In the Country of Men

by Hisham Matar

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Student Question

Does Hisham Matar suggest in "In the Country of Men" that women in Libya are powerless?

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It is important to make the distinction between political and systemic powerlessness and true powerlessness. Hisham Matar does strive to educate the reader about the political powerlessness of women in Libya, but that does not mean that the author sees Libyan women as powerless in and of themselves. The main character, Suleiman, is witness to numerous acts of bravery and empowerment by women who are continually disenfranchised by their government and often the men in their lives.

"In the Country of Men" illustrates the way in which the Libyan patriarchal structure places men in roles of authority over women in all aspects of life. From their arranged marriages at young ages to a lifetime of servitude under abusive husbands, the Muslim women in the story are forced to make the most of choices that have been made for them. Suleiman begins the story with a positive outlook on his culture as he is a treasured son living in a prominent Libyan family.

When the revolution turns Suleiman's world on its head and renders his father's political protections useless, he and his mother have only each other to fall back on. It is through this experience that Suleiman begins to see the strength of women, but when his mother falls ill, he also realizes how she and other women are dependent upon the whims of men. In this way, the women in Suleiman's world are powerless, but Hisham Matar clearly depicts this powerlessness as a result of a broken system and not their true nature.

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