Patriarchy Within 1001 Nights

Patriarchal Culture

Patriarchy Within 1001 Nights
(Nielsen "A Thousand and One Nights")

Gender roles have been established through society, mainly marking men as the dominant figure and women as the submissive figures. As time has passed by, insinuations of how women and men should act have become expected behaviors by society, such that if one should oppose society itself would brand that person as an outcast; for example the expected role of a father being the dominant figure in a family - this is often called the Patriarchal Culture. This societal structure has led to society not being able to progress through the years, raising insecurities among men and competition against one another. Through the story, Arabian Nights: The Sultan and His Vow, the characters’ interactions provide insight into the toxic traits that make up a patriarchal culture and the negative concept of masculinity.

The Arabian Nights: The Sultan and His Vow demonstrates that female sexual empowerment leads male characters to question their own power. This drives them to resort to violence towards female characters. In the story when both brothers find out about their wives’ infidelities, both of them seek out violent solutions in order to solve their problems, killing each of their disloyal wives. In his article analyzing gender relations in Arabian Nights, Tarek Shamma quotes Joseph H. Pleck saying, “A measure of one’s manhood is the ability to control his women” (Shamma 242). By this, one can discern that the princes’ violence is their way to prove to themselves, society, and to each other, their worth as leaders and men. In this case, their masculinity, because they feel humiliated in such a position. In other words, their wives’ infidelity has caused them to feel as if they are not good enough themselves to sexually please their wives, making them go look for. It somewhere else. This is especially so for Schahriar because he is Sultan and therefore it is important for him to gain back his masculine ego and prove that he has himself the power of control. In this case, controlling women is what propels him to marry virgin women and then kill them in the morning, for by doing this the sultan believes he cannot have another woman be unfaithful to him. Certainly, as much as it is seen in the story, the patriarchal structure of how worthy a man is based on how well they can tame women is still evident in today’s society just as much, most likely in situations of domestic violence, where many of the cases form because men grasp to take control over a woman’s life.

Throughout the story, the reader can also interpret that women living in a patriarchal culture also, then take part of that culture going along with the stereotypes of a women in such society in the East. This is to say, female characters are sexualized by the male gaze in order to be heard. A common misconception is that Scheherazade uses her intelligence to change the sultan’s behavior, yet if it was not for her beauty and sexuality would not have been able to get through him in the first place. This is a peculiar thing since it is sexually empowered women whom the sultan fears. Author Tarek Shamma discusses in his article Woman and Slaves: Gender Politics in the Arabian Nights, “Like Scheherazade’s herself, women who are faithful are not feared” (Shamma 240), but in order for her to speak out she has to make herself take on the façade of the “other women,” which can only be described as the woman the sultan fears. Scheherazade’s knowledge reveals itself just as another desirable trait for the male gaze. Likewise, author Shamma agrees in his article by mentioning Najmabadi’s discussion on the topic saying, “Scheherazade’s power of speech, her gift of being an unrivalled storyteller…turns out to be yet another patriarchal ruse!” (Shamma 240). In other words, while Scherazade can be considered to be the women not feared by the sultan and his patriarchal manners because she seems to compress her sexual desires and only talk about stories, she nevertheless has to change herself and take on such patriarchal concepts of the feared women in society--the persona of the erotic female. Scherazade does this by expressing sensuality as she tells stories and leaving mid-sentence to leave the sultan wanting to know more .By doing she is able to trick the sultan into letting her in emotionally and allowing her to tell her stories, but what she does not expect is that her knowledge then becomes another feature that the sultan finds attractive. Certainly, one can make out that the sultan does not kill her because she has changed him into a less violent man, nor does the sultan kill her because he is now attracted to her and wants her for himself. This is yet another clear example of the male persona adding another trophy to his ego to seem more powerful because he has not only tamed a beautiful woman, but a beautiful intelligent one as well. This demonstrates his new desire of wanting only this individual girl who was also accomplished. This results in the male character fulfilling his desire of self-worth by obtaining an intelligent woman, thus validating his masculinity to others.

Additionally, the story exemplifies the competitiveness of the patriarchal society. The desire for male characters to prove their masculinity to others and to women is profound.

For instance, the Sultan and his brother are displeased by their wives’ disloyalty, but more than that, they feel ashamed that with all their money and wealth, their wives have decided to go choose slaves. Consequently, in the article Shamma explains, “Men will oppress each other (…) in defense of one’s manhood, which is being attacked by the competition of all other men” (Shamma 242). In other words, while men will compete with one another, the end result will always result in one of them being better than the other, who in this case the “other man” might be considered the slave. This creates an environment that men have to prove themselves to one another, as well as to society. They must show that indeed they are the more masculine one, thus the more powerful male. One can conclude that men have this competitiveness around them to demonstrate who is the more masculine one through wealth, power, and women, hence, driving these male characters to demonstrate who has the absolute power by killing the slaves who were involved in the affair with their wives. It is through this example that the reader can make out such toxic patriarchal trait that if a man feels emasculated, he should then take out the other male in order for him to succeed. For this reason, it is important to realize that even in today’s world men find themselves competing with one another to demonstrate all these attributes of power through wealth and women in order to establish the more masculine persona.

These character interactions demonstrate that patriarchal concepts are established through insecurities of masculinity. It is through these concepts that the men in the story drive themselves to subconsciously create a hostile environment where only one male character can be seen as the height of masculinity. Through the story, the reader can observe that patriarchal culture has been established so greatly in our society that for there to be a change would be impossible incredibly difficult because it has become an established behavior that encompasses what it means to be a man. It is because of this that boys and men will keep encountering these concepts whether it is in society or books such as Arabian Nights: The Sultan and His Vow where they are taught what it means to be masculine and submit to patriarchal culture, resulting in the unalterable concept of what it takes to define a man.


Nielsen, Kay. “Long-Lost Watercolors Of '1001 Nights' Bring New Life To Age-Old Tales.” Long-Lost Watercolors Of '1001 Nights' Bring New Life To Age-Old Tales, Laura Beltran Villamizar/The Picture Show PHOTO STORIES FROM NPR, 22 Oct. 2018,

“The Sultan and his Vow.” The Arabian Nights’ Entertainments, edited by George Fyler

Townsend, Frederick Stokes Company, 1891.

Shamma, Tarek. “Women and Slaves: Gender Politics in the Arabian Nights.” Marvels & Tales,

vol. 31, no. 2, 2017, pp. 239-260

gender roles
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