Monday, April 14, 2008

Guest of the Sheik: An Ethnography of an Iraqi Village

I really enjoyed reading Guests of the Sheik. Elizabeth Wornack Fernea (B.J.) is a typical western woman, with no prior experience in dealing with or surviving in any other culture than her own. Without any training in anthropology, B.J. followed her new husband without a clue of what she was about to experience. The aspect I found most appealing about this book was the fact that I did not feel as if I were reading a scientific study, but instead, a honest western woman’s perspective on the life of the Iraqi women in the village.

The main topic throughout chapters 3-7 was the ideology of male dominance in this culture. While the women found a way to communicate and make chores more fun, they were almost silent around men out of fear and respect. In this sense, I easily relate this to Dreams of Trespass in many ways. The women dream of being able to walk in the streets, go to the market, or simply being able to freely mingle among other women in the presence of men. The dependent nature of women in this society is clearly noted throughout the Guests of Sheik through B.J.’s encounters with the women while her husband is away.
While the rules of this culture might be different in some ways from mine, male dominance is something that every woman can relate to in some way. Male dominance is still very prominent in western society. From the idea that men are the "bread-winners" or independent gender to the fact that men earn more an hour than women, this has affected women for many years. Even though society has made some progress towards equality, this has proven to be a long and slow process. I feel that the upcoming presidential election could have a positive affect on this. If Hilary Clinton wins the election, that will force society to accept a woman in the highest role in the United States government. This could be the turning point for western society.
I think the turning point in this story is when B.J. gets to see the Gypsies perform. This is the first place that B.J. begins to really associate herself with the abayah and the women of the village. This is a turning point for more ways than one for this story. Not only can B.J. relate to the Iraqi village, but her biased opinion of the orient begins to fade away at this point. She no longer judges these women for their actions through a western woman's perspective, now she sees herself as equal.