In The Arabian Nights, how are the women portayed?

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Women throughout these selection of tales are shown to occupy a much lower rung on the social ladder than their male counterparts. In fact, we could go as far as to argue that there is a underlying theme of misogyny that runs throughout these tales. There is an assumption that it is both just and legally right to kill a woman, especially if they have engaged in sexual relations outside of their marriage. We can see this portrayal of women through the framing narrative, in which new wife after new wife is killed because of his first wife's adultery.

However, this is also a very obvious theme within the stories themselves. In "The Porter and the Three Ladies of Baghdad," for example, the portress is beaten by her husband because she lets another man kiss her. The portress has to work very hard to regain her husband's favour, but the Jinniyah, who seems to symbolise justice in this story, reflects that the porter was right to behave as he did:

He is not to be blamed for beating her, for he laid a condition on her and swore her by a solemn oath... she was false to her vow and he was minded to put her to death... but contented himself with scourging her.

Women then are shown to be portrayed as completely in the power of men and able to be punished and beaten with impunity. Even though we could see the tales of Scheherazade as a symbol of female power, we need to remind ourselves that she tells her tales out of desperation to save her life.


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