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Portrayal of Women in Palestinian Proverbs

Contributed by Turathuna Bethlehem University on 15.12.2006:

Our society’s attitude towards women, as it seen in our popular proverbs, is most unfair and cruel. Here are the most prominent features:

The pre-Islamic tradition of female infanticide is still found in some of our proverbs:”His sister died, this reflects his good intention “,”A girl’s true protection is her grave “, “If her sister dies, your honor is protected”. A girl, to those who believe in these proverbs, is a calamity and a shame, and her existence in itself is a threat of shame”. One will not find a crueler and a sicker attitude towards women than in the previous proverbs. Thus we believe that the mentality which produced them should be changed.

Curse falls upon the baby girl from the moment of her birth, where she is looked down upon, especially in contrast to the baby boy: When someone communicates the “tidings” of a birth of a girl, he’s announcing a calamity. A girl should be treated cruelly, spoiling and pampering are only for the boy: “Spoil your son, he will be of use to you spoil your daughter, and she’ll bring your shame”. The “liberal” view of the believers in these proverbs may reach its highest point in “The beautiful girl is the half disaster “.

When a girl becomes a woman, curse also follows her: “A woman is half-minded”. This reactionary position may reach this point in its contempt for women’s intellectual capacities: “A wise woman is like a stupid chicken”. The wife is seen by some proverbs as a property, as a commonality that’s sold and bought: “My father sold me and my husband bought me”, “Your husband comes before your God” blasphemy is even tolerated here because it’s related to his majesty: the male. The male’s wisdom says: “God blesses the spacious house and the obedient wife” and from the point of view of the woman as “shame”, the proverbs says: “the beautiful wife is an obstacle to her husband”. The husband is advised to use deceit in dealing with his women: “Use women to vex women, do not use the stick”, this proverb is for the resourceful man, other men believe: “A woman is like a rug, if you don’t keep shaking it, it will become full of fleas”.

Source: “Folk Heritage of Palestine” for Sharif Kanaana.

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