Bahaa-Eddin Mazid: "Deconstructing a Contemporary Egyptian Newspaper Caricature"


The woman wears a striped shift dress revealing her shoulders, the lower part of her thighs, her neck and the upper part of her chest. The dress is so close-fitting that it accentuates her breasts, belly, waist, hips, thighs and crotch. In contradistinction to the watch the man wears, she has a necklace and a number of bracelets on each wrist. And instead of holding anything, she rests the back of her hands on her hips. There are two short, slightly-curved lines next to each hip to indicate their side- to-side swaying movement. The man is apparently not interested; only his head is turned towards the woman, while her entire body is turned towards him. The female body is represented as the object of masculine gaze and a cause of voyeuristic pleasure, while the male seems indifferent. On the other hand, the female body seems to belong to the age bracket of maximum sexuality and to conform to the masculine ideal of attractiveness and normalcy for women. The woman is not noticeably fat or thin, and she is neither pregnant nor deformed (cf. Fiske, 1994, pp. 241-242). And while most of the man's body is concealed, most of the woman's body is revealed, whether naked or clearly demarcated.

Verbal Modalities

This is a mini-dialogue, initiated by the woman, and the second pair-part (the response) is given by the man:
—"Titgawwzni?" [lit. You-marry-me?]

(How 'bout you marrying me?)

—"La, shukran, ?asli1 nabaati."

(No, thank-you; I'm a vegetarian.)

In the first part, which reveals the agglutinative tendency of the Arabic language, the prefix 'ti-' refers to a singular, masculine addressee 'you' or '?ant' (?inta in Colloquial Egyptian Arabic), and the suffix '-ni' refers to a singular, neutral addresser 'I' or '?ana,' in an object position. Thus, the male addressee is in the hypothetical position of an agent and the female addresser is in the hypothetical position of a victim or patient, the object of the verb. ('Hypothetical' because the action of marrying is in the irrealis mode, being a question not a statement).

The locutionary form of the first pair-part is that of a question, but its illocutionary force is that of an invitation or offer. It is obviously more polite than an equivalent imperative. In any case, it is a square violation of a social norm: in the Egyptian society, a female does not ask or propose to get married; she must wait until a male proposes to marry her. Intimate lovers do not have to follow this norm, but there is nothing in the illustration to tell the reader that the man and the woman are lovers, or even friends. In fact, there is evidence that they are almost total strangers. First, there is a wide gap between his formality and her informality; she does not look like a career woman. Second, while the woman's body talk telegraphs her interest and availability, the man's indicates his lack of interest. The woman is thrusting forward her left knee and thigh, her breasts and shoulders, with her head slightly leaning backward, in addition to an inviting smile. The man, contrariwise, is close-eyed, pointing 'No' with his forefinger, and not even stopping to continue the dialogue. This takes us to the third piece of evidence for the absence of intimacy which is the lack of what Hall (1976) calls 'syncing': "People in interactions either move together (in whole or in part) or they don't and in failing to do so are disruptive to others around them." Syncing — moving together — is itself "a form of communication" (p.71). As we have already noticed, the man and the woman are not syncing. Given this, together with the other pieces of evidence for lack of intimacy, it becomes obvious that the woman's utterance is an outright violation of a social norm.


1. The sh is the same as the initial sound in 'shall' in English, while the initial "?" is the Arabic hamza, a form of glottal stop. [RETURN]

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AS/SA Nº 9, Article 3 : Page 4 / 9

© 2000, Applied Semiotics / Sémiotique appliquée

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