Ahmed’s account of women’s role, during her lifetime and the time of the end of British rule in Egypt, focuses upon the continued view that women were of no importance; that is to say, women didn’t have an active voice in matters of everyday life, especially when it came to politics, society, and education. In chapter five, Harem, she gives account for family history of women, coming down through her mother’s side of her family, that women were not always given to a man in a pre-arranged marriage; at times, a slave would become a “gift” to a master and could only become “free” upon the master’s death, provided she bore a child of the master’s (Ahmed, 98).
These women were typically Cicassian, a community of people who were noted to come into Egypt as slaves. Slavery during the early American Southern history of plantations can be implemented for comparison, yet the ability to become “free” was less likely to occur; African women who had become “concubines” of a plantation master were likely to be kept in secret, either to continue work in the fields or close to the main house but not within, whereas the children of such unions were often employed within the household, often serving as a hand servant to the master’s children with the mistress of the plantation.Ahmed’s mother, of whom she refers to early in her work, having grown up with the knowledge that women were viewed as less, chose to treat her children equally, with the exception of an incident early in Ahmed’s childhood. Chapter four, Transitions, she talks about playmates, which lived next door, and how the older child, a male five years older than she, would actively enact “capture and torture,” which with description, points in the direction of pre-pubescent curiosity of the body of the opposite sex. The interaction with the playmates came to an end, upon the mother’s discovery of Ahmed’s feelings of discomfort (she acknowledged a “fear” of being violated), and her mother’s reaction, after her initial feelings of confusion and misunderstanding, was based more on how she had been raised as a child. Her mother experienced the feelings of shame and guilt at allowing her daughter to play with a boy, something that girls in Egypt didn’t do during her childhood. She was afraid of the possibility of Ahmed being violated, becoming “impure,” a mark of shame placed on the family; women’s purity was a crucial role in establishing and maintaining a family’s status within their community (Ahmed, 80).
The colonial period in America is a comparison model, as women were viewed as something to possess, much like property, as fragility and weakness became labels for the colonial woman, especially if she was of upper class. Women did not possess the right to vote, could not own property, and during the time of the Salem Witch Trials, became the focus, and ultimately, the victims of fear and ignorance.What role does religion play?The Islamic religion, accompanied with the Quran, is the primary source of spiritual practice for the Arab world. Politics was a man’s territory, as was societal standing, his position as head of the family, the cultural position that women were kept away from the public eye (originally through veils being worn in public to not being allowed outside of the home without the company of her husband), and that educational pursuits were limited, if not prohibited, for women in Egypt.
Ahmed describes different life moments, her mother mainly the focus of her memories, where politics, society, family, culture, and education experienced the end of British rule. Ahmed’s family was politically active, her father protesting publicly and her mother more reserved with discussions over newspaper articles. Women were continued to be viewed as their husband’s possession, secluded to the home, although the wearing of veils in public were no longer a necessity and more European styles of dress were becoming a large part of women’s wardrobes. Educational pursuits were opening more and more to women, who had experienced over the time, the climb from limited or no education to the ability to receive private school and college education in Europe.Various periods of American history, focusing upon religion and its influence in politics, society, family, culture, and education can be focused upon for comparison.
The various European populations, coming to the New World under religious persecution during pre-colonial and colonial times, experienced a time when women were curtailed to home, not being seen in public without the company of their husbands; they kept the company of other women within the community but the environment that women typically kept together was the home, with various household activities, such as baking, quilting, spinning and carding wool. Educational pursuits during the 1950’s, more so in the realms of college education, were mainly geared towards men; women had been a major influence in the work force during WWII but with the return of America’s solders, women were relegated back into the home environment to be the nurturing source for the family.Leila Ahmed: Her voiceAhmed’s life experience is the focus of her work, painted with the memories of her family, especially her mother and her interaction with her mother. Her mother’s life experience colors much of Ahmed’s decisions with her own life, as she traveled back and forth to Europe (eventually traveling to and living in America); her mother’s childhood travel was more exclusive with Egypt’s geography, especially Alexandria. Her mother had received her education by way of public school, which changed into private tutoring in her parents’ home; Ahmed had a formal education which led her to attend university in Cambridge (she went on to become a professor of women’s studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst).
A Border Passage opens with childhood memories, associated with sight, scent, and sound; landscape and people of her youth. As each chapter unfolds, Ahmed’s thoughts and emotions surface with various accounts of experiences with her mother; her lineage and how the history of the women in her mother’s line came to be and the influence upon her own life and the decisions she came to make, helping to shape who Ahmed would become. There were times of a type of darkness, as the author would reveal the shock and hurt she experienced with the knowledge of her mother’s detachment before her birth; her father expressed, over dinner, how her mother had appeared to want to deliver her prematurely. Yet her mother’s view of her was mixed, as she expressed later on, when her older siblings were away at university, that she had been “sent” to her parents to keep them company while the older children were grown and away. Mixed emotions such as this is experienced typically among American women and their daughters; mixed messages of expectations of women and their role in society and culture are projected daily, from the beginnings of the United States into the current times.ConclusionIn summary, there are many comparisons and contrasts between Egypt’s view of women and women in America.
Throughout the world’s history, women have been the subject and or target of fear, ignorance, and prejudice. Women have been pushed into silence, being restricted to the home and being the mother, nurturer and stable foundation of the family; even with patriarchal society and cultures, women’s presence and strength in the home has been long considered the “back bone” of the family. Women in America fought for equal rights, winning the right to vote, own property, pursue higher education, and make choices, such as the right to choose (abortion rights are a prime example). Other countries throughout the world are still experiencing the delay in winning equal rights for women, although more and more countries are coming into the foreground with women leading in various roles, such as government, health care (doctors), and education.Women in America remain in the top spot for equal rights, having various roles, from the stay at home mother to obtaining seats on the senate and house of assembly. Doctors, lawyers, business representatives, and CEO’s are within women’s grasps, being pursued and taken up as women come into positions of power.