Tag Archives: misogyny

A Broom and Salt as Housewarming Presents

Main piece: If you move into a new house, you have to take a broom and salt. The salt is so that there’s no tears or unhappiness in the house, and the broom is because you need a clean broom for your new house. My mother-in-law bought me a broom, and she said you don’t want to bring some old dirty broom into your house, and bring the dirt from the old house into the new house. You should have a new broom. 

Background: My informant is a fifty-three year old Jewish woman from Los Angeles, California. Her mother-in-law is a seventy-nine year old Jewish woman from Baltimore, Maryland. She describes herself as a follower of “bubbe-meises” (Yiddish), translated to “grandmother’s fables”, or a more serious version of old wive’s tales that are often accompanied by superstitions. 

Context: There was a discussion of house-warming parties and traditions. My informant, who never had a house-warming party when she moved into her first house with her husband, offered this tradition. While she and her husband had lived together before they were married, they moved cities and into their first house (previously they had lived in an apartment) a little over a year after their wedding. 

Analysis: Moving into a first home with one’s spouse has historically been a momentous and tense situation. In the past, moving into a first home with one’s new husband marks the first time the woman/bride has left her family’s house, and there is the expectation that she will be the one to clean/provide the upkeep on the home, doing most (if not all) of the cooking and cleaning. In Judaism, salt is historically used as a preservative for food, in cooking as a seasoning, and a way to help disinfect wounds, all jobs that would historically have been associated with the wife. The broom, too, would be used by her to help clean the house, and, especially had this been her first home, she may have shared a broom with her mother doing chores at her family home, but wouldn’t have brought that with her when she got married. Additionally, marriage (especially for brides) creates the opportunity for a clean slate, moving fully from the sphere of the family’s home into an adult life, and she wouldn’t use the broom in her father’s house that she would in her husband’s. Although my informant is the primary provider in her marriage, and she and her husband share household responsibilities, the tradition of a mother-in-law giving the new bride a broom and salt to help take care of her son still remained. Additionally, the mother-in-law in question did take care of the household in her own marriage. My informant, despite the misogynistic historical connotations provided with the gift of a new broom and salt, did not find the gift at all offensive, in fact she informed me that she still uses the broom to this day (twenty or so years after it was first given). Whether this is because there was a gap in the amount of time the gift was given (this was not a bridal present, but rather a house-warming one several months after her marriage), or because she understood that it was a tradition, it is unclear. 

Turkish Wedding Customs: Coffee

P.N. – “When Turkish girls are old enough to make a good Turkish coffee, a joke is made in the family that they are now ready to be married off.”

What happens during a traditional Turkish engagement ceremony?

P.N. – “In the actual engagement ceremony, the groom’s family sits in the living room while the bride’s family stays in the kitchen, making and preparing the food of the day.  The bride is not to sit down with the groom’s family until the end of the ceremony, because the bride is supposed to be all up, being the working woman, and that kind of stuff.”

“But, at the very end, after all the pastries are eaten and the tea is drank, you always end the ceremony with coffee.  So the bride goes in to the kitchen to prepare the coffee, and she has to carry the coffee one by one to each of the family members present, and the most important one she has to hand the coffee to is the groom.  That always happens.  She is carrying the coffee to her future husband, whether or not that is what is desired or anything.”

“If she spills any coffee onto the saucer, it’s gonna be a failed marriage, and they blame her for it.”

“That’s the whole thing; whenever I’m carrying Turkish coffee, (I used to have really shaky hands) I’d always spill it when I was younger, and my mom would always tell me I’d have bad luck.”


 This particular story struck me as odd, because I could tell how conflicted the person was while she was talking.  She, an extremely powerful woman, clearly doesn’t love this custom, as it’s implicit biases against women both in Turkey in general and during the wedding specifically are clear.  



It’s a witch. A witch that sucks blood, almost like a vampiric witch that flies. They kill cattle, they suck the blood from the cattle. People will wake up and find their sheep, or cattle, or goats or whatever dead. And the soucouyas are typically associated with women, typically not men. And they supposedly remove their skin…and when they turn into the soucouya, then they have the power to fly. But they have certain weird traits, almost like their kryptonite. (laughs). Their krypotonite is stuff like salt. You can stop them in their tracks by putting a pile of salt and they have to stop and count the salt. You know, you hear stories, as my mom said she’s seen people flying, some people who got it by practicing some kind of witchcraft. Or obeah. We call in obeah. But people do believe there are people like this. Also, and there was a person, apparently, and I heard this from my cousin, because her sister was actually a nurse, a major nurse at the general hospital in Dominica. And there was a woman who came in, and they said she was a soucouya. She had removed her skin, right? But what happened was somebody hid her skin – you can hide it or you could put something on it so they can’t get back in it. So after they finish flying around and they try to go back in their skin, either it’s hidden or it’s made unsuitable for them to put on. It’s what they put on it. I’m not sure if it’s salt or pepper or what. And she couldn’t get back in her skin. And they die if they can’t get back in their skin. So she ended up in the hospital, just dying and I think she died in the hospital. So that was a documented case. Now again, I’m taking this from my cousin, and she wouldn’t have a reason to lie, and neither would her sister, but who knows, maybe the women was a burn victim or something, but they said all of her skin was gone, which is a very unusual burn type case, you know? Not like a burn case which is typically where part of your body has some skin off, but your entire body had the skin removed? How is that possible? So it seems like that is a credible documentation on someone who had their skin completely removed which does support the soucouya concept. So sometimes I’m like, well I don’t know, I’ve never seen one, but I can’t say they don’t exist, partly because of people who say that they do exist.


My mother has told me about this legend several times. The soucouya, as my mother calls it, is also known as a soucouyant, soucriant, soukonian, a true Loogaroo, and Ole-Higue in different parts of the Caribbean and in some cases, the south of the United States. I’ve heard variations on the tale where the soucouya is always an old woman who lives on the edge of a village and exchanges blood she collects from people and animals for magic powers with a demon, sometimes the devil. In some tales she specifically sucks blood from babies, an example of the monstrous mother archetype that Warner discussed in Six Myths of Our Time. Clearly, not only is the soucouya an explanation for livestock dying from unknown sickness or perhaps starvation, but it also reflects misogyny in Dominican and other West Indian cultures. An autonomous woman who lives on her own is viewed as stepping outside the gender norms; thus she is a labeled a witch, unnatural, a threat, and in this case, a soucouya.