Nations’ Proverbs Unfair to Eve [Archives:1999/04/Culture]

January 25 1999


By: Habeeb Ibrahim,
Member of International Translators Federation.

Women are not lunar creatures or satanic beings as many in our country consider them. On the contrary, they are men’s partners and mates on this ample earth. It is disturbing to find people attribute human misery and suffering to Eve’s daughters. They put all the blame for our problems on women all the time, forgetting that men could equally be blamed. In fact, human history is full of examples of major calamities which have been the result of men’s mistakes. We cannot overlook the havoc and destruction because of men’s unwise decisions. Millions and millions of people were trodden over by wars and holocausts, because of male decision-makers. However, this is not my point.
The experience of nations is often caught and summaried in their proverbs and sayings. We rely on proverbs to drive a point home, or to re-cap a position, or to support a viewpoint. In other words, we take proverbs as truths which we use to convince others, regardless of their possible inaccuracies or injustice. In short, proverbs have come to stand for proper conduct, and they regulate our attitudes and behavior.
Unfortunately for women, they are at the center of many proverbs. They portray them sometimes as angels, but more often as evil. Even more unfortunately, such proverbial injustice prevails in most languages, confirming that the proverbs and sayings were coined by men and male dominated socities and experiences.
Needless to say there are proverbs which praise and elevate women in all societies, but the majority are negative to women.
The following English proverbs tell the bias:
“Women are the devil’s net.”
“Women are necessary evils.”
“Many women and evil are thru degrees.”
“Devil is dead when there is a wife”
“No woman, no cry.”
“An ass would climb a ladder,
if you find wisdom in women.”
“A woman and a cherry are painted for their own harm.”
“Groaning horse and groaning wife.”
“Trust not a woman when she weeps.”
“Women and music should never be dated.”
“Women are as wavering as the wind.”
“Women naturally deceive, weep and spin.”
“A woman is a weather cock.”
“Women are the root of all evil.”
There are many German contributions, like:
“A widow is an easily-ridden low wall.”
“A woman is man’s evil.”
The French ones include the following:
“Woman is like roasted meat;
the more you beat, the softlier it will be.”
“A woman is a must mischief”
But the real bad ones come from the East. Many proverbs from China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam and other societies almost outright demean women. They are given a low esteem and status. Of course, there are many positive proverbs, but I am talking here about the bad ones.
In the Arabic language, women-related proverbs abound, and there are quite a few bad ones. Let me select some really negative ones, as follows:
“A woman is like a scorpion.
She is not smiling when she shows her teeth.”
“A woman is like a snake.””Never abandon your secret with a woman.””A woman is an evil you can’t live without.””Women are deficient in mind and faith.”Really, now! Those are unfair accusations of women.
When Islam came to the bedouin Arabs, a millennium and a half ago, society was visibly anti-women. The religion, through many teachings and re-structuring of the rights and relations between men and women, pushed to soften the negative attitude, if not to fully reverse it. This is clear from many verses in the Quran. It also can be seen from sayings attributed to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Here are examples:
“Remember. I leave with you in this fareswell sermon a heavy duty and responsibility towards women. I enjoin you to treat them fairly.”
“Be kind to women, for they are fragile.”
“The best among you are those who are the best to their women.”
“Heaven is under the feet of mothers.”
“Contentment of parents leads to God’s.”
Eventually, human life is, of couse, impossible, wouthout women. Even the most zealot of men realize that the tender sweethearts are our partners The reason we have a disproportionate share of bad sayings on women is that the human civilization has really been a man’s civilization, for the major part. In other words, men coined most of these proverbs. The question that remains is: “Can we make a conscious effort to correct the imbalance?”