The aim of this paper is to unveil the cultural bias against women in Moroccan proverbs and sayings. Put simply, it is an attempt to draw attention to the most significant proverbs which reflect the ugly truth about women in Moroccan society and culture.
By Abdellatif Labkadri
Rabat – This article seeks to approach the topic under study from a linguistic vantage-point, namely that of linguistic determinism whose argument is as follows: The way a language is organized will determine how we perceive the world being used. That is, our language will give us a ready-made system of categorizing what we perceive; and as a consequence, we will be led to perceive the world around us only in those categories.
1- Definitions of the proverb:
Proverbs exist in all human languages, for they, like other oral traditions, reflect people’s values, the way they think, and their attitudes towards their surroundings. Proverbs have high-frequency usage in many Arab and African countries as they are deemed to be vital devices through which wisdom is expressed.
According to the Oxford Word dictionary (1999), a proverb is “A short well-known sentence or phrase that gives advice or general truth about life.” This definition is developed, somehow, in the electronic Oxford Dictionary (2000) which defines a proverb as “A short pithy saying in common and recognized use; a concise sentence, often metaphorical or a literal in form, held to express some general truth.
Similarly, Some English dictionaries give definitions to proverbs, for example: “Proverbs are
the wisdom of the streets” and ” Proverbs are the children of experience.”
Wolfgang Mieder (1999) made an interesting survey, asking fifty-five ordinary people to write their own definition of the proverb on a piece of paper. The following definition is constructed on the basis of words that occur from four to twenty times in the collected definition:
“A proverb is a short, generally known sentence of folk which contains wisdom, truth, morals, and traditional view in a metaphorical, fixed memorizable form and which is handed down from generation to generation .”
Though there is no definite agreement about the definition of the proverb, there is a general consensus about the elements that comprise a proverb, and the fact that proverbs exist in all languages. It is impossible to find a nation with no proverbs.
2- The Trouble Maker:
“Who does not have problems, his wife creates them for him” and “Who follows women will achieve no success”. These two samples of proverbs are used frequently in the Moroccan vernacular (Darija). In fact, both of them denote the inferior status of the female gender due to women’s supposed tendency to create troubles and problems. Again, another saying that serves the same purpose is “Women are crooked and not straight”. The three statements, we have seen so far, epitomize the cultural bias against Moroccan women on the whole.
To add insult to injury, a further saying, representing a religious belief, is; “Woman was responsible for man’s fall from paradise”. This belief is predominant in the mentality of men as well as of women. People maintain that it is a divine truth that is given by God in the Holy Quran. Yet, this view is downright untrue. Instead, it is a mere falsehood promoted by cultural bias.
The Quran nullifies this bias story in the following verse “then did Satan make them slip from the garden and get them out of the state (of felicity) in which they had been” (Bakara 35). Using the dual pronoun in the verse demonstrates that Adam and Eve are equally guilty and responsible for breaking the divine orders. Put differently, God portrays man and woman as equal without a distinction between one another. They are both responsible for their wrong and good deeds. Nevertheless, the laymen distort and misinterpret the sacred beliefs to fit their cultural needs, in which the male mentality is dominating and superior to that of women.
3- Women and Sexuality
Among the proverbs which mirror the status of women as a sexual object in the Moroccan society is the following “a woman without children is like a tent without pegs”. To put this saying in its original context, it should be borne in mind that it is the kind of proverbs handed down from generation to generation, or precisely, from a mother to a daughter. It goes back to the pre-Islamic era when barren women were marginalized and disregarded for their sterility. This dark era was also shadowed by some evil deeds particularly in the Arab peninsula where girls were buried alive.
To top it all, the Jewish traditions and the Talmudic teachings recommend that believers keep away from the women who are not able to give birth to children. They consider them as inferior to their fertile peers.
Coming back to the starting point, the proverb draws a simile on one hand between a woman and a tent; and on the other between children and pegs. Indeed, the term, tent, is not randomly chosen, but it symbolizes the ancient Arab home. It is also known that pegs are the supports by which the tent is maintained and kept still in stormy weather. Similarly, a sterile woman within a traditional family background can not be safe vis-à-vis a fertile one.
This pushes me to conclude that the proverb under study clearly represents the role of women in the Moroccan society. Their function is just to produce children in the first place as chickens produce eggs. This, in fact, demonstrates the bias image of women in the eyes of a patriarchal society whose prioritized criteria are sexuality and fertility.
4 – Women and Reliability
This section aims to expose a new facet of bias against the Moroccan women. Actually, the data collected, proverbs, question the reliability of women. In other words, some sayings recommend us not to trust women at all. A case in point is “women’s malice is mighty”. This statement is very common not only in the Moroccan society but also in all over the Arab world. The saying is utilized whenever the speaker wants to refer to women’s power to make evil. That is, a woman has the ability to harm and achieve whatever, whoever, whenever and wherever she wants.
Tracing back this statement to look for its spring, I find out a Quranic verse, “…your malice is mighty” (Joseph, 29). Nonetheless, the laymen incorrectly interpret this verse without full grasp, not only it’s meaning but also to its context. To expound this matter further, we should consider the exact background of the verse. “ ..Your malice is mighty” are not God’s words, even though they exist in the Holy Book. Instead, it is a reported statement told by “Al Aziz”, the husband of “Zolikha”, the woman who attempted to seduce the prophet “Joseph”. Indeed, laypeople often do not differentiate between what is said by God Himself and what is reported by God about others. Thus, the use of this proverb which conveys religious proof r is a false pretext behind which the unfair cultural bias hides.
Unfortunately, this statement is still in use among Moroccans in as much as they are in need of it to transmit a negative message about women; and therefore, listeners or readers are invited to perceive that the further one comes close to women, the more unsafe he will be and vice versa.
In a nutshell, our language in general and proverbs, in particular, depict and shape our mindset, so we must be careful when we choose to express ourselves using words, simply because these words will be thoughts which will be beliefs which turn into acts.