical vantage onto constructed masculinities’ dependency upon disciplining practices maintaining control despite destabilizations.

The text’s depictions reveal masculinity as inherently relational, defined in contradiction through distancing oneself from devalued femininity yet dependency upon controlling it as emblem of male worth. Underlying anxieties of shifting gendered terrain surface through coercive gestures demonstrating insecure grasping for affirmation through patriarchal domination.

Asserting Interiority and Small Acts of Resistance

Despite facing repressive conditions circumscribing their abilities to freely act, the novel’s female characters offer nuanced depictions of finding means to assert interiority and enact subtle resistance against dominant gender constraints. Through portrayals of perseverance, dignity and gradual acts of self-possession, the characters push against narratives of passive female victimhood while navigating realities of patriarchal dominance.

Ghaliya demonstrates her capacity to carve spaces for nourishing independent interior life and creative expression despite limitations inhibiting outright rebellion or overt defiance. Her commitment to memoir writing places inner thought and ideas into the world despite contravening prescribed norms of passive femininity (Shihra, 2020, p. 11). In discreetly asserting literary skills and pouring intellect onto pages, Ghaliya performs subtle rebellion against gendered isolation and proscribed disempowerment of divorcee women lacking visible agency.

Similarly, Sherifa maneuvers conditions of patriarchal control through symbolic capital and wielded influence, exemplifying how women negotiate domination through “secondary adjustments” making best use of openings amid systems penalizing overt dissent (Ortner, 1974, p. 73). While subjected to masculine authority through coerced marriage serving Tahir’s ambitions, Sherifa finds means to accrue clout within the dominant framework through cunning displays of charisma and strategic comportment.

Their perseverance stems not from capitulation but ongoing striving to preserve interiority, dignity and means of self-actualization against absorbance into patriarchal archetypes of acceptable femininity. They sustain spirit of gradual resistance and locate fortitude against entirety of repression through cunning navigation of constraints and discretely nurturing self-possession.


Through multi-layered female characters and nuanced depictions of their interior experiences, Fikria Shihra’s novel prompts critical examination of gender politics in Yemeni society. Key themes of honor, masculinist fantasies, and women’s negotiations of patriarchal constraints emerge through close analysis. Rather than reductionism, the text portrays resilience and gradual resistance against narratives solely centered around female domination or victimization. Overall, “Al-Thajjah” merits consideration through feminist and psychoanalytic perspectives to appreciate its subtle engagements with women’s agency amid patriarchal constraints shaping their realities.

Works Cited

Abu-Lughod, L. (1986). Veiled sentiments: Honor and poetry in a Bedouin society. University of California Press.

Coltart, N. (1992). Slouching towards bethlehem: Psychoanalysis and the cultural unconscious. Free Association Books.

Connell, R. W., & Messerschmidt, J. W. (2005). Hegemonic masculinity: Rethinking the concept. Gender & society, 19(6), 829-859.

Ortner, S. B. (1974). Is female to male as nature is to culture?. Feminist studies, 1(2), 5-31.

Shihra, F. (2020). Al-Thajjah. Arwiqa for Publication. Cairo.

1 thought on “Women’s Agency and Patriarchal Constraints in Fikria Shihra’s “Al-Thajjah””

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