20. Patience and Power by Susan Schaefer Davis

This is the first of two ethnographic studies by Susan Schaefer Davis on the inhabitants of a small Moroccan town. Patience and Power is a product of Davis’ doctoral research and service in the Peace Corps in a small town in near the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. While Patience and Power is not a book that anyone who is not extremely interested in the roles of women in rural Moroccan communities would be likely to pick up, it’s extremely well written, engaging, and although a primarily research oriented ethnographic study, Davis presents stories and information in a compelling manner. I have a strong interest in the subjects presented, and quickly read the monograph, but I think that even a more casual reader would appreciate the information that Davis has collected on women’s roles and their overall standing in this particular community.

Davis lived in the rural area in question for several years, and was able to give a lot of insight into the changing mores of rural Moroccan life. Reading the monograph I realized that much of her research is still combatting stereotypes that are still repeated today in Morocco. Women’s power in Morocco is much more centered on the private sphere, inside the home. Davis’ interactions with women in the community demonstrate that women in a North African Muslim country are not as powerless as even the media today would make them out to be. However, to understand women’s role in Moroccan society, it is important to keep in mind the different systems of power and patriarchy that exist within Moroccan culture: they are necessarily different from those systems in Western society, and as always, an ethnographic study requires that we try to look at another culture with as little bias as is possible, while acknowledging what remains.

That being said, men have much more visible power in Moroccan society, but the power that women have in the home and in certain social situations is not trifling. Different notions of respect and honor keep women inside the family home much more than Western women would be accustomed to, but a woman’s influence inside her home is unparalleled, particularly when said woman is menopausal (and is presumed to be no longer sexually risky to the family’s honor) or when she has a daughter in law to preside over. However, the freedom accorded to older women completely denies them any sexual agency – once they are no longer able to bear children (the fear being a child out of wedlock) they are no longer objects to be controlled, but women who have the final say inside their homes.

While Davis’ research was conducted in the 1960s and early 70s and much of it is no longer true, many of the social attitudes she describes remain, particularly those surrounding women’s sexuality and family honor. Her stories about women’s lives in a small town in Morocco are compelling and it was fascinating to read about spiritual ceremonies and beliefs in spirits outside of Islam that are often mentioned in passing, but almost never explained. If you’re looking to learn a lot more about the culture surrounding Moroccan women in rural areas, I’d highly recommend this book – or even if you have a passing interest in women’s roles in the Middle East and North Africa, Davis’ book is a classic text and still holds much merit today.

 

Pages: 197/5125

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~ by lefaquin on October 18, 2012.

One Response to “20. Patience and Power by Susan Schaefer Davis”

  1. […] 20. Patience and Power by Susan Schaefer Davis […]

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