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Gender Ideologies and Religion: in Bedouin and Bengali Societies

By ehw613 Oct 11, 2011 1210 Words
The teachings of Islam are closely adhered to in Bedouin society. This creates some of the gender ideologies and differences seen in Veiled Sentiments, by Abu-Lughod. These gender ideologies reflect how a women must act in order to be seen by society as a “good Bedouin with close ties to kin and a devotion to Islam.” (Veiled Sentiments, Abu-Lughod. Page 219) Religious practices and engagements are very important parts of this society because they dictate how a woman must dress, act, what she can say and who she can say it to. A very prominent part of Abu-Lughod's ethnographic study is the use of poetry in the daily lives Bedouin people. This everyday ritual is influenced by the Bedouin code of honor which also is a contributor to Islamic Law by which the Bedouin people adhere to.

The ideologies of gender in Bedouin society are intertwined with moral discourses involving modesty and honor. Gender ideologies are used to “rationalize the social hierarchy and inequities in the freedom of individuals to make choices about their lives and to influence others.” (Veiled Sentiments, Abu-Laghod. Page 118) In Bedouin society men are associated with 'autonomy' and women with 'dependency'. This concept relates back to the social hierarchy in which the Bedouins revolve around. It usually is that in the economic and social systems, that women are seen as the dependents, being completely reliant upon the male senior provider. In addition, Bedouin values are engrained in moral superiority within society. To the Bedouins it is seen as morally devaluing to have daughters over sons. Even pregnancies are considered to have different implications upon the woman depending on whether she is carrying a boy or a girl in her womb. The reasoning behind the clearly stated preference of sons over daughters is because of how the Bedouin society is arranged on a patriarchal system. Relating back to the ideologies of gender in Bedouin society, there are clear markers indicating what is socially acceptable for both male and female to do. In Veiled Sentiments there are clear distinctions between the male and female genders. “Gender affects the extent to which an individual can control property and people, and consequently, the degree to which he or she can embody the ideals of independence.” (Veiled Sentiments, Abu-Lughod. Page 92)

Religious engagement, practices and prohibitions play important roles in making these distinct differences in gender because of how they have been socially adopted and adhered to. While Islamic Law does not nessecarily dictate the way in which the Beduoin tribe asesses their male and female counterparts, it does play an imporatnt role on what the expectations are of the two genders. Men and women, in particular, have certain expectations in which they have to live up to that has been set down by Islamic Law throughout its history. It is part of their innate culture, it is part of their history that they can never escape as it is engrained into their very existences.

The practice of veiling is a specific example as to the clear gender differences and ideologies in the Beduoin society. Veiling is seen as an innate part of their culture which is never questioned. Veils have been used for hundreds of years in Muslim cultures throughout the Middle East. It can be interpreted in many different ways. It can be seen as a woman hiding herself, or even making herself stand out among a group. Different colors have various meanings. In this particular Bedouin tribe the black veil is considered to be a sign of shame, relating to sexuality of a woman. Often times it is linked to honor, and respect for authority – or the lack of. Another daily practice that the Bedouin women take part in is belt wearing, where the different colored belt symbolizes her association with nature and sexuality. “The red belt that every married woman wears symbolizes her fertility and association with the creation of life. associated with femaleness and fertility.” (Veiled Sentiments, Abu-Lughod. Page 136.) The colors of these belts and veils are very symbolic in their daily lives. These religious practices contribute greatly to Beduoin society and their view in women's sexuality. For example, the use of colors such as black versus red versus white. All of these colors have very different meanings. Black being of shame and disregard, red being of fertility and white being of pureness (usually worn solely by the men). All in all, it was part of daily life that the women follow these customary rules. There was no question of whether they agreed with the belt and veil wearing or whether they felt hidden or in significant. In a patriarchal society they have come to accept that they are simply in the men's control when it comes to matters including traditional life and lifestyle.

Similarly to the Bedouin society, Sarah Lamb in her piece on “Love and Aging in Bengali Families” makes note in the small aspects of life which play very important roles in Bengali society. One such example is the role that women have for caring for their parents. Although this is not a directly religious practice, it is done out of devotion and respect giving it an almost sacred practice. “Providing care for parents entails both material support and sevᾱ (respectful, loving service)”. (Love and Aging in Bengali Families, Sarah Lamb. Page 58) In addition to this, the concept of mᾱyᾱ is also a major aspect of Bengali gender divisions and culturally habitual practices. As a polyvalent term, found in nearly all Indian languages, mᾱyᾱ represents the ties “binding seniors and juniors across generations”. (Love and Aging in Bengali Families, Sarah Lamb. Page 59) More specifically however mᾱyᾱ is a term used to represent compassion, love and attachment. “Mᾱyᾱ consists not only of what we might classify as emotional ties but physical or bodily connections as well.” (Love and Aging in Bengali Families, Sarah Lamb. Page 60) The gender ideologies found in the concept of mᾱyᾱ is not clearly laid out. It however seems as though mᾱyᾱ is actually a 'vice' instead of a blessing. It is also projected that women are the ones expressing the feeling of mᾱyᾱ. Although it can be interpreted in different ways depending on the context, the general feeling is that women – the inferior and the ignorant- are the ones expressing the mᾱyᾱ which is frowned upon if there is an excess of.

There are very many differences between the two cultures of the Bedouin tribe and the Bengali people. However, both groups have very important devotions that some may not view as religious but in actuality are very sacred. Both Abu-Lughod and Lamb raise points about the specific cultures in which they discuss, making the reader take notice in how complex the gender differences and ideologies are. There are so many overlapping and interconnected layers or gender formation and perception that it is hard for an outsider to even begin to peel one layer away. All in all, what Abu-Lughod and Lamb manage to reveal is how gender ideologies are lived up to in religious practices and devotion but also how it is extremely important to the Beduoin and Bengali cultures.

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