Dissertation Abstracts

Proverbs and Patriarchy: Analysis of Linguistic Sexism and Gender Relations among the Pashtuns of Pakistan

Author: Sanauddin, Noor , noor.sanauddin@upesh.edu.pk
Department: Department of Sociology
University: University of Glasgow, United Kingdom
Supervisor: Dr Francesca Scrinzi, Dr Jennifer Smith, Dr Roona Simpson
Year of completion: 2015
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: Proverbs , Patriarchy , Language , Pakistan
Areas of Research: Language and Society , Women in Society


This study analyses the ways in which gender relations are expressed and articulated through the use of folk proverbs amongst Pashto-speaking people of Pakistan. Previous work on Pashto proverbs have romanticised proverbs as a cultural asset and a source of Pashtun pride and ethnic identity, and most studies have aimed to promote or preserve folk proverbs. However, there is little recognition in previous literature of the sexist and gendered role of proverbs in Pashtun society. This study argues that Pashto proverbs encode and promote a patriarchal view and sexist ideology, demonstrating this with the help of proverbs as text as well as proverbs performance in context by Pashto speakers. The analysis is based on more than 500 proverbs relating to gender, collected from both published sources and through ethnographic fieldwork in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan. Qualitative data was collected through 40 interviews conducted with Pashto-speaking men and women of various ages and class/educational backgrounds, along with informal discussions with local people and the personal observations of the researcher. The study is informed by a combination of theoretical approaches including folkloristics, feminist sociology and sociolinguistics. While establishing that patriarchal structures and values are transmitted through proverbs, the study also reveals that proverbs’ meanings and messages are context-bound and women may, therefore, use proverbs in order to discuss, contest and (sometimes) undermine gender ideologies. More specifically, it is argued that: (1) Proverbs as ‘wisdom texts’ represent the viewpoint of those having the authority to define proper and improper behaviour, and as such, rather than objective reality represent a partial and partisan reality which, in the context of the present research, is sexist and misogynist. (2) While proverbs as ‘texts’ seem to present a more fixed view of reality, proverbs as ‘performance in context’ suggest that different speakers may use proverbs for different strategic purposes, such as to establish and negotiate ethnic and gendered identities and power which varies on the basis of gender, age, ethnicity, and class of the interlocutors. The thesis concludes that, rather than considering folk proverbs as ‘factual’ and ‘valuable’ sources of cultural expression, scholars should pay more attention to their ‘performatory’, ‘derogatory’ and ‘declaratory’ aspects as these often relegate women (and ‘other’, weaker groups) to a lesser position in society.