Response to the book Guests of the Sheik: An Ethnography of an Iraqi Village
The book written by Elizabeth Fernea illustrates the situations when a person is placed outside his/her own culture. The author illustrates those cases when a person has to confront various behavioral norms. For example, the writer shows that in many cases, an individual may have to comply with a different dress code. For example, Fernea has to wear “an all-enveloping black abayah” in order not to stand out among other women (Fernea, 1995, p. 5).
Additionally, a person may learn that the interactions between males and females are based on entirely different principles. Elizabeth is not used to the idea that men and women should live in a segregated society (Fernea, 1995, p. 105). For instance, she discovers that boys and girls are educated only in single-sex classes. This is another example that should be taken into account.
Furthermore, an individual may see that there are social units that do not exist in many modern communities. For instance, one can speak about the existence of tribes in Iraq. Moreover, belonging to a specific tribe can significantly affect the experiences of a person and his relations with other people. The increased importance of tribal relations is non-existent in many Western societies. These are the main details that can be identified.
Overall, these examples show that a person who confronts a foreign culture has to face new behavioral norms that may seem strange or unjustified. Elizabeth Fernea’ book is an excellent narrative that demonstrates how a person can discover a new culture through first-hand experience. This is why this source should not be overlooked by students who want to learn more about ethnographic fieldwork. These are the main details that can be distinguished.
Gender in Iraq
On the whole, these examples provided by Elizabeth Fernea can throw light on the peculiarities of gender norms in Iraq. Admittedly, it is possible to speak about inequalities between males and females, and this issue is explored in various scholarly texts. Nevertheless, at the same time, the author describes the complexity of gender in this country. For instance, women’s experiences in tribes and cities differ from one another.
In particular, women coming from tribes are not even encouraged to live in the houses which can be inhabited by unmarried men (Fernea, 1995, p. 286). Yet, at the same time, the author encounters women teaching liberal arts (Fernea, 1995, p. 114). These females are not always willing to comply with existing gender norms. This is one of the exceptions that should not be disregarded. Moreover, there are some co-educational colleges in Baghdad and other large cities in which the legacies of the past gradually disappear. These are the main details that can be singled out.
Kinship Systems and Family
Overall, it is possible to say that this book illustrates the role that kinship plays in the Iraqi society. It profoundly affects the relations between individuals. For instance, there are tribal norms according to which a woman can only marry a man who comes from the same tribe (Fernea. 1995, p. 186). Additionally, it is important to remember that hostilities between various tribes can remain acute for a very long time (Askari, 2013, p. 38).
Similarly, some people can take into account the tribal origins of one another, even at the time when they move to urban areas of the country. Nevertheless, many of them believe that this social structure is more likely to disappear in the future. These are some of the main details that should not be overlooked by people who study the culture of Iraq.
The idea of real versus ideal behaviour
It is possible to say that the proclaimed cultural norms may differ from the real-life behavior of individuals (Shephard, 2009, p. 70). In many cases, they can deviate from the existing norms (Shephard, 2009, p. 70). Elizabeth Fernea provides several example which can show how a person can depart from the existing behavioral norms.
For example, the author mentions that some Iraqi women prefer to use Western lipstick in order to look more attractive (Fernea, 1995, p. 138). One should keep in mind that the use of lipstick is not tolerated in the Iraqi society. Similarly, many of them want to be educated in Western colleges, even though the educational attainment of women is not tolerated in many tribes. Thus, very often people may reject the norms that are imposed on them. This is one of the social phenomena that can be observed in many countries, including Iraq.
One can argue that Elizabeth Fernea’s differ from the behavior of many anthropologists. The thing is that they usually try to remain impartial. They do not try to judge the behavior of people representing other cultures. In turn, the author often feels indignant when observing the violations of human rights. Furthermore, in many cases, anthropologists do not pretend to be a member of the society which they study. In contrast, Elizabeth Fernea claims to be a harem woman who accepts the norms of the Iraqi society. Nevertheless, this approach makes her book more engaging. These are the main issues that can be distinguished.
Askari, H. (2013). Conflicts in the Persian Gulf: Origins and Evolution. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.
Fernea, E. (1995). Guests of the Sheik: An Ethnography of an Iraqi Village. New York, NY: Anchor.
Shephard, J. (2009). Cengage Advantage Books: Sociology. New York, NY: Cengage Learning.