Wedding Ceremonies and the Gender Statuses
Men's social relationships cross a wider range of the city's population and are more public, but they are also more restrained than women's are. Many of the differences associated with the differences between the two statuses are exemplified by the behavior that can be seen in participation in wedding ceremonies.
These ceremonies are generally held outside, near the house of the parents (either the groom's or the bride's) who are undertaking the responsibility for staging them. A large curtain, generally hung between houses, separates the women's festivities from the men's. From the women's side of the curtain comes the sounds of a band, laughter, shouting, and ululation. The women dance in a rather abandoned way with, one is told, their faces beaming and loud pleasantries freely exchanged.
On the men's side, the atmosphere is totally different. In the contemporary wedding celebration, rented wooden chairs are arranged into precise rows and the men on them quietly chat with those nearby. Boys and young men of the sponsoring family distribute soft drinks and snacks (often elaborate ones prepared by the women in a boisterous all-night session). When the groom, dressed in a turban and robes with an Arab-style dagger at his belt, is led to a seat of honor among the men, everyone turns to look at him during the brief period before he is led away to join his bride in the family house. During this period, there is a slight rise in the volume of the men's conversation, which can, nevertheless, hardly be heard above the din coming from the other side of the curtain. The commentary on the groom's fine costume, however, is short-lived and the men return to polite conversations about ordinary matters. After an hour or two, the men begin to drift away toward their homes, but the women's dancing and noise-making goes on far into the night despite the fact that many of them have been up celebrating and cooking all the night before.
The differences between relations among men and those among women seen at weddings are of the same sort found in everyday life. During their leisure time, the men come together at each other's houses, often not going inside but staying on the benches built into the front of houses that give their name, baraza, to the regular men's gatherings. At some of these gatherings, they sip coffee, although others view this as too Arabized. At all of them
they discuss the affairs of the day. The groups form on the basis of a variety of common interests. Thus, one group is composed of men who are concerned with world affairs and politics; another of men with a greater than usual interest in sports; several of men who are fond of discussing religion; and so on. All of the gatherings have one thing in common: they share an avoidance of personal topics. Deaths and hospitalizations are freely discussed, but nothing else personal is mentioned.
Talking about someone's wife, daughter, or sister—whether the man is present or not—is entirely unacceptable, and any man who did so, unless the context is illness or death, would be characterized as Hana mizani (without a sense of balance or propriety, see chap. 9). The general reluctance to discuss any specific member of the community is redoubled when the person is female and related by blood or marriage to someone present. The most valued topics for baraza discussion are all impersonal ones, and in a number of barazas "elevated" issues such as religion and philosophy are the most prestigious. Talking about specific people is considered unworthy of freeborn nobles and, especially, of men. For men, such talk is always bad, but they believe it often occurs among women and the low born.
The avoidance of gossip is not the only propriety in barazas. Each man is greeted on arrival by everyone already there with a handshake and a greeting consisting minimally of "Salaam Aleikhum" and generally of a considerably more elaborate sort. This is true even when the gathering is very large. Thirty or forty men were the most I ever observed at a baraza, with five to eight being more usual, but whatever its size, greetings occupy a good deal of the group's time. The tone of barazas I attended, whatever their particular content might be, was decorous, dignified, and restrained. The participants were invariably good humored and agreeable in their relations with one another, but reserve is the most notable trait.
Women's gatherings are less formal and structured than men's are. Unlike men's gatherings, which almost always involve the same men meeting at the same place, at the same hour, and lasting the same period of time, women come together whenever and wherever it is convenient and desirable. A woman may pop over to a neighbor's house to borrow a cup of sugar, and while there the two may chat for a long or a short period depending on how busy the two of them are and how interesting their conversation becomes. Other women, if they are free and so inclined, may join the conversation and a casual group of four or five women might thus assemble. The same group of women could come together again within a short period of time, or no more than two of them might talk together again for weeks. Like the men, the women's groupings each draws on a limited roster of participants, but unlike the men's, the women's gatherings are spontaneous, casual, and irregular.
Another difference between men's and women's gatherings is that in the latter, I am told, there is little or no reluctance to discuss particular people
and events concerning them. Tales of who is doing what and with or to whom are as common among the women's groups as they are rare among the men's. Also unlike the men's groups, among the women interaction rather often includes heated statements, arguments, and personal remarks including compliments and insults. Women share their joys, sorrows, and angers with one another rather freely; men hardly do so at all.