Widow Inheritance – a Patriarchal world

Official photographic portrait of US President...
Official photographic portrait of US President Barack Obama (born 4 August 1961; assumed office 20 January 2009) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Be the change you want to see – a bit more on this sort of theme

Different cultures, differences, trying not to be judgmental, after all what do I know of the whole story? But oh, I am hugely relieved that this weeks elections in USA put Barack Obama back in to try again, for some kind of change, not any old change, change in a direction towards fairness and justice in our dealings with the world. I have been thinking about photos to scatter through this post to make it look more interesting, have not yet found any except this one, and realize I just want to write down some of my ramblings. Read on if you are patient.

How do we change? Or make change happen in one direction, rather than another? There is no such thing as absolute power, and the last four year term would have shown Obama that – even if he had been daft enough to think it in the first place. The role of US president is a big power role, but like any other job is a place where a job has to be done with the material he has got (ie culture, economy, beliefs, internal / external, real world of the moment). Just like lesser beings. Power is not a magic wand. It’s how you use it, to what end, what values do you bring, what are the constraints? who are you using it for? I think Obama does understand that he represents all of the people of USA, and tries to do that job. Part of the story, I might be naive, but it has been painfully obvious that not all politicians understand that they are supposed to represent others, all others, and people seem to vote for them anyway.

Change: Other places. I wrote recently about a charity in Pakistan, Khwendo Kor, which works for the education of women. I have been editing some ‘case studies’ for them. These arrive in my inbox, they have originally been written in Urdu by the local staff, then translated by someone into a sort of English. My job is to turn them into an English Speakers English. I can’t change the sense of what has been said, but I can’t help hearing it, and I often think about the cases:

What does it mean to get married by arrangement? What on earth can it feel like to go willingly to bed with a near-stranger? or, unwillingly? or, what?

What does it mean to be unable to travel, go out of the house, shop, unless accompanied by a suitable family member? or, to go unaccompanied and face dispute for doing so?

What is it like if there are very very few places one feels safe, or, paradoxically, so many rules that within them one is absolutely safe?

How do I maintain a feeling of respect, when what I hear makes me shudder (an alternative to weeping)?

How do I maintain my belief that change is better when it comes from the ground up, when the change I would want is all I can think of, and it seems to be totally clear that my kind of change is unthinkable on this ground I am reading about?… read on… I’ll get somewhere soon… try another tack…

What do I remember of my own early culture where some social mores about ‘what girls do/do not do’ were also strong, but very different? or, what is good/bad behaviour? what is appropriate/inappropriate?

Should I put in a photo of me age 16 drinking a babycham (what’s that?), smoking a cigarette, snogging my then boyfriend, oh, oh, there is no such photo, we didn’t have i-phones or facebook, just memory, I wuz there.

Do you believe one of these was extremely bad behaviour, one was expected and one made me feel very grownup? The question is, they are not in order, which one was which? I know the answer, my generation of the same background might make a good guess, but anyone even 20 years younger??? Maybe trivial, but says something about social change.

I remember something of my friend Eileen’s wisdom words – I paraphrase her – nothing is total, look for the cracks, there will be spaces somewhere, and just get in there, as you are, it may seem very little but who you are and what you feel and think – that makes it different. So I carry on editing or give myself a break and get outside for a walk – which currently happens to be into the teeth of another nor-easter high wind. [and I wonder does Obama think about cracks, and how to get in there with his vision of a change? does anyone?]

One of the best posts this election season has generated is this one about “How a woman who is raped behaves“. In humanity and wisdom Temiranir writes: “there truly is no one right way to react … there are adaptive strategies…and maladaptive strategies…”. Do not judge. Quite. Human. Whatever the circumstances. Each of us is a person.

Back to the reactions to editing – sometimes, I just don’t understand what I have heard, so I have to look something up. Thankyou google and wikipedia, instant sources of information, on all kinds of subjects.

I read this case:

She was forced to marry with the elder brother of Kxxxxm [her recently dead husband]. She accepted the proposal, as their demand was legal and just.

I am used to the ‘forced’ – I know forced marriage is now illegal in Pakistan, even if not all the women yet know it.

I couldn’t understand why she would say: their demand was legal and just… ‘legal’ no, I can see this woman does not know the anti-women practices law recently passed in Pakistan, but ‘just’, where does that come from? Why should she think this?

I discovered there is a practice called “widow inheritance“, in many cultures, not just in North West Pakistan. Someone in the family is entitled to inherit the widow of another family member. At worst, here, she is NOT a person, she is property, which cannot be allowed to leave the family. Wikipedia helpfully tells me the positive sides of this practice, also known as Levirate Marriage.

Levirate marriage [widow inheritance] can, at its most positive, serve as protection for the widow and her children, ensuring that they have a male provider responsible for them. Although this can only be a positive in a society where women are not allowed self-sufficiency and must rely on a man to provide, especially in societies where women are seen as under the authority, dependence, servitude, and/or possession of their husband.

Not a million miles from our own history then… remember going to university to “meet a better class of man”… remember history, in England once upon a time, upon the death of Arthur, Prince of Wales, his widow Catherine of Aragon was married to his younger brother, the future Henry VIII … look where that got her …

Do we still have a patriarchal world?

Change direction this post is rant enough. Here on Block Island, hurricane Sandy has been and gone, but in a less publicised fashion this week we were again subjected to some elemental weather, a north-easter storm, the boats were cancelled on Wednesday and the rain rained and the wind howled. My son phoned and said I’ll come and get you to have dinner with us. Then we can take you home again. We know you can’t go out. Indeed – I could hardly stand out, and got wet in the distance from door to car.

At the house, Wendy is newly elected to the Land Trust, Callum is cooking, Girls are around with playdate friend whose parents have been delayed by the weather. Everyone takes part. Some comment on election candidates (local) – yell from corner – hey children are listening – child “that is so inappropriate” – adult “sorry forget I said that” – – – – pretty normal family life – in comes playdate’s Dad – damp hugs for everyone all round – absolutely no worries about girls, men contact, age (mine or theirs) whatever. This evening, it seems to me that everyone gets the kind of attention they need. And if they do not, they can speak up and be heard. Life is REAL, not full of fantasies about the mystery other sex, the rules are about consideration for others’ feeling, e.g. I am collected and brought home in a car because of the weather,
not because I am without capability or self-sufficiency, I am hugged
because I am a friend, not left un-hugged because I am an older female.

A home – full of people, not property. I remember how many of the attitudes each of these people [young old male female x colour y colour, etc] now enjoy had to be ACQUIRED and wrested from other kinds of cultures. Yes, we will meet with problems, but they won’t be of the helplessness sort brought by patriarchy, or the other prejudiced attitudes which deny, and destroy, person-hood.

I recall some of the ugly stuff still around in an election week, in this desperately unequal society, for which I believe there is no excuse. But still, I also know this election week has brought some good changes.

I do not want a patriarchal society … anywhere …[sadly there is quite a bit of patriarchy/prejudice stuff still around]

I do not want a matriarchal society … anywhere [not that there are that many I have heard of]

I want a people society … everywhere

The only way is to stand up  and be a person wherever I happen to be.

Hence a bit of a rant – without very much power – because this is who I happen to be.

If you got this far, thanks for reading. What do you think? What do we inherit? What will we leave for others to inherit?


6 thoughts on “Widow Inheritance – a Patriarchal world

  1. I like the quote be the change you want to see, Elspeth… it takes away the ‘need’ to have to change everything around us and start from ourselves to hopefully inspire others to want to be like us. Whether anybody would like to be like me is highly doubtful, but I know that I can change myself where the chances of me changing anybody else are slim. Not non-existent, but very slim all the same.
    You have asked some good questions in your post, mostly about two areas I never really get myself involved in (politics and cultural differences) although I do find myself dipping in ever so slightly every now and again.
    To me, everything comes back to the personal belief of what is right and what is wrong. No matter how hard someone tries to change someone else’s way of thinking, that person’s underlying belief is always stronger – until they themselves change their belief. Realisation that change is possible is one of the first steps to bringing in a change.
    Hopefully, people who are living in places where change is needed will begin to realise themselves that they can wait to be ‘saved’ or they can ‘save’ themselves.
    Sorry for the long comment here, Elspeth, and I tried to be as non-specific as possible without stepping on any political or cultural toes, but I just wanted to share my thoughts with you.
    Of course, I’m well aware that I could be completely wrong in how I think as well…
    Hope you’re having a good Friday!


    1. Please don’t apologise for length – it is great to get thoughts in return. I agree that one cannot change another person by stepping in – I do wish all the empire builders of the world would get that – but not getting involved is not an option for me now (though it might have been once). The trick is HOW do you get involved, and indeed WHY – for whose sake, with what end in view, etc? To walk alongside someone and share what seems good is a different thing from saying be like me… I think/hope… Could go on about this for ever Thanks for your reply


    1. I’ll have to tell – it was smoking was grown-up and not at all frowned upon then! Snogging (mild enough) was expected if you had a boyfriend – I never heard you were allowed to say No – leaves the alcohol as the bad behaviour – at least in my family. Pakistan tales are haunting me too – the abuse following or caused by the lack of freedom is desperate. It is not just in Pakistan – did you ever read Khalid Hussein’s “A thousand splendid suns” – his book after The Kite Runner? You do what you can – I hear your work for rare disease which haunts in a different way. xx


    1. I have never been a ‘rescuer’ sort of person, I am basically quite selfish, and know well that the problems in the world are not mine to solve. But sometimes something takes hold, and even if I can’t do much, I find myself doing something. (Like Speccy and the rare disease stuff, and she does a lot there). I DO wish I had a magic wand, but failing that, a computer and a capacity to write something has to do. There is also a sort of gratitude for Clive Bond and Jake and all woven through, I feel right in tune with Macauley sometimes, life is pretty good.


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