In the book “In the Country of Men”, Hisham Matar, the author discusses his childhood experience in the 1970’s during the revolution in Libya. The time when men overpowered and completely dominated women. The title itself describes Libya as a country that belongs to men where women are used like tools. We see that Suleiman wants to become a man as soon as possible through the story but on the other hand, the story also talks about a female being Suleiman’s mother – Najwa who thinks she lost her freedom when she was just 14 and had to get married.
However, after all the development from the 1970’s till today, the current generation considers both men and women equally powered. Right from the starting, it can be predicted that Suleiman wants to be a man. When baba goes on the so called “business trip”, Suleiman is the only male in the house making him the man of the house. It is just the way how baba says it every time he leaves – “Take care of your mother, you are the man of the house now” (61). Suleiman handles these responsibilities very well.
He takes care of his mother as he knows very well that she is ill every time baba is not home and wants to take over a men’s responsibility of taking care of his mother. He even talks about him willing to take responsibilities like his father and be just like him, a man. Later in the story, we also see the cult of masculinity urge through Suleiman when he and the other neighborhood kids were at Adnan’s house to look at him inserting an injection in himself due to his illness. “I also prayed for a disease that would give me what Adnan had” (126).
Suleiman thinks that Adnan’s disease makes him seem older and more independent like a man. Thus Suleiman wants to have Adnan’s illness so that he too could be like a man. “I couldn’t wait to be a man” (148). Suleiman’s words prove how he wants to become a man and does not want to fall into kid’s category. However, on the other side, there are still clues given throughout the story that prove how Suleiman has failed to be a man. For example, during the visit of the RCC (Revolutionary Committee Men) to Baba’s house to find Baba and any evidence against him. “I was wet beneath my clothes and realized what I had done.
The pee felt warm and cold and sticky to my skin” (64). When the RCC man had asked him about his father, Suleiman gets scared and pees himself not being able to control him. Even though he was the “man of the house” this incident proves him as a kid who cannot control himself. Another example was when Najwa tells Suleiman about how Faraj, who she belonged to, and all the other men out there had to puncture his wife’s veil and bleed her to prove his wife as a virgin. “I didn’t know what Mama meant, but feared that when the time came I might not have what it takes to ‘puncture’ a women” (13).
Suleiman fears he might not be able to do the duty that every man is to do to prove his wife a virgin. Even though there are some responsibilities of a man that Suleiman has fulfilled, he still doubts if he will be able to be a real man just like his father was. Najwa, Suleiman’s mom, as she like to say, lost her freedom when she was just 14 years old. She had been forced to marry a completely strange man who was 9 years older than her even though she wanted to complete her education first. She being the girl was not even allowed to reject the marriage or even argue to defend herself. The High Council decided my fate” (144). When she says “High Council” it meant all the males in the house – her father and all her brothers. Here we see that women had no choices but to obey what the males or so called “High Council” said. Also the only reason why the family to marry Najwa as quickly as possible is because one of her brother had seen her with another guy same age as her at the Italian Coffee shop and so they wanted to get rid of her before someone can spread rumors about them and ruin their reputation.
In a family like Najwa’s, members cared more about the family’s reputation then ever caring about a woman. She remembered her grandmother say to her “If a slave came to propose, a slave as black as this night, I would give you to him”(144). This definitely proven that girls/women did not have any right to speak up for themselves. They were just there to keep their men happy and follow their orders. After the “Black day” – day she got forced to marry baba, her life has not changed very much.
She is only there to keep baba happy since he is the man of the house. When baba is away she is ill. She starts drinking alcohol as a symptom of depression due to the freedom she has lost. And when baba returns, she dresses up good to please her man. “During those nights, when Baba was home, Mama dragged her blanket behind her to the sofa” (85). She does not like to sleep in the bed with Bu Suleiman even though he is her husband. However if the man demands something then she could not reject him.
She is basically like a slave of the man in the house. For example, the marital bed scene describes what she has to do for her man. “I saw him on top of her…. she lay beneath him, unmoving, looking away”(86). Also, the only role of women seen in the book is “A women had to be young and strong enough to bear children and serve the man well into his old age” (151). This definitely proves how women did not have the rights to express them self, were treated like slaves and their only role was to obey their man.
Therefore, it could be concluded that the Cult of Masculinity has a huge impact on Suleiman and Mama. Males are always considered the higher authority in a family. It changes the way how Suleiman thinks and how Um Suleiman – Najwa losses her rights to live her life the way she wants to. However, it still concerns me why women were treated so unequally compared to today. Today the women do not just have to take care of their family but can also work in any type of career they want to, while being treated equally as men.
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