“Like an Extra Virgin” by Anne Meneley

This article made me wonder if the theme of “honor and shame” in the Mediterranean plays out in planes other than the family, morality, and community, but also in food. On page 63, Meneley says, “I was told by several Italian olive oil producers that if an oil does not achieve an extravirgin destination, they do not bottle it under their own label, metaphorically disowning the ‘impure’ daughter.” I found this very interesting because while at first glance it may not seem very different that what many American companies may do, the language used implies otherwise. It is likened to a daughter and the word “disowned” is even used. In America, we are used to food companies selling fairly low-quality food as high-quality food, and using clever advertising to make the food seem enticing for reasons other than quality. Many Italian olive oil companies, on the other hand, do not seem to be so quick to distract from the quality. Rather, companies like the ones mentioned in the article are so unwilling to sacrifice quality and extravirginity that they will not sell less pure olive oil under their own name. This, to me, implies that pureness of not only daughters, but olive oil too, is a basis for honor and shame.

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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?