USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘women’
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Rajasthani Wedding Games for the Groom

1. The first time the son-in-law comes to his mother-in-law’s house,  the women in her family fill his mouth with sweets, and he can’t refuse.

2. The Son-in-law will also have to pick out his new wife from amongst all the women in her family (and servants). They will all cover their faces with their veils and group together. The new husband must recognize his bride by her hands and figure; if he picks her out, he gets to spend the night at her side. Otherwise, he has to sleep outside under the stars.

Just like for the bride, the marriage period is a liminal period of transition that needs to be eased. Teh groom is now responsible for his wife and is joining a new family.Unlike the bride’s experience though, the groom is not being tested like the bride for his courage, strength, intelligence, etc. This is probably a carry over form the dowry tradition, back in old days (and to this day in villages and conservative communities) the bride’s family would pay the groom’s family to marry their daughter. Thus, the groom’s family would put her to the test to make sure she was “worth the money” so to speak. Now, the dowry system is uncommon, but the practice of testing the new wife remains.


Women Day

My informant told me of a holiday that his family celebrated. The following is a transcript of our interview:


“informant: Every year on March 8th, we celebrate Women Day. Its from Ukraine, where my family is from. Basically men get the important women in their lives (wives, girlfriends, sisters, daughters, etc) flowers. Like valentines day but you just honor women. Our family does more than flowers though; gifts to show our appreciation for women. It is pretty big over in Europe, like if you don’t celebrate it as a man you’re the biggest piece of shit. It is very important over there to celebrate women.”


My informant  reveres the holiday, and says honoring women is important to his family and their culture, claiming they are all brought up as “momma’s boys.”


This holiday empowers a underprivileged group (women do not share equal rights with men in many places). Thus, the outrage towards men who don’t celebrate it aimed towards their insensitivity and disregard for the female gender. This celebrates the female identity, reinforcing women’s identities.


An article on this can be found on wikipedia :’s_Day

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Cure for Menstrual Cramps – Bananas

“My mom always told me to eat bananas when I’m cramping”

My informant told me about this cure when I asked her for advice concerning my own menstrual cramps.  She went further on to explain that when she was a young girl, she noticed that her mother was constantly buying bananas even though her mom hated the taste of bananas.  One day, she finally asked her mom why she kept on buying bananas.  she told my informant that her mother, my informant’s grandmother, had told her that the bananas help to remove cramps.

After hearing about this method from my informant, I actually ate a banana, and to my surprise, the cramping stopped.  At first, I believed that this was possibly the result of the placebo effect since my friend had assured me it would work.  However, after conducting research on the matter, it turns out that bananas contain a high amount of potassium, and potassium has been medically known to reduce muscle cramps.  This case is a great example of folklore medicine finding scientific backing and turning into a form of published media.


Redefining Conception

Yeah, I don’t remember like all the things she talked about but, just the one point I remember was how she redefined the behavior and the egg – conception. Because we’re always taught in school that like – the common knowledge or whatever is that the egg is passively waiting, doing nothing and the sperm like actively compete to enter the egg. I mean, it follows gender stereotypes of women being passive and men being active and men competing to get the girl or whatever, you know. It’s stupid. So she redefined it that by saying that actually the egg opens, which is an action. The egg opens for the sperm it wants to contribute it genes. (laughs) Well, I think that’s pretty cool. And the she used that as like an analogy for our relationships and choice in relationships. It makes it really clear, that story among many, how well-ingrained those beliefs about what women are like and what men are like. It’s so unconscious. Everyone’s just like, ‘oh yeah, well the sperm compete to enter the egg. I mean, everyone knows that.’ People don’t even think about how that’s conforming to gender stereotypes. And also, people think that the idea that sperm are competing to enter the egg – people think of that as biological fact. It’s like accepted as science. Which makes it unequivocal. Whereas actually, it’s an interpretation and it’s a gendered interpretation. She was drawing our attention to that. I learned this at a full moon ritual put on by Mujeres de Maize in Los Angeles.

My informant is pretty explanatory on the significance of this conception story. I found it particularly meaningful because it does challenge what we are typically taught about the most quintessence examples of how biological femaleness and maleness interact. This retelling dismisses the concept of women naturally being submissive or being supposed to act submissive. It’s surprising how concepts like that become so ingrained within us without us even being consciously aware of them, which was why I, and other women as well, found the story so eye-opening and empowering at the same time.

Folk Beliefs

It is bad luck for women to be on a boat.

Women are not allowed on board on commercial fishing boats

The most common superstition is that women are bad luck on commercial fishing boats.  “It is bad luck to have any women on board unless she is a really good cook.” My informant stated that is really the only reason to break the rule. My informant stated that one time a fisherman’s girlfriend was on board for a trip and one of the fisherman sustained a broken ankle; the woman was blamed for this incident. My informant was told about this as the captain brought his wife aboard once, and the boat actually hit the sand, the captain’s wife was soon blamed for this.

My informant stated that this superstition basically spread throughout lineage and cannot really explain the cause of this superstition. He also stated that his boss cannot focus when his wife is onboard, and thus he compares it to bringing your wife to work everyday. This is interestingly only on commercial fishing boats. Another incident where this folklore became prevalent was on the television show, The Deadliest Catch. There was a story about how there was a problem with some of on-site women producers being on the commercial fishing boat.

My analysis of this would be that sailors and fisherman call their boats a “she” or “her,” thus the only woman that should be in their life while they are at sea, should be their boat.


Italian women’s hair length

My informant told me about the customs of italian women in relation to their hair length:

“Native women tend to avoid cutting their hair. This is a female concern men do not seem to give a damn. I recalled your great grandmother (Santa’s)  friends, how slowly they got used to American ways and cut their hair. Your grandmother and I used to laugh how they all found an excuse  for shortening their hair usually lamenting that arthritis made it impossible to comb it long. Long hair was part of their system of belief.  And they felt the necessity to find an excuse for their sin.”

My informant told me that his wife kept her hair long, just like her family would have liked back in Italy.

Again, the connection between Italian customs/superstitions and religion shows through in my informant’s use of the word “sin” in relation for women cutting their hair. Even little customs like hair length is tied back to belief.

Folk Beliefs
folk metaphor
Folk speech

“A woman is a cob of maize for any mouth that has its teeth”

The first time my informant head this metaphor was in the first few months of his residency in Congo.  He had just started his missionary work, his reason for moving from the United States, and when he’d be walking from place to place, he would hear groups of men laughing together and they would often recite this folk metaphor.

My informant explained that the women in Congo were not respected, and this metaphor speaks to that sentiment.  He said the proverb means that a woman has no rights, and that any man can claim a woman, for marriage or sex (mostly), as long as they desire to do so.

In areas of Congo, maize is grown by farmers and is common in their diets.  To eat maize, one must simply make use of their teeth.  As accessible maize is to one’s diet, a woman is just as available to satisfy a male’s desires.  It is upon this comparison that the metaphor is established.

As my informant continued his work in Africa, he tried to quell this popular opinion towards women.  However, while he was able to share the benefits of valuing women and giving them rights, only a few actually put these ideas into practice.  Other than these individuals, this folk metaphor remains popular to the majority of males in the country and women continue to be shown little to no esteem.

Annotation: The African proverb can also be found in Ferdinand Oyono’s Houseboy, Heinemann; Reissue edition, 1991