Women's Constructions of Women: On Entering the Front Door

By Vassiliadou, Myria | Journal of International Women's Studies, May 1, 2004 | Go to article overview
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Women's Constructions of Women: On Entering the Front Door


Vassiliadou, Myria, Journal of International Women's Studies


Abstract

Despite the vast volume of scholarly work on Mediterranean and the Near East the region, issues of marginalisation, discrimination, racism, and ethnic-gender groups as well as the implications of these within the context of various wider forces and structures are only lately receiving any attention at all and this paper is part of an effort to explore and expose them. The aim of this paper is to explore this otherwise forgotten area through the example of Cypriot women and their interpretations of internal 'Others' in Cyprus. It is thus an attempt to analyze the discourses and images adopted by women in Cyprus surrounding 'Otherhood'. Ultimately, the paper represents an effort to use ethnographic fieldwork and empirical data in order to explore and raise questions about women's experiences and attitudes in Cyprus, since the androcentric cosmology common to Mediterranean societies has been largely ignored.

Key words: Constructions of Women, Otherhood, Cyprus

Why The Front Door? Introducing the 'Structure'

The Mediterranean and the Near East have traditionally been the focus of much anthropological research and more recently the attention of social scientists, most notably economists, and political scientists. Despite the vast volume of scholarly work on the region, issues of marginalisation, discrimination, racism, and ethnic-gender groups as well as the implications of these within the context of various wider forces and structures are only lately receiving any attention at all. The following analysis is part of an effort to explore and expose them through the example of Cypriot women and their interpretations of internal 'Others' in Cyprus. It provides an analysis of the multiple discourses and images adopted by women in Cyprus surrounding 'Otherness' and raises questions which have been ignored to present day in part due to the 'phallonarcissistic' vision and the androcentric cosmology common to Mediterranean societies (Bourdieu, 2001, p6).

In order to discuss Cypriot women's attitudes, beliefs, and opinions on issues of 'Otherhood', one has to enter their homes, into the so-called 'private' sphere. Entering 'the Front Door', as the title of this chapter states, is an act of particular importance in the case of Cyprus. The 'house', like the patriarchal, capitalist state, is a structure of oppression and domination. It is highly symbolic as the "house is a place of cleanliness and purity as opposed to the street which is dirty ... The street is also a place of sexual impurity ... (and) a euphemism for adultery, as when it is said that a woman deceives her husband 'in the street'." (Dubisch, 1983, p197-8). The concept of cleanliness within the home used to be very dominant in both urban and rural settings, although it is gradually shifting and reconstructing its previous symbolic significance in urban settings (partly due to women's entry into the labor force). A clean woman (kathari yineka, implying a woman who keeps the house clean) and a clean house are important praises which indicate to sexual purity. They are socially implied as mutually constitutive, interdependent symbolic terms, where one cannot exist without the other: a woman who is occupied with cleaning the house, is not occupied with 'other things', her mind is not 'elsewhere' (o nous tis even allou). Rather, her interest lies within the home and the family. Women's commitment to household chores and responsibilities is made explicitly obvious in a high standard of cleanliness and order, "often at the expense of convenience." (Rushton, 1983, p59). A woman who neglects her house chores, in either a rural or an urban community will be, in the best case scenario (2), subject to gossip by both women and men as this demonstrates her lack of commitment to the family and the home. The state of a Cypriot woman's house reflects her sexual morality, so both the woman and the man have a vested interest in the house being kept clean (Dubisch, 1986, p.

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