Paper Prompts for Cluster Two: Kinship, Marriage, Sex, Reproduction

Please respond to one of the following prompts:

1. Many of the works we have read during this cluster accord the conjugal bond a privileged status (think of Genesis, for instance, in which the married couple forms one flesh). Consider one or more of these works in order to discuss some of the following questions: how does the text in question define (implicitly or explicitly) what counts as an appropriate or functional conjugal relationship? Provide an account of the dynamic each text proposes or assumes between the emotional, sexual, economic, and legal dimensions of conjugal bonds. How does the author assess the relative importance or causal priority of the emotional and the economic in his or her description? Does the work in question put the primacy of the conjugal bond into question, whether by exposing its limitations or false premises, or by providing alternative means to imagine the self, intimacy, or the organization of the family?

2. What is the relationship of sexuality (understood as a practice of pleasure and eroticism and/or a potential source of identity) to sex as a technology or mechanism of reproduction and transmission? In your paper you might consider some of the following questions: does the work in question imagine a role for or assign meaning to non-reproductive sex and, if so, how is it valued? Are reproductive and non-reproductive sex oppositional or complementary? Are sex and sexuality compatible with familial life, or are they the means to a reproductive end? What is the place of sexuality in social organization?

3. Consider one of the works we have read this cluster and provide an account of how you think kinship is organized and imagined in this work. What types of bonds does the text depict between and across generations, and what kinds of responsibilities and intimacies are assumed to flow from and along these lines of transmission and connection? Consider too the rules or norms (implicit or explicit) that shape how these relations are defined, recorded, and communicated. Finally, assess the significance of biological relations within this system. Does your text depict kinship as largely determined by biological connections, as overlapping with them, or as describing relationships that exceed the biological?

Article: Sex vs. Gender perception

I saw this article and was reminded of our discussions on separating gender from sex. Reading the first line was a bizarre mental backtrack:

“Gender is no longer determined solely by biological factors, according to a new study by a Grand Valley State University researcher whose article, “Doing Gender, Determining Gender: Transgender People, Gender Panics, and the Maintenance of the Sex/Gender/Sexuality System,” was recently published in Gender & Society.

Laurel Westbrook, assistant professor of sociology at Grand Valley State, and Kristen Schilt, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Chicago, examined various case studies and found that , such as genitals and chromosomes, used to be the ultimate determiner of , but that is slowly changing….”

Study on gender: Who counts as a man and who counts as a woman –


Marriage in P+P and Bedouin polygyny

The question I’m interested in is why were Pride and Prejudice and an account of Bedouin polygyny grouped together? I’ll try to explore this question by examining marriage and the role of kinship in shaping marriages for both stories.

In the section where Sagr talks about the benefits of marrying relatives (91), he explains the story of his marriage to his first cousin and possibly favorite wife Gafeeta. At the end of the section, he has a moment of seeming helplessness. On the accusation that Sagr brought trouble to their lives after marrying Azza, he says “What am I supposed to do? it’s not just me — everyone has two or three wives” (interesting that everyone implies every man) (95). However, from Gafeeta’s perspective, she seems to believe that Sagr was blinded by Azza’s townsperson aura and attractiveness, that “[Sagr] had seemed to judge his wives not by their virtues and their actions but by their looks and the life-style they represented” (108). Sagr had the agency for choosing his wife and he choose wrong, but Sagr was also under pressure to choose another wife. Because of this, Sagr believes that because his marriage with Gafeeta has turned out well on his side of things and that his marriage to outsiders has not, that it is beneficial to marry a relative.

In the case of Pride and Prejudice, Lady Catherine seems to believe similarly. In the scene where Lady Catherine attempts to extract a promise from Elizabeth that she will never accept a proposal from Mr. Darcy, her argument is that Mr. Darcy and Miss de Bourgh have been created for each other (272), “They are destined for each other by the voice of every member of their respective houses….”. She accuses Elizabeth of disrupting a sort of ‘fated marriage’. In this instance, Elizabeth seems to occupy the role of Azza, Miss de Bourgh as Gafeeta, and Darcy as Sagr.

What would happen if in the world of Pride and Prejudice, Darcy could marry multiple wives? So much of Pride and Prejudice stresses the importance of choosing the right wife, a decision that can only happen once and cannot be retracted. Bedouin polygyny, on the other hand, appears much more flexible – maybe because of the ability to choose multiple wives? Sagr threatens many times, “I’ll divorce you.”

What exactly are the elements that cause Sagr to approve of marrying relatives and Mr. Darcy to be impartial to it? It can’t only be that Miss de Bourgh is sickly. There seems to be this importance of identity and personality that plays into Mr. Darcy’s marriage choices, whereas Sagr doesn’t seem to know Gafeeta that well (122).

I suppose I end with the same question – what exactly is it that make the conceptions of marriage so wildly different between Pride and Prejudice and Bedouin polygyny?

Defining ‘Kin’ Within Culture

Lila Abu-Lughod’s Bedouin Stories intrigued me greatly. Perhaps most compelling was the depiction of ‘family’ and ‘kin’ within the work and the relatable characteristics to situations that could be observed in modern, Western culture (though I understand how vague that is).

The first depiction of Azza and Gateefa’s relationship is the description of Gateefa delivering her child. Abu-Lughod describes how Azza found Gateefa after she had gone into labor and helped her throughout the process. Though later we learn of the tumultuous relationship between Azza and Gateefa, the first description is one of Azza comforting and helping Gateefa. As they sit with the newborn between them, Abu-Lughod senses a connection she has never felt between them before: “Despite their difficulties with each other – and they had many – there was between them a closeness and dependency…Fourteen years of shared history made for a bond, even if life together was often tense” (pg. 90). This single description conveys their complex relationship, while never alluding to the fact that they are married to the same man. In another essay or another text this same description could explain the relationship between two sisters in almost any time period, who never chose to live together and often face problems but still share a connection. Though we gain a greater insight into the divides between Azza and Gateefa as the story goes on, Abu-Lughod writes this description first to highlight their connection persists even through all the stories she goes on to recount.

Another parallel came as Abu-Lughod describes Migdim’s reaction to Haj’s decision to marry Azza. Migdim urges him not to do so and even goes to warn Azza against marrying her son, claiming “the man was tough, his wives were difficult, and he had lots of children” (pg. 96). The theme of a meddling mother is common in many stories involving romance and one we’ve seen in Pride and Prejudice. The cross-cultural parallel, though each instance has its differences, shows how important the ‘proper’ marriage is to relatives of the older generation.

After Azza has her baby, Gateefa and some of the other women go to visit her. The visit is unpleasant for all and eventually Gateefa demands to be taken home. Gateefa tells Abu-Lughod about the car ride home, saying, “I really let him have it: for the money spent on her while the rest of his family didn’t have anything, a woman who isn’t worth even a shoe, and on and on” (pg. 99).  The whole car ride, Haj doesn’t respond to Gateefa. But when Gateefa gets home and is asked what is wrong, she doesn’t tell anyone. While the subject of their argument is particular to their marriage, the scene could be seen in a variety of contexts and shows the slight defiance Gateefa allows herself to display to her husband. It is worth noting that this defiance comes in the name of the rest of her family.

There are many other references to family and kin, from Azza’s brothers defending her to Gateefa protecting the other children from their respective mothers. While these relationships are no doubt intricate, the common theme is that they all continually come back to each other and maintain a form of communication for the children and the sake of the family. This entire article raised the question of how much our definition of ‘kin’ and ‘family’ is defined by the cultures in which we live.

Beduin Stories And Separate Worlds

In Beduin Stories, the world described is split in two. The Beduin women and men lead almost separate lives. For the author to explain how good a hostess Gateefa, the first wife was, she related that when some Egyptian friends of her husband had arrived, she “[suspended] her own morals to converse with them” (117). Near the end of the chapter, the author describes a visit to the mansion of a rich couple. Since the man was from Sudan and the woman from Egypt, they had different customs than the visiting family. All the men and women sat in the same room together and Gateefa and her children were very uncomfortable by the mixed-sex situation. When her husband’s brother and a guest arrived, they had to sit on their own behind a curtain, since Gateefa could not mix with a nonkinsman Beduin. At the end Gateefa could not take it anymore and moved to a different room with her daughters. There is also much talk of how the Egyptian hostess was considered improper because she openly conversed with Gateefa’s husband in a relaxed and familiar way (119).

The family the author is staying with used to live in the Beduin camp but now live in a house of their own. Gateefa admits to the author that before they moved she had never spent her evenings with her husband since he spent them with his brothers (122). Then, when the author notices how important Gateefa is to her husband, she doesn’t know if the Haj is as important to Gateefa as she could not show openly her affection in public. Even though the author knows very well that Gateefa is a good singer and poet, her husband doesn’t. We are also told that when women gave birth, the men had nothing to do with it and were supposed to not see them for forty days (122). The Haj broke tradition and visited Gateefa the morning after she gave birth, but while she was giving birth, the person that took care of her was her co-wife. The two women shared an emotional moment after the birth of the baby, and the co-wife cried as she related the difficulties of the birth (90). The author writes:

There was between them a closeness and dependency, perhaps as women who give birth (indeed, other women remarked that day, “Men experience nothing compared to women – do they think giving birth is easy? It is hard as war”), perhaps as women bound together by sharing a household, daily life, and a history.

My question is: can we relate this article to the swapping article, or to Rich’s lesbian continuum or are the men too prevalent even in the women’s world?

Pride and Prejudice: Public & Private Relationships

On Thursday we talked a little bit about what is considered private and what is considered public within the society of Pride and Prejudice. I think Austen spends a lot of time portraying this in regards to what is appropriate to say in front of others, but we briefly talked about private vs. public life in regards to relationships. I was really interested in this idea and wanted to explore it a little further. In our last class, Professor Thakkar talked about how important the family is when thinking about marriage, relationships, and love, but I want to expand this out to include the general public, as well. Throughout the novel relationships and matchmaking are undertaken in the presence of others. For example, Jane makes significant developments in her relationship with Bingley while dancing, and talking at these large dances, which include most if not all of the town. Additionally, gossip and talking about Bingley with others played a large role in Jane and Bingley’s relationship, as well.

When I looked at LIzzie and Darcy’s relationship, I realized Lizzie’s affections for Mr. Darcy are often cultivated when they are apart or when Lizzie is stuck within her own thoughts. For example, Lizzie’s opinion of Mr. Darcy grows significantly while she wanders the grounds of Pemberley. While speaking to members of the Pemberly staff Lizzie thinks, “This was praise, of all others most extraordinary, most opposite to her ideas. That he was not a good-tempered man had been her firmest opinion. Her keenest attention was awakened; she longed to hear more…” (p 188). Additionally, her opinion of Darcy is further heightened after she learns that Mr. Darcy has paid Wickham to marry Lydia through her aunt’s letter.

At first I thought this made their relationship more private in some way, but now I’m not so sure. But I do think it’s interesting that Lizzie’s opinion of Mr. Darcy is most improved when she finds out information about him through other people. (I might even argue that in groups of people they often bring out the worst in each other and lose esteem for one another). But I don’t know if we can necessarily hold this up in complete opposition to a relationship like Jane’s. Although, LIzzie and Darcy’s interactions are cultivated less in a large public setting in front of people, their opinion of each other is actually formed through second hand knowledge from other people.

I think this gets even more interesting when you think about Lizzie’s reaction to Lydia’s marriage to Wickham. She’s upset at Lydia, yes, but she’s also upset that she didn’t make Wickham’s character public (at least to her sisters). “As that was the case, neither Jane, to whom I related the whole, nor I, thought it necessary to make our knowledge public; for of what use could it apparently be to anyone, that the good opinion which all the neighbourhood had of him should then be overthrown?” (pg 248).

I wondered what others thought about these things? Are relationships more private today? (Is a bar or party really that different from a ball?) Are people’s reputations today nearly as important as they were for Jane Austen? Do people take issue with the fact Lizzie’s opinion of Darcy is so informed by others? (But if it weren’t and she only used her own judgement then they probably would not have married).