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Mernissi: Exploring Gender and Family Hierarchy

As we have seen throughout the novel, there are clear cut divisions between the world of men and the world of women.  This novel is clearly an example of a patriarchal society.  Men ultimately have all of the power inside and outside of the home.  This is most evident when we are presented with the the physical boundary that the gate of the harem withholds.  Women are not allowed to leave the harem and children may only do so if they receive permission from the heads of the households (men).  Mernissi states, “Our house gate was a definite hudud, or frontier, because you needed permission to step in or out.  Every move had to be justified and even getting to the gate was a procedure,” (Mernissi 21).  Not only do men dictate what a women is to do throughout the day, but he also decides that women can not leave the harem in order to respect the household and the boundaries set by traditions of the past.

We are also given the instance where Yasmina tells Fatima about the restrictions of the harem and how women have very little say in what goes on in the household.  Yasmina tells Fatima, “Sometimes, she said that to be stuck in a harem simply meant that a woman had lost her freedom of movement.  Other times, she said that a harem meant misfortune because a woman had to share her husband with many others,” (Mernissi 34).  This is where we really see women’s feelings being expressed.  This is a topic which most women in Fatima Mernissi’s narrative feel very strongly about.  Not only did they have to obey all rules set by men in a harem ruled by men, they also had to be accepting of the fact that their husbands would most likely have multiple wives.  There is a certain hierarchy with the wives as well.  One wife and family is seen as above all the other wives and families.  The number of the marriage ultimately decided how well a family was going to live.  Some wives received the biggest rooms in the harem and the most leniency.  While others struggled in small spaces both physically and mentally.  Women had to obey and follow the rules no matter how high in the hierarchy they were.

Throughout the novel, it is clear that the harem is a man’s world.  Women are instantly put aside and although they may be cherished by the children and maybe even the husband, they still did not have any power.  Except, of course, over the children.  Women teach their children early on that they must obey rules and follow tradition in order to live peacefully.

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