Female subjectivity from a Feminine Authorial Perspective

Addressing the representation problematic of the female voice of the Third World, critic G.C. Spivak is concerned whether the female as a subaltern/marginalized can speak within the structure of literature and history. Influenced by social and ideological constructions that are dominated by the perspective of the male, and homogenized by French feminists who are unaware of Third World Women real struggles within their own historical, political and cultural universe, the genuine voice of Third World women is absent, as asserted by Spivak. She argues that the inability of the female of the Third World to speak her own (hi)story lies, fundamentally, in ventriloquizing her voice by projecting the speaker’s ideas. This leads to omitting the real (hi)story of the Third World woman, thus silencing her.

Spivak continues and sets two conditions for the women to be having a voice: when women speak to correct falsified and politically imposed version of their history, and while speaking they are heard. The rigid dichotomy between speech and silence as presented by Spivak’s theory of the subaltern poses a challenge to every reading of a female character in literature. The theory seems to foreclose the possibility of a space in which the female subaltern can have a voice of her own. Examining the possibility of reading female characters as vital characters in their plots instead of dooming them to silence from the very beginning, the research extends a middle ground between the binary opposites (silence and speech). By identifying two forms of speech—the literal and the metaphorical—, this study aims at enabling us to understand the main female characters in novels by female authors of the Third World. Literal speech is found in the dialogues with other characters, as well as their interior and exterior monologues. Metaphorical speech includes performances or actions based on personal motivations that propel the plot of the novel.

In light of the above, we can ask the question how women authors of the Third world depict the female voice in their fictional writings. Considering Egyptian women writers of the post 1952 revolution as a case study, Latifa al-Zayyat and Radwa Ashour offer rich medium to study the voice of women.

Latifa al-Zayyat’s oeuvre combines the prevalent themes of the 20th century in the Arabic novel. The dilemma of an Arab intellectual protagonist struggling within a firm nationalist discourse. The disillusioned protagonist who uncertain of his/her ability to understand the puzzling world. In her novel The Open Door, al-Zayyat makes use of the national to cast light on the woman cause, instead of regarding the woman condition in light of nationalistic motives. In The Owner of the House, al-Zayyat depicts a wife who is confronted by a journey of self-discovery that she forced to undergo in order to survive.

Radwa Ashour: Besides her relationship to al-Zayyat, which inspired her writings, Ashour is a very conscious writer of the ideological element in her writings according to her own testimony. In Khadiga and Sawsan, the story is narrated from the points of view of two women characters in the first person, a mother and her daughter. In the mother’s part, we follow her development from a child who innocently wonders at the reasons why she is not allowed to practice a summer job at the carpenter’s workshop to a woman who forces her son, to study medicine in order to walk in the shoes of his father, which leads him to commit suicide. In The Warm Stone, the story of two women Shams and Salma is told from the omniscient narrator perspective.

Moving beyond the historical and the political in both author’s writings, the study reads women characters as human beings, not necessarily symbols of the nation or carriers of patriarchal ideas of how women should be. Furthermore, the research asks the question if the character of the third world female as presented by an intellectual third world female defy the western stereotypical perceptions of the Arab women as a victim of an oppressive culture.