Writing Women’s Worlds-Chapter 5

I thought that the whole book was interesting and informative. I liked that each chapter started with a quote from the Qur’an. I found it interesting that Migdim’s granddaughter Kamla used her religion to make counter arguements with her family in regards to her arranged marriage. Her other young family members used, what I would describe as, logical arguments against a potential cousin marriage. On page 212 even Migdim admits that the cousin in question won’t marry Kamla because “She’s older than he is!”. However, Kamla retorts with sayings like, “it’s up to God to decide not father or me!” or “the Prophet says that it is wrong to marry someone you have never seen.”

I found Kamla’s essay to be very insightful. For me, the section about how people had to hide their emotions from each other seemed to be very similar to dating culture here. There are very few people that I know of personally that speaks of their feelings outright. It’s almost like a taboo in both cultures. Of course, the consequences in Kamla’s writings and retellings seems to be much harsher than any consequences here. Another comparison I found is that the section on Kamla’s features of piety. I think they represent the moral code that most societies have. Respect one another, the importance of family, being generous to others, and adherence to traditions.

My question is, do you think Lila Abu-Lughod succeeded in depicting the Bedouin world without the Western Feminist judgement? Did her writings change your view of the strict Muslim world?

Writing Women’s Worlds Ch. 5

Chapter 5 talks about honor and shame. Kamla writes a letter to Lila explaining many customs in the Bedouin society. Education is no sought after for women. Most have little to no education. Kamla was lucky to go to secondary agriculture school, which is more than most females. Arranged marriage is also very common. Usually it happens between cousins. Kamla was originally supposed to marry Sabra, her cousin. Women also do not have a choice in who they marry (typically). The males decide who gets married. There is a certain expectation for the way Bedouin’s live their lives. Kamla talks about them being very pious, modest, honest, and welcoming. There are certain traditions that are upheld even if they are not liked by all. Some people want to change certain things in the Bedouin culture, but there are still many things they love and are proud of. Lila does a great job showing how much Kamla likes her culture, even though there are some things she wishes were different (like most people all around the world).

There are many differences and similarities between Bedouin’s and Egyptian’s. Like we have talked about in class, the Mediterranean is full of cultures that have learned from each other and grown similar in many ways. Even though they have some similarities they still see each other as very different, mostly because of their differing religions. This major difference can lead to conflict or just a hatred between cultures.

Lila Abu-Lughod Chapter 5

I have loved reading this entire book. Hearing real stories that all intertwine from this Bedouin family in Egypt gets a more realistic perspective to aspects of the Mediterranean we have been discussing. In chapter 5 Lila mainly writes about an essay that one of Migdin’s grand-daughters, Kamla, wrote. There are several aspects of how honour and shame are viewed in the Bedouin culture. Through the chapter Kamla and Lila discuss how the traditions are changing primarily for the women. On page 233 the section Piety was intriguing to me. In the chapter up to this point there was discussion of how the women of this younger generation were changing, largely in their search of education. But in this section Kamla writes about some traditions she hopes are preserved.

  1. Their piety and total adherence to the traditions of the Prophet  2. Their total respectfulness 3. Their generosity 4.Hospitality and respect for guest 5. The ties of kinship that link various parts of the family and the cooperation of relatives in all situations

The last point is the one I find the most interesting. In the beginning of the chapter Kamla talks about how her and some others are against the tradition of marrying their first cousins. She says how she wants to find an educated man from the city to marry, not a cousin. I believe these five points she wants to preserve are good ones, even though she is still trying to change others. My question is why do you think she chose these five points? Especially the last one of “cooperation of relatives in all situations” when she fights to make changes to other traditions.

Writing Women’s Worlds 1-3

Lila Abu-Lughod’s novel Writing Women’s Worlds is a fascinating look into life in the Mediterranean. Chapter 1 tells of patrilineality, or the structure of the family. Males are the dominant one’s in the family, as seen many times throughout the chapter where the sons continuously ignore their mother, Migdim. The author writes many stories of the dynamic of Migdim and her family. A common theme is polygamy. Migdim doesn’t agree that her sons needs more wives, but they see it as  a way to show that they have more money. If they can provide for more families, they must be able to support them. She also brings up loosing a husband, and marriage. In this culture, women are married off, whether they want to be or not. Also, if a husband dies, a woman can remarry so she will be provided for.

Chapter 3 talks about reproduction. Having children is a serious topic in this culture.  Boys are preferred, and girls are tolerated. If a couple cannot reproduce, there are many measures taken to make sure a child is made, even if it is getting married to another women. There are many superstitions as to why people cannot get pregnant, a child is lost or health problems in general. The Evil Eye was discussed. It’s like having bad juju. One must protect themselves and their children from envious others.

My question is where did all do the superstitions star and why are they so prominent in this culture?

Writing Women’s Worlds, ch. 1 & 3

Lila Abu-Lughod writes in a way that reflects the group she studies. She mentioned early on that the people of the Bedouin community had a tendency to describe the past not in terms of a personal journey that they had undertaken, but in terms of dramatic events and detailed memories. So, she writes her ethnography in this style.


The entire first chapter is the story of Migdim’s life experiences, which reveal the patrilineality in her community. It is composed mainly of long quotes and detailed descriptions, which tell of how Migdim evaded and got out of potential marriages, the time she finally married, and the time she lost her husband.

Migdim gained some control over the events in her life by sabotaging herself. She needed to go crazy if she wanted to get out of a marriage arrangement. First, her father tried to marry her off to one of her paternal first cousins, who she knew and did not like. She poured the dye that was prepared for her tent all over herself, tried to ask spirits to possess her, and did not eat for nearly two weeks.

After evading multiple marriage arrangements, Migdim finally married Jawwad and had children with him: four boys and three girls. When a woman gives birth to a girl, it is different than if she gives birth to a boy. Lila witnessed a few of the women arguing over whether having a girl is sad or whether it is a happy thing. The thing is, the girls are not truly the mother’s. They leave when they get married, and it is difficult for a mother to emotionally prepare for that (for the daughter leaving at any time). Sons are good to have because they stay. If a woman’s husband dies, she is not alone, although the sons may very well neglect her when they marry.

Before the group settled into houses, things were different. Migdim remembers how women used to dress more modestly. They wore “heavy black shawls” rather than “flimsy pieces of cloth”. On the other hand, weddings did not used to be sex-segregated. Young men and women used to sing and talk at weddings, but now Migdim says weddings have lost their appeal.


The third chapter goes back to the themes touched on in the first chapter: marriage, attitudes about having girls versus boys, and midwives.

It is interesting to me that circumcisions were celebrated within the Bedouin community. What’s more, sometimes those circumcisions are celebrated at weddings. This is done if the hosting family wants guests to only have to go to one event instead of two and to only give one gift instead of two. I find this juxtaposition of events strange, as it seems to suggest that circumcisions and weddings are of equal or at least similar importance. To the Bedouin community though, a circumcision celebrated with a wedding may not even seem like a juxtaposition at all.

Sagr, who is a father, tells Lila that girls have less strength of will, yet are more dear to fathers than are sons. He also says that fathers need to test their son a lot to make sure he turns out well, but for daughters, fathers need only “make sure she marries well and can take care of herself.” Two things he says that are very telling of his culture are, “as long as her father is alive, a girl does not feel any pain” and the proverb, “it is possible for a child to abandon his mother or father, but not the reverse” (page 160).


My question is, what does Lila Abu-Lughod’s writing style in Writing Women’s Worlds reveal about the Bedouin community which she studied?


Of Schneider Vigilance and Virgins

The reading of  Schneider Vigilance and Virgins by Jane Schneider was an interesting read on honor and shame in the more rural and pastoral  parts of the Mediterranean. I found it interesting in how the reading portrayed how inheritance works in the various societies, and how this is affected by how men and women are treated in these societies. In the section titled “Fragmentation in Pastoral Societies of the Mediterranean”, I found it interesting how the author in a way states that pastoral societies with low resources will tend to form economic units centered around the immediate family. This might make it more honorable in a way to conserve resources, and might influence the culture to use less as well as creating strong family ties. There is also a part discussing how inheritance works in some parts of the European side of the Mediterranean, and how one’s sons and daughters will have equal parts of a inheritance. There is however also a part that discuses how this can lead to tension and distrust within a family, as the land will not always be given equally. In most of the European side of the Mediterranean, it seems that the inheritance is usually given to the head male of the family, however the author does talk about how this can lead to distrust between farther and son over the inheritance.  On the flip side, the author at some point mentions how in pastoral societies that the husband will in one way or another show distrust towards his wife, as his wife could undermine her husband and his inheritance. So what is with all this distrust in these societies when in comes to one’s inheritance?

Schneider Vigilance and Virgins

This reading by Jane Schneider discusses the pastoral groups of the Mediterranean, their beliefs in honor and shame, and how women play a role in their societies. This article again poses the question of what constitutes as being “Mediterranean”. In the beginning she says she defines this area by the people who share these common themes of honor and shame and how it relates to the women of the group. That is a really broad definition of the Mediterranean. Multiple times she discusses the Fulani tribe as being in the Mediterranean because of their honor and shame rules but the Fulani are mainly in central Africa. Is she purposing the Mediterranean stretches this far? Also through the article she describes practices that remind me of class discussions about polar opposite behaviors. In class this is related to the discussion of the Evil Eye but here it is with the practices of herding. A herder watches over and brands his heard in order to protect it but if he has never lost an animal then he is a “sissy”. The later part of the article is what interested me the most. While the Mediterranean shares ideas of honor, each culture expresses it differently. I found it so fascinating how women in Sicily were on the same level as the men and inherited the same as them while Arabs described women as “cows of Satan”. If sons are the key to prosperity and sons come from women, how are women descended from Satan while men are descended from God?

Jane Schneider

I enjoyed this reading. It shed more light on the honour and shame aspect of the Mediterranean; which seems to be the focus of a lot of research in the area. The information I found most helpful was her in depth descriptions of the cultures that the honour and shame customs come from. Schneider focused on the pastoral  societies on the Mediterranean. Which she described as the regions surrounding the sea that had a emphasis on the chastity of women. In the reading she talks about the nuclear family organisation of these societies from small families to larger groups. How these societies set up their lineage systems, controlled their animals, thoughts on theft were all intertwined with the honour and shame they displayed. One example I found interesting was that if a dowry cow was stolen it was fought more about then if it had been a regular herd cow. So why is it that these pastoral societies show more of a culture around honour and shame then a more ‘European’ society?

Dionigi Albera

I found this article interesting as it takes a different viewpoint of history in the Mediterranean. Through the other readings I have not really thought about the history of anthropology in the Mediterranean. I have heard and learned about this region through my history and Latin classes but never thought how that information was gathered at times. Albera puts the times and processes of anthropology in the Mediterranean into understandable stages. In the 1950s it was dominated, like most studies through history, by Anglo-Saxon scholars who took their own bias into their research. These scholars seemed to only focus on the honour and shame factors of the “Mediterranean” cultures. For me it seemed like the article never really answered why they only seemed to be focused on that aspect of the culture in the Mediterranean. It discusses how this was one of the criticisms of the early anthropology studies and how in other anthropology studies at the time focused on factors like material culture, technology, food, magic, religion and healing practices. So why did the first anthropologist only focus on honour and shame?


To help you out with your readings this week (week 3), I want to ask you to think about identifying particular arguments (paradigms) for thinking about the Mediterranean as a cultural space. Make a list of these various paradigms. Flesh out their components. Then flesh out the critiques by the authors. Then think about your own assessments.