Judith E. Tucker (review date May 1989)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1253

SOURCE: Tucker, Judith E. “The Voice behind the Veil.” Women's Review of Books 6, no. 8 (May 1989): 16-17.

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[In the following excerpt, Tucker evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of Doing Daily Battle.]

Both of these books [Doing Daily Battle and Women of Marrakech, by Leonora Peets] belong to a new and expanding genre in Middle East women's studies in which women writers seek to capture women's daily lives by giving their interviewees a voice in the telling of their stories. This is insurrectionary literature that contests the “pervasive male discourse,” as Fatima Mernissi terms it, of Moroccan society. In exploring their ideas about love and marriage, work and leisure, the seen and the unseen, both authors make the women of their books come alive, so that we may recognize them as people whose oppression and lack of power neither blur their personalities nor still their tongues. …

Fatima Mernissi brings a radically different background to the task of giving women a voice [in Doing Daily Battle]. A Moroccan, she was born in 1940 into a middle-class home in Fez, “exactly,” she observes, “five-hundred meters from Karaouin University.” She continues, “One could not be better situated to benefit from our heritage and its advantages. Well, I was born there and I was raised by illiterate women who were not only physically confined but intellectually mutilated in the name of honor and a female ideal cherished by the male bourgeoisie …” She managed to make it to the university in Morocco; subsequently she received higher degrees in sociology in France and the United States. Urbane, articulate and well traveled, Mernissi also remembers her roots; much of her writing before this has been inspired with a sense of mission. In earlier books she explored the underpinnings of a gender system that oppresses Moroccan women, examining its Islamic and customary roots. In Doing Daily Battle she seeks to allow women themselves to challenge this system simply by talking about the reality of their lives.

The book is composed of interviews with eleven women. From the start we are strongly conscious of Mernissi herself, who reflects in the introduction on the complexities of the interview process. Her own questions often seemed incomprehensible or irrelevant to the women, so she tried, whenever possible, to let the interview flow where the interviewee chose. She tried, she writes, to give up control and cultivate empathy, an empathy based on her “strong sense of belonging to the world of illiteracy in which I was immersed until the age of twenty.” By and large she has succeeded. The women use a relatively unstructured narrative style to tell their stories: what is lost in clarity or focus is more than made up for by the authenticity of the voice. Mernissi herself is sometimes too present. Her fidelity to her texts as she has transcribed them can make for choppy passages in which she intervenes with a question every sentence. On the other hand, these interventions allow us a sense of the interview process, and, I think, help us identify with an educated and privileged woman's struggles to comprehend her very different sisters.

In part, Mernissi's interviewees discuss, as did Peets', their problems with men and with marriage, a key concern. Most of them are married off to men about whom they at first have little knowledge. Their pain is reminiscent of Peets' accounts. But Mernissi's interviewees conceive of marriage utterly differently from Peets'. They constantly make clear that marriage shouldn't be a mere fate but should measure up to their expectations. They want love and understanding and when they don't get it they aren't afraid to call the marriage a failure and press for divorce. Among these women polygynous marriage is rare, and marital...

(The entire section contains 28485 words.)

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