1001 Nights: Gender Roles From Ancient to Present Time
Gender Roles From Ancient to Present Times
There is a natural relationship between men and women. They have their individual roles and position in the society. These roles and positions of men and women are not written in verbatim in any book of law. Instead they are manifested in the culture of the society with various external factors that can be influenced by society’s religion, political, geographical and others. These societal roles are passed on from generation to generation and reflected through literary works. The works of the writers collected from various stories are replica of the actual scenes that happen in the society. The men and women from the past are understood by the books written.
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Throughout time, gender positions and roles have been changing. These changes can be seen through various works throughout history. One of the most famous literary works in the history is the “One Thousand and One Nights”. This is a vivid example that shows how men and women act in the ancient times. The roles of men and women are depicted in the various stories embedded in the book. There are also changes in their positions and how they treat each other. This book can be considered as one package to understand the Middle East kind of life, their religion which is Islam, and as well as the roles and positions of men and women.
One Thousand and One Nights
“One Thousand and One Nights”, Alf Layla wa Layla (in Arabic text) or Arabian Nights (in popular English) is a story with many stories. It is unusually lengthy, narrative in form, and with no definite version. It is hard to trace the origin of the stories. However, stories point out that events occurred in Middle East countries including Persia, India, Egypt, Syria, Iraq and other Arab nations. These stories are said to be passed down from generation to generation. Though the stories vary, but the common feature that relates them is the interactions relating to religion and trade that happened in Islamic medieval world (Samatar). The book has many versions. One thing common in all these versions is the story of Shahrazad, a smart and witty woman who married King Shahryar, a blood thirsty king who vowed himself to marry a virgin each night then kill her the next morning. Shahrazad outsmarts the king by telling him different stories with cliff hanging endings to make the king thrilled to hear the next part of the story.
Thus, she is spared for another day. This goes on for one thousand and one nights. Her stories commenced morals that gradually changed the perspective of the king to lay vengeance to the female population. The fruits of their nights together bore them three kids, which heightened the decision of the king not to kill the mother of his children. Instead, they became a family filled with harmony and love. The change that occurred to king Shahryar also influenced King Shazaman, his brother. They both share the same unfortunate stories with their first wives who were unfaithful to them. Their vow to avenge against infidelity of women dissolved through time due to the efforts of Shahrazad with the help of her younger sister Dunzayad (Fassler, J).
Men in the Ancient Times
Events in the past can be reviewed and understood through the literary works. One Thousand and One Nights are composed of stories which reflect how the men act, feel, and think in the ancient times. Through the stories, the roles, duties, and positions of men in different classes are also exemplified. Historically, men rule out politically and religiously. Sultans and Kings are the topmost position that the leaders hold. In One Thousand and One Nights, King Shahryar and King Shazamad hold the top position in their respective lands. Roles of men can be seen in what the King is doing daily. The lines “…then he went out and attend to the affairs of his kingdom…”(Mathers) has been repeatedly written to signify that men keeps the role in the upkeep of their kingdoms. They are the ones who do the trading and others to make sure business is on going. For lower men in position, they are in charge in the upkeep of their homes. In the ancient times, it is the men who do the hard work and labor to bring bread to the tables of their families. This can be seen in various stories in the book where merchants have to leave their homes to do business. Men in the past are generally dominant. As they are the bread winner, they are used to having the other members of the house especially their wives to succumb to their wishes. The kings give their orders and the rest of the kingdom shall obey. Men in their household dominate as well. This can be seen in the story “The Tale of the Merchant and His Wife”, where the husband castigated his wife for forcing him to reveal his secret that he can understand the language of animals.
Disclosing this secret can result to his death. After he beat his wife, the wife relented saying “No, no, I don’t want to know anything” (Mathers, 451). Husbands dealt with their wives to show that they can manage their homes. In the ancient times, men uses women in sexual advantage. They consider women as possessions that must not be shared with other men. They demand fidelity, loyalty and faithfulness from their women. This evident in the story where the two brother kings met the demon carrying a large glass chest with four locks. Inside the chest is his woman, who was able to have sex encounters with 100 men while the demon is sleeping. Also, the two king’s unfortunate experiences with their wives shows how they hate women that are unfaithful. After they witnessed their infidelity, they vowed to avenge against what happened to them. They vowed to marry virgin each night and have her killed the following day. Through this, they can be protected against cunning and deceitful women for they thought that “there is not a single chaste woman on this earth” (Mathers). Women in the Ancient Times
In the Islamic Medieval world, the role of women is inferior with that of man. They are supposed to be submissive and adhere to the wishes of their husbands – as their masters. Generally, the stories of in the book comprised of women struggling in the world of the men, where the women are the oppressed while the men are the oppressors. The main story of Shahrazad and the rest of the women that are put to death daily due to the angst of the king is one of the primary examples of this situation. In the Islamic world, indeed the position held by women in the society is that under the authority of men. Most of the stories show women as weak, with no authority and that they serve only as sex gadgets by men. Some women are beaten by their husbands while some are replaced by mistresses when they no longer suffice or satisfy their men. This inequality in the gender consideration made women feel oppressed. However, not all women succumbed to this kind of perspective. In fact, women from the past find ways to gain favor of the men or even outwit them. Shahrazad is considered as the hero in this story. She, belonging to the weaker gender, faced the most powerful men to stop him from annihilating their population.
Gender Roles in Comparison from the Ancient to the Present Times Gender role is one of the most controversial topics especially with the differences from the Middle East and the Western world (Billington). Due to the influences of the Western world, women stood up to their rights and fought these rights to keep them leveled with the rest of the world. The stories in the One Thousand and One Nights” happened in the Middle East where their women are considered weak, culturally backward, untrustworthy, biologically inferior , submissive, and can easily be silenced by religious extremists, dominant leaders, as well as oppressive government (Samatar). It can be deduced that the roles of men and women are greatly influenced by the their religion and political circumstances. The Middle East world is defined with their Islamic culture and upbringing. Thus, their culture dictates women to abide what Allah expects of them. On the other hand, the western world exercise democracy. This equality regardless of gender has made men and women have the same position in the society. The presence of both genders matters and their voices are heard. They are both significant in their society.
There are also laws and policies that go against oppression. The rights of the men are equal with that of women. What is granted for the men are also granted for women. Equality of men and women has been practiced by many countries nowadays. This practice has started to influence the Middle East and Islamic countries. One Thousand and One Nights is a reflection of the society of the Middle East in the 18th century. The men and women gender roles are being dictated primarily by Islam. Women are considered inferior from men. The story of Shahrzad is a depiction of women that silently wanted to gain significance in the society. Her wit had made her outsmart the king and her fate to be killed everyday of her life spent with the king. Her cunning ability to tell stories and to weave them magnificently to make them connected has greatly made the king enthralled. Her stories are mirrors of her predicaments. The characters in the stories are pleading for their lives in one way or another. She camouflaged her plea for her life through the stories. She subtly dictates the king to stop his brutality and be human again. She gradually brainwashed the king to be merciful and forgiving. Her efforts are fruitful. Because of her, the king stopped being a tyrant and turned into a wise and kind king (Fassler). The change in character of the king can represent the side of the whole male population. This shows that change is possible. A tyrant king can be ruthless, but can still be bended.
This can mean that although the Middle East world have their women inferior from men, but with gradual factors such as Western influence, education, global connection and others, change is a possibility. One day, the world can have equal rights regardless of gender, religion, geographical location and socio-political situation. Then the world would be a better place to live.
Billington,M. “One Thousand and One Nights Review”. The Guardian.. 22 Aug 2011. Web. Fassler, Joe. “The Humanist Message Hidden Amid the Violence of One Thousand and One Nights”. The Atlantic. 25 Jun 2013. Web.
Mathers, Powys. “The Book of One Thousand and One Nights”. Print. Samatar, Sofia. “Teaching The Arabian Nights In Wisconsin: a Resource Guide for Educators”. Center for Humanities University of Wisconsin-Madison. N.d. Web. 23 October 2013.