Writing Women’s Worlds Chapters 1 & 3

This ethnography has been extremely interesting thus far.  It tells the story of the lives of the Bedouin women in Egypt during and after WW2.  It talks about their troubles with the men in the communities and of the adventures with outsiders that come into the group.  From an anthropological perspective, it is identifying the social construct of this specific Bedouin group and how they interacted with each other.

The first chapter focuses strictly on the life of Migdim and how she got to where she is.  Earlier in her life, her father had attempted to marry her off to numerous guys, one of which was specifically identified as her first cousin that she refused to marry.  He had gone as far as to threaten her with death and to scream at her for ruining the tent dyes by pouring it on herself.  She had gone so far as to run away and seek help from her mother’s uncle.  This had been fruitful and she got out of that marriage.  The other marriage arrangements she had refused to eat, she threw plates, she screamed, and she cried until she got out of the arrangement.  The final marriage arrangement was with Jawwad, whom she had 7 living children with.  This man was the patriarch of the family and coming from a patrilineal community, held all of the power, though as the matriarch Migdim held the ear of her husband and of his children.

After Jawwad’s death, her sons had moved up to being the leader of the family and initially would come to her and seek her advise.  But they would eventually begin to start going behind her back and disregarding her advise.  They would arrange marriages for their sister to men that Migdim did not agree with.  They would sell property to neighbors, which Migdim did not agree with.  They inevitably treated Migdim more like a chore than a responsibility as her children.  As she was growing old, it was wise for the community to look up to Migdim and seek her guidance.  The women of the community held her in higher regard, but the men treated her with contempt.  This was, after all, their patrilineal community and they held the power.

Another part of the first chapter that intrigued me was when Migdim and her son, Sagr’s, stories about his interaction with the mine during the scavenging differed.  Migdim focused her story on her role in Sagr’s recovery.  Whereas Sagr’s story centered on his father and the Englishman that saved his life.  He only mentions his mother in passing and makes it clear that Jawwad and the Englishman were the important part of the story.  This shows the patrilineal way of thinking because the woman wasn’t the first thing in his mind, even though she was the one that had taken care of him while he was recovering.

Both chapters 1 and 3 focused on reproduction.  The first chapter discusses the fact that Migdim refused to have her children around anyone else.  She would go into labor outside while everyone else was inside.  She would only seek help once the delivery was finished and the umbilical cord needed to be cut.  She did not like the way that the other women of the community acted during the delivery and wanted to do it all on her own.  I think this independence helped to garner the respect needed from the other women, as well as some of the men, from the community.  It is evident from this chapter that the woman’s role in the Bedouin community mostly centered on reproduction, cleaning, sewing, cooking, and household chores.  Migdim was in charge of running the household, while Jawwad, and later her sons, were in charge of the outside life.

Chapter 3 discusses the different aspects of reproduction itself.  Lila Abu-Lughod mentions that the women from the Bedouin community mostly wanted girls.  One is quoted as saying, “…it is only the ignorant who prefer boys.  Some daughters are worth a hundred sons” (Page 129).  This shows the views of the woman’s role in the Bedouin community.  One could make the conclusion that the Bedouin woman’s role is more important because of all that they need to do, so having girls is more important than having boys.  But this could be contested, especially for the men of the community since the boys would be taking over for them upon their death.

This chapter also shows the importance of childbirth because of the role that women should play in the delivery.  One individual is noted as saying that the older women should help by being midwives because of their experience during labor.  She stated that she would even removed all of her clothes to assist in the childbirth because it was her “duty” to help the new mother.  Another community member is noted as telling Lila how she can go about having children by going to a “woman healer” who can help with the conception part of reproduction.  This again goes back to the idea that the woman’s main role in the community is reproduction, especially because the author decided to take an entire chapter to discuss the role of reproduction to the Bedouin community.

These two sections were interesting because of the visions that it brings to the reader’s mind of the Bedouin community.  We have all heard of the Bedouin people being like gypsies and moving around, at least that is how I always pictured them.  They were completely nomadic and rarely stayed in one place for long.  But this text contradicts this sentiment and brings to mind the complexities of the community.  There’s still a matriarch in this society, though she has little say in how the community is ran.  It is intriguing that while this is a patrilineal society, they still place the girls and women in high regard, but only because of her marrying well and her growing up well.  Sagr is quoted as saying that “daughters are dearer to him than sons” (page 160).  This goes against what one would normally think because of his role in the community and the need to pass on his inheritance to his sons, but it is interesting to see that while the patrilineal line is still strong in this community, the opposite sex is still revered for their contributions to the society.

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