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?


6 thoughts on “Beduin Stories And Separate Worlds

  1. It’s really interesting to think about what you describe through Rich’s lesbian continuum, especially because there seems to be two different relational planes on which women interact. There is absolutely a kind of nurturing, supporting, generative interaction between women who are related. But in another context, between wives, there seems to be more antagonism. Although the women support each other and help manage childbirth, there is a struggle for the resources provided by the man. Do you think that perhaps in the absence of a husband, with women in control of resources, they would be able to relate to each other in a lesbian way?

    • I don’t know if they would, or if there would still be problems because of hierarchies and responsibilities. But the presence of the husband certainly manages to sever their bonds.

  2. I wonder, if Sagr treated all his wives equally/fairly (though I am not even sure what that would entail in this context), would the antagonism among wives give way to consistent nurture and support? That is, we see the women bonding over a truly female experience; men cannot go through childbirth, and the men in this society want nothing to do with it. So if Sagr allocated resources among his three wives equally, didn’t pit them against each other in constant competition, might they be able to commiserate as well as truly share in the joy of each other’s lives?

    In some ways, they already do. For example, when Azza leaves in a fit of anger, Gateefa is the one to care for her children. However, she does not do this out of concern for Azza in any way, but rather, she takes care of the children because they belong to Sagr. She is only loyal to Sagr. It’s interesting to think about how much Sagr influences the bonds his wives share. Is this another case of men keeping women from experiencing the lesbian continuum?

    • Even if Sagr treated his wives equally, there’s still the hierarchy of first, second and third wife. There’s also the moment where Azza tells Gateefa that she has nothing, because she has no brothers and we learn that to stand her ground in her husband’s household, the wife needs to have brothers. So again there are men interfering in how the relationships between these women will unfold. The men are certainly keeping the women from experiencing the lesbian continuum, but I’m not sure if the women would experience it even in the absence of men.

  3. Yeah, I was also finding the strict line drawn between the two sexes very interesting and also wondered what that would mean or what purpose it would serve in their society. Would it have been made in favor of certain gender? What does this difference mean in terms of the whole structure-keeping processes? Thinking along the lines leads me to think about the “separate but equal.” What could the women in their society to “see from above the structure” and is there a way out, if necessary, as a woman or is it necessarily the “masculine” education, manners, and way of thinking the only escape?

  4. I want to say that the only reason why Gateefa helps Azza is because she is a good person, not because of any particular feelings she has for Azza. I think she understands that Azza is basically a bratty young woman, who never had to develop a personality because she has her family who can’t get rid of her. She doesn’t need anything else. She’s also physically beautiful. For the most part, I would describe their relationship as a kind older sister with a bratty younger one. Or maybe that of a babysitter with a bratty child. I don’t think it would matter to Gateefa if Azza no longer was married to the Haj. I don’t think she’d grieve this situation. I think she just treats her semi-kindly because she has to or else no one else will. She doesn’t like her in any sense of the word.

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