Never Marry a Woman with Big Feet: Women in Proverbs from Around the World

Mineke Schipper, Author Yale University Press $55 (422p) ISBN 978-0-300-10249-9
The proverb--""the world's smallest literary genre""--is a terse but telling cultural lesson, says literary studies professor Schipper. In this volume, part anthology and part cross-cultural analysis, she unveils the""inherited ideas of 'ideal' and 'deviant' womanhood"" from more than 15,000 proverbs that she has collected over 15 years of world travel. Relying on both oral and written sources in 278 languages, she compares and contrasts global attitudes toward women and discovers a surprising nexus. Where women's bodies, beauty, gender role and image are concerned, the vast majority of world cultures (or the men in them, anyway) think alike. Pick any stereotype about women and one is bound to find a proverb in the book to confirm it, from the talkative nature of women (""A fish doesn't need to learn how to swim, a woman doesn't need to learn how to talk"" - Ladino, Morroco) to the problems of mothers-in-law (""Who counts on his mother-in-law's soup, will go to sleep without dinner"" - Creole, Dominican Republic). The author reminds us that proverbs do not always reflect reality, of course, but instead reveal""ideals, as well as regretted deviations from such ideals, as imagined by those whose interest they defend."" The collection also confirms men and women's complex and interdependent relationship. Cross-culturally, men prefer women's company to loneliness (""Better a bad wife than an empty house"" - Baule) and agree that in sex they must first please their partner for their own reward (""Stroke a cow before you milk her"" - Hausa). This is an entertaining, adroit examination of how far woman has come in man's estimation, and how far she still has to go.
Reviewed on: 04/12/2004
Release date: 04/01/2004
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 350 pages - 978-90-5356-863-7
Ebook - 351 pages - 978-90-485-0550-0
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