Coming-of-Age of Teenage Female Arab Gothic Fiction: A Feminist Semiotic Study
1. Teenage Female Arab Gothic Bildungsroman
2. Reading the Teenage Female Arab Gothic
In the deep shade, at the farther end of the room, a figure ran backwards and forwards. What it was, whether beast or human being, one could not, at first sight tell: it grovelled, seemingly on all fours; it snatched and growled like some strange wild animal: but it was covered with clothing, and a quantity of dark, grizzled hair, wild as a mane, hid its head and face.(p. 70)
3. Feminist Semiotics Framework
- Listing of the observable sign elements of TFAG fiction through a case study of @Ranoy7’s social media storytelling;
- Analysis of the Gothic objects of meaning in @Ranoy7’s social media storytelling;
- Consideration of the above to develop a feminist semiotic interpretation of the gendered significance and ambivalences of TFAG imaginaries.
4. Observable Signs
4.1. Observable Elements of TFAG Social Media Stories
Hello my loves! How are you? You’re all gracing my channel. Of course there’s a new video today but before starting it, I would love to tell you about and thank today’s sponsor “Benefit Cosmetics”. You don’t know how much I love this brand, most of my makeup that I use is from Benefit. Seriously, like, everything—mascara from Benefit, eyeliner from Benefit, eyebrow makeup from Benefit, and sometimes I use their tint which is so cute...If you haven’t watched the channel before, [it] is about creatures whose stories are legends, so not real, but there are some cultures/societies—Arab and foreign—who believed these legends and believed they were real. So are they real or not? We don’t know, but they’re folklore passed down from ancestors to their descendants and so on until they became well-known in most countries.
Title: The sa’lawwa (succubus): Our story for today is the story of the sa’lawwa (succubus). The succubus is a demonic creature, a female, and she always disguises herself as a beautiful woman. Remind you of someone? Wait. She always disguises herself as a beautiful woman, but in reality, she is an extremely ugly creature with thick hair and looks like a monkey. Her legs are like a donkey or goat’s. So her visage is very ugly, and she also looks very old.
But when she sees a man that she may want/desire, or sees a young child she wants to lure, what does she do? She turns into this gorgeous woman, tall, blonde, and then seduces men or lures children who follow her as she takes them into her lair where she kills and eats them. In other stories, they used to say she kidnaps men on rivers, keeps them for years and marries them, and has children with them—and after years, returns the men to their families. These are some of the things that were said about the succubus [in stories]. The term “sa’lawwa” is used for a tall, skinny, and ugly girl. So these three characteristics all at once, I don’t know how to be honest. That’s the reason they called this creature a sa’lawwa. This creature-lore is still passed on in Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula and even in the Jordanian Badia (steppe). This creature is discussed and known within the residents there as a horrifying, nocturnal kidnapper of men and children and women. Every country or city says that the creature kidnaps a certain person, but they all agreed that she is very ugly, very hideous, and scary.
4.2. Objects of Meaning
There are some families around the Euphrates River in Syria who think that she is a demonic creature, a devil—that she is a jinn who shows up when dark/black magic is performed in a grave, where an old woman enters a grave and comes out as a dog, enters another grave and comes out as a crow… So her story is very similar to many stories traded in Arab countries. The story or the creature is always similar in characteristics but the name is different. So why did these people in previous times, though there wasn’t Internet or social media platforms, there wasn’t anything that could spread these stories so much—so how did each country—like, where is Egypt and where is the UAE, you know? The distance! How then did the Naddaha legend which is the same as Umm Al- Duwais become well-known in both countries? Why with the same characteristics, same thing, and kidnaps men? I suspect that women were making up these stories so that their husbands don’t look at/seek out beautiful women [laughs]. “How do I make sure my husband doesn’t cheat? I’ll tell him stories about a beautiful demon that comes out at night and kidnaps men who flirt with her? Makes sense.”
I’ll tell you a story that popularised the sa’lawwa, which was discussed at length in communities in previous times in order to frighten people, like children and husbands and everyone basically. The story’s ending is lovely, but its beginning is scary. It starts with a man who has three beautiful daughters. This man, unfortunately his wife passed away, and he was alone in raising his three daughters. One day, he went to the market, and there he met a very beautiful woman—tall, long hair, beautiful—she was the perfect woman as they say. He chatted with her and liked her a lot. He went back home and the whole time only the woman was on his mind... He asked the woman for her hand in marriage, and she said yes but on one condition: That he and his girls would go to her hometown/city and live in her house. The father of course immediately agreed, having not believed she said yes in the first place, and they got married and relocated to her home.
One day, after a while, the woman told her husband that the house didn’t have anything left in it and told him to go to the market and purchase what was missing. The father agreed of course but told her that he doesn’t know the area very well or where the market is, so she said I’ll guide you to where it is. So the father followed her into a long, dark hallway which leads to the house door.
He was walking and she was behind him so as to guide him, and the father was surprised by a room in the hallway he never saw/noticed before. As he reached the door of the room, he turned around to ask his wife what this room was and was surprised by an extremely hideous visage. A tall, hairy creature, with an old-looking face—this wasn’t his wife at all. Her legs were that of a goat’s and her teeth were large and jagged, and she was very, very ugly.
The father didn’t even manage to speak before the succubus attacked him and bit him, dragging him into the room and killing him. She left the room and returned to her beautiful disguise, going back to the daughters.
After a while, since the father did not return, the eldest girl asked the woman where her father was as he still hadn’t returned, voicing her concerns that he might have gotten lost or hurt, and asked the woman to guide her to where the market is. The succubus told her he surely is still shopping and to wait for tomorrow, if he doesn’t come back then she would take the daughter to the market.
And of course, the next day came and the girl saw that her father did not return, so she asked the succubus to tell her where the market is located. She said of course, come with me, come after me. And she took her to the same dark, scary hallway, and transformed and attacked the girl and dragged her also into the room. On the day that the succubus killed the eldest girl, she went back to the two younger girls and told them that their sister left for the market, but that there is a lot of meat today and if they’d like a mouth- watering meal. Of course, the poor girls accepted and she cooked them a yummy meal with delicious meat that they ate… Now, this succubus was feeding her the same meat every day until she grew older, a little chubbier from all the meat, and more beautiful.
When she was older, the youngest girl told the succubus that she had to leave and look for her father and sisters, that it didn’t make sense for them to be gone for all of these years. At this point in time, the succubus could not control her temper, as of course this girl spent all of the previous years, asking about her family, and she transformed in front of her without even taking her to the hallway. Having transformed into this large and ugly creature, the succubus screamed at her that she raised and filled her up on her father and sisters’ flesh, and that she would eat her as she ate them.
Of course, the youngest girl was shocked at what she saw and what she was told, so she ran and reached the dark, narrow hallway and saw the room, entering it to hide. Inside there was the big shocker. She saw the remnants of her father and sisters’ broken corpses, cut off limbs strewn about, their clothes tattered… she realised that this was a succubus, who killed her family and made her eat them. She took her father’s clothes, the dishdasha [men’s white traditional Arab dress], and disguised herself in them and left the room.
The succubus didn’t think that the girl was going to hide in that room in the first place, so she didn’t check there at the time. So the girl ran away from the house and walked for a while until she reached a marketplace. She was roaming there, and people of course thought she was a man because she was dressed like one, so she tried to find work, to find a job, to find someone to help her. There she found people who were working at the palace, who took her in and let her work as a servant at the palace.
She worked day after day as a servant in the castle but would go to her residence’s roof at night and take off her masculine disguise and eat there. As the prince was walking by, he saw her on the roof without her disguise and discovered her secret, that she was actually a woman disguised as a male servant… And of course the prince and girl got married and lived happily ever after.
This is how the story ended, but there is a funny part which is when another prince arrived in this city, who was this prince’s friend. The prince asked his best friend how he met and married such a beautiful girl, and the prince told him how she was disguised as a man and was a servant in the castle. So, when the second prince went back to his castle, and saw one of his servants who had feminine features, he thought it might be the same case for him as well. So he also asked this servant to bring his breakfast for the next day, and asked him to remove his “disguise” as well. But of course this was a man and the second prince’s hopes of such a similar romance story were not borne.
So, this was the end of today’s story! I hope this story was to your liking. Please don’t forget to give the video a like if you enjoyed it and share it with your friends to let them watch the video, and support me in any way you can, like sharing the video on your WhatsApp groups that you have, to your friends, on Snapchat, everywhere, mention the channel. Let our family expand. I love you so, so much my lovelies, don’t forget to follow me on my social media: Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok, the handles are in front of you on the screen. I will see you my lovelies, God willing, in the next video. Bye!
4.3. Feminist Semiotic Interpretation
5. Discussion: Masking Gender
Institutional Review Board Statement
Informed Consent Statement
Conflicts of Interest
The first author, Zoe, is a woman academic, originally from the United Kingdom, who has spent her adult life in Malaysia, Kuwait, Brunei and the United Arab Emirates. The second author, Zeina, is a female academic who is originally from Lebanon, was educated in the United States and is currently located at a university in the United Arab Emirates. We are self-reflexive about our own positionalities as transnational scholars and acknowledge the diversity of women’s lives in the MENA.
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© 2023 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
Hurley, Z.; Hojeij, Z. Coming-of-Age of Teenage Female Arab Gothic Fiction: A Feminist Semiotic Study. Humanities 2023, 12, 19. https://doi.org/10.3390/h12010019
Hurley Z, Hojeij Z. Coming-of-Age of Teenage Female Arab Gothic Fiction: A Feminist Semiotic Study. Humanities. 2023; 12(1):19. https://doi.org/10.3390/h12010019Chicago/Turabian Style
Hurley, Zoe, and Zeina Hojeij. 2023. "Coming-of-Age of Teenage Female Arab Gothic Fiction: A Feminist Semiotic Study" Humanities 12, no. 1: 19. https://doi.org/10.3390/h12010019