Week 5.2 Lila Abu-Lughod – Reproduction & Honor and Shame

Focussing on one of the assigned chapters for this week (Chapter 3, Reproduction or Chapter 5, Honor and Shame), discuss how the stories show how each of these institutions (norms around reproduction; the honor and shame norms) are reproduced in everyday practices. How are the women in the book also challenging or reframing these institutions through their practices? How do these women express their agency?

3 thoughts on “Week 5.2 Lila Abu-Lughod – Reproduction & Honor and Shame

  1. Vanessa Vining

    In chapter 3 Lila Abu-Ludhog captures some conversations with the women of the community about reproduction, children, conception and motherhood. For the majority of the chapter most of the women felt very proud and honored to be mothers, saying that it is a gift from God and that God honors mothers. There were a few women that did not like being mothers, saying that it tires them out and that children are too much work. I found it interesting to hear this point of view, especially in this community where it seems like being a mother is everything to a woman.

    I was also astounded by how superstitious these women were about reproduction and how coming into contact with certain things or people can supposedly cause a woman to get “blocked” or be unable to have children. The odd number of ways and remedies to get rid of a block were also intriguing, for some reason i didn’t expect them.

    It seemed to me that all of the women being gathered in this one space gave them to opportunity to be open and speak freely about personal matters because they are all on an equal level, that level being female. They also exercise their agency by the discipline they show towards their children.


  2. Bedouin women, especially Migdim, assert their agency through their words. Often times she verbalizes her troubles in life, or she will yell at her sons when she doesn’t like how they are acting. Since she knows men won’t listen to her since she is a woman, she uses the Quran to validate her opinions. She also uses story telling and poetry as a way to amuse herself and others and to relieve some of the burdens of their everyday lives. A lot of the stories she tells are very blunt and have an aggressiveness to them. They aren’t passive and modest as a Bedouin woman is ideally supposed to be; the stories show a different side to their personalities.

    Kamla, Migdim’s granddaughter, has never been fond of the ways in which Bedouin girls are treated. She has always thrived for an education even though girls typically aren’t educated and if they are, they aren’t supposed to be educated beyond a certain age. She has expressed her agency through her words, making jokes with the elders and boldly stating that she will never get married. Kamla also expresses her agency through listening to Egyptian music, talk shows, and the radio. She is able to learn through things that otherwise she would have no access to. This gives her a way to free her emotions and envision a world that otherwise she wouldn’t be able to. She attends school which causes some of her family members distress, especially her uncle who tries to sabotage this. This causes her to run away from her home to study her books under the trees, so that it is less likely that she will be disturbed. She is then able to prove her intelligence by getting the highest marks in the class. She also practices her agency through the letters she has written to Lila about current life among the Bedouin girl. She ironically states sometimes that she has no opinion, although in these writings, she clearly has a strong opinion about life which she generally feels pretty comfortable stating. She has even yelled at her father before which is unlike young girls and women to do. Due to her constantly speaking up, she ultimately gets to marry an educated city man versus her cousin like initially planned.


  3. In chapter 5, Lila Abu-Lughod examines honor and shame among the Awlad ‘Ali. Two very strong and not unconnected themes in viewing these are religion and Bedouin identity (as opposed to Egyptian, European, etc.). The Awlad ‘Ali put great store in their piety and traditions, and often show it through comparison with ‘citified’ or ‘peasant’ Egyptians. The Egyptians date, they wear inappropriate clothes, they go clubbing, they drink. Either that, or they sanctimoniously veil themselves too much. Either way, they are different from the Bedouins and any Bedouin who acts too much like them is censured.

    The most prominent example in this chapter of a woman challenging the institution of honor and shame is Kamla, who showed great determination in completing high school and marrying a man outside the family. She endured accusations of shameful behavior (such as walking with an unrelated boy) and she and her father were pressured by her uncles to pull her out of school. However, Kamla used words and a passive resistance (like consuming Egyptian media) to express her agency.

    As much as Kamla struggled, I also think it’s interesting how women easily incorporate ‘shameful’ things, like soap operas, into their lives. They simply say that as long as no men are present, it is perfectly acceptable to watch television.


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