Bedouin Women considered inferior because they are naturally less independent and incapable of controlling their bodies;

Menstruation and sexuality are undeniable evidence of it.

Pink Tear

May 22, 2009

How Bedouin Women Fit into their Ideological Role

In Veiled Sentiments by Lila Abu-Lughod, the codes of honor are regarded as one of the essential elements to construct the ideology of the Bedouin society. Given the fact the Bedouin is patriarchal society, men are dominant and carry the codes of honor, including independence and self-control. Nevertheless, low social class or dependent men and women present voluntary deference in order to achieve their honor. Particularly, Abu-Lughod analyzes women’s role in the society. Women are considered inferior because they are naturally less independent and incapable of controlling their bodies; menstruation and sexuality are undeniable evidence of it. Most importantly, sexuality, which is closely related with women, directly threatens the fundamental social pattern of patriarchy. Hence, women wear veils in order to present their realization of shame and characteristic modesty; this is their voluntary deference, a specific way for women fulfilling the social ideology and achieving honor.

Menstruation and sexuality indisputably demonstrate the fate that women are short of the capability to control their bodies. Menstruation is judged unclean and a pollutant by Bedouins as well as many other people in the world. “A menstruating woman cannot pray” (130). However, menstruation is a natural attribute of women; no women can resist it. Since self-control, including controlling one’s natural desires, is promoted as honor by Bedouins, consequently, menstruation becomes an inherent weakness in women. They are unable to do anything to amend the fact but admitting their inferiority in comparison with men.

Sexuality is constantly linked with reproduction in the Bedouin. This process of reproduction demonstrates women’s dependence and lack of self-control. Sexual intercourse implies women’s dependence. They have to get the cooperation from their husband in order to complete it. Pregnancy and birth-bearing expose women’s failure to control themselves. An example Abu-Lughod offers is that during the pregnancy, women lose control over their own bodies (133). It is true that the bodies of pregnant women grow abnormally. Because of these natural attributes, women are viewed as inferior and as being less honor than men. They become the vehicles for men to perpetuate lineages (133). For this same reason, older postmenopausal women, who are no longer reproductive and less sexually active, are less controlled by others (133).

More importantly, sexuality is a serious threat that challenges the patriarchal system. As mentioned above, sexuality proves women’s dependence because they need men to fulfill this process. Therefore, sexuality reveals men’s dependence as well. When men depend on women to get sexual satisfaction, they are inclined to attach emotionally to women. Before a man gets married, he completely follows the order of patriarchy and fully respects his father and senior kin males. However, after the marriage, sexuality creates intimacies between the wife and the husband, which is a strong force competing for the men’s obeisance of the patriarchy. It “challenge[s] to the hierarchical relationship between providers and dependents, or elders and juniors” (147). Understandably, senior agnates ignore junior agnates weddings, subconsciously recognizing the threat such weddings pose to their authority (147). The implication of sexuality in Bedouin culture is extremely profound.

Based on these analyses above, the real reason Bedouin women wear veils can be explained. In comparison with common American stereotypes about the veil, which generally means women cover their face in order to avoid sexually attracting men; consequently, it prevents further sexual activities from taking place. Oppositely, from the Bedouin perspective, women wear veils because they are innately shameful. The sexual relation between men and women forcefully challenges the fundamental social order of this society. Although sexuality is necessary for reproduction and is unavoidable, the troublesome consequence of sexuality is undeniable and women should accept responsibility for it. The veil demonstrates women’s self-mastery and the code of modesty. Despite the fact that women cannot effectively control their bodies and some natural processes such as sexuality, their attitudes of understanding the shame and showing modesty are a typical form of voluntary deference; their independent choices assist them to achieve honor.

The fact that neither all the women wear veils nor do they wear veils all the time and in all places additionally reveals the significance of the veil. First of all, unmarried girls do not have to wear veils. They have no sexuality, making no threat on the social order and having no shame at all. Due to less or no sexuality, older women wear veils less frequently. Married women are the category of people who wear veils, but they do this depending on the situation. When they encounter high status males, they always wear veils. The profound meaning here is that women’s sexuality with their husband results in the husbands’ greater respect for their wives than those senior males. Married women wear veils because they feel shame about this fact. Nevertheless, women do not wear veils in front of their husbands because their husbands share with their shame.

In the Bedouin society, people emphasize the codes of honor in order to maintain the patriarchal social order. Women are naturally less independent and have less self-control. Particularly, they are closely associated to sexuality, a dilemma, that on the one hand, is essential for reproduction, and on the other hand, threatens the patriarchal system. Veiling represents women’s acknowledgement of shame. This is a critical way that women participate in the society and show their attempt to fit into the Bedouin ideology. Their honor is not placed on independence and self-control, but voluntary deference.


Author: Leslie Carol Botha

Author, publisher, radio talk show host and internationally recognized expert on women's hormone cycles. Social/political activist on Gardasil the HPV vaccine for adolescent girls. Co-author of "Understanding Your Mood, Mind and Hormone Cycle." Honorary advisory board member for the Foundation for the Study of Cycles and member of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research.