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the Complete Review
the complete review - self-help / advice / sociology

The Education of Women
and The Vices of Men

Two Qajar Tracts

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To purchase The Education of Women and The Vices of Men

Title: The Education of Women and The Vices of Men
Authors: various
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 1887/95 (Eng. 2010)
Length: 181 pages
Original in: Farsi
Availability: The Education of Women and The Vices of Men - US
The Education of Women and The Vices of Men - UK
The Education of Women and The Vices of Men - Canada
  • Farsi titles: تاديب النسوان and معايب الرجال
  • Translated and with an Introduction by Hasan Javadi and Willem Floor
  • With an essay on 'Women in Persian Satire' by Hasan Javadi
  • Includes numerous illustrations
  • Bibi Khanom Astarabadi's (بیبیخانم استرآبادی) The Vices of Men, though written in 1895, was not published until 1992
  • The Education of Women was previously translated into French, a translation which was then in turn translated into English, in 1927, by E. Powys Mathers

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Our Assessment:

-- : entertaining battle of the sexes, in a fairly well put-together volume

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       This volume presents two late-nineteenth century Qajar tracts about the behavior (expected and actual) of men and women, and specifically husbands and wives towards each other, the one -- The Vices of Men -- written in response to the other, The Education of Women. [Qajar refers to the period when Persia was under Qajar rule, ca. 1794 to 1925.]
       The anonymously published pamphlet The Education of Women made quite an impression when it first appeared in 1886/7 -- it was even quickly translated into French, and then English. It is presented as an instructional guide for women, telling and reminding them about proper behavior and the (super-)deferential attitude towards their husbands expected from them. In its demands that women be completely accommodating and subservient it met with some strong opposition and resistance, though in its setting out so clearly the then still widespread expectations, based on what had become (though was not necessarily original) Islamic tradition, it presumably was also widely hailed. As the translators note, exposure to European ideas was beginning to undermine traditional sex roles in Persia at the time (at least among the well-educated class), and The Education of Women was meant to be a corrective, to get everybody back in line.
       The Education of Women is so hilariously (and, yes, shockingly) over the top that it is hard not to believe there isn't also some satirical intent behind it. Obviously, too, the anonymous author addresses some personal issues as well, as suggested by the inclusion of a whole chapter ("the most important one", too, he insists) in which he takes on sleeping and bedding habits, in which he also makes his case for why husbands and wives should have separate beds -- surely the results of his own annoyance at sharing his bed with a restless sleeper.
       Here he insists, for example:

In bed, she should not roll from one side to the other like a heavy rock, but rather move gracefully like a light bird.
       Foreplay is all well and good -- if that's what the husband wants -- but the wife should have no expectations in this regard: "A good wife should not be after preliminaries." Indeed, the woman should be ready for action at the snap of the husband's fingers, with no fussing about (which might lead to a situation where: "the poor man may have no desire anymore and has perhaps fallen asleep already"). Just to be clear:
whenever the husband, day or night, has an inclination to play and have intercourse, she should be ready, and she should not say "no" because she will regret it.
       The ten lessons in the pamphlet include a chapter titled: 'Do Not Complain', with the helpful advice that:
A wife should never complain about her husband, even if she has a hundred reasons to.
       Much better just to acquiesce and accept that the man can do no wrong (or rather: accept all his wrong-doing) .....
       Indeed, husband-dearest is to be placed so entirely at the center of the wife's world that even religious dutifulness can go by the wayside:
When the wife gets up in the morning, after saying her prayers, she should not prolong reading the Koran and saying prayers, but without delay she should comb her hair, apply eye shadow, sprinkle her hair and face with rose water, and come to the husband with a smiling face like a flaunting pheasant and a shining moon.
       It's a wonder he doesn't expect that she back up into the room, bent over, skirt pulled up, ready to be mounted .....
       The author is obviously a pretty cynical (and, one assumes, repeatedly mightily disappointed in love) guy; he's certainly no romantic:
Love is coincidental and acquired. It comes forth from a little affection and disappears with the slightest dispute. The belief that maintains that love remains until death and that we are steady in love is but a lie. Just ask me, the old, experienced man.
       Of course, going by these expectations he had -- so unrealistic as to be entirely absurd -- the guy (and his wife or wives) never stood a chance.
       It really is hard not to take some (or all) of this as satire -- or as completely delusional wishful thinking, in a rapidly modernizing world where traditional roles were shifting and many didn't like where things appeared to be going.
       Bibi Khanom Astarabadi was a (relatively) modern women, and she responded to The Education of Women -- which placed the entire relationship onus on the woman -- with The Vices of Men, though it was not actually published until 1992 (i.e. never had a chance to reach the audience The Education of Women was directed at).
       As she points out about the author of that pamphlet:
He has put together a nonsensical argument, which has no base and its utter tastelessness has taken a stubborn route and with its biting tongue has decided to cut the roots of women.
       It's rather easy to take apart The Education of Women, and she does so fairly quickly, going through the chapters one by one, devoting a page or two to each, offering a variety of creative criticism, suggesting what some of this misguided advice leads to, and ridiculing pretty much everything the author had to say. She whacks at the text, rather than taking it apart carefully piece by piece, but then most of this is so silly that one can't blame her for not taking it very seriously.
       'The Vices of Men' then offers a variety of scenarios, showing men in their true colors, as she describes a typical 'Drinking Party' or 'Hemp Dust, Bhang, and Opium Party'. Failing in all their duties, and making complete fools of themselves in the process, Bibi Khanom shows that men could use a bit (or rather more ...) of education (or self-control); these are quite entertaining chapters (and suggest Bibi Khanom could have tried her hand at larger-scale fiction).
       This volume also includes 'An Episode of my Life' by Bibi Khanom, which is of more biographical interest (though also revealing about the relationships between husband and wife, and the expectations in such relationships), as well as Hasan Javadi's survey-essay on 'Women in Persian Satire', which offers an interesting overview of the subject.
       An entertaining and quite well-annotated and explained volume, The Education of Women and The Vices of Men is a fascinating document of cultural and sexual history, from the original texts to the period illustrations (including one from the 1927 English edition of The Education of Women, conforming exactly to the misguided European decadent-Orientalist expectations of the time).
       Bizarre, shocking, surprising (certainly in its frankness), and entertaining.

- M.A.Orthofer, 1 March 2011

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© 2011-2021 the complete review

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