How are women portrayed in "The Arabian Nights" considering the Gender Study literary criticism school?

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Like many contemporary schools of criticism, Gender Studies assumes that there are no disinterested story tellers. Gender is one lens by which we can see someone shaping the meaning of the story to suit a particular world view. Within such stories are often marginal characters or narrative gaps that allow for contrary or alternative interpretations.

The Arabian Nights is set within a highly masculine society, where women are meant to be absent or subordinate. In many stories this seems to be the case. However, the frame narrative in which Scheherazade tells cliff hanger stories in order to appease her husband offers a double perspective. She is subordinate to him in her outward demeanor, and she remains under his power to kill her, but she is also clever and uses her storytelling to stay alive and even to help reform him from his murderous misogyny. Other stories within the collection also demonstrate a subordinate woman aiding or outwitting a man, thus suggesting that women not only are not lesser than men, but in seeming to be so, they may also be finding ways to rise above men. This can be a destabilizing thought for the reader, male or female, for it changes the gendered power dynamics.

Then, since all the stories are chosen by Scheherazade, we can examine the sequence in terms of the overarching goals she is pursuing in creating a husband she can admire.

Because most of the stories in the collection come from diverse folk traditions, it is common that marginal voices would be used to speak against traditional forms of power. The questions that Gender Studies can ask about this text can be extended to many other types of historically silent or disempowered groups.

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