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Bedouin-Arab Families

Interpersonal Dynamics

The father leads the Bedouin family. His roles are to control and punish, to maintain harmony and cohesion among the family members, and to represent his family to the outside world (Ginat 1987). He is expected to be a charismatic figure who commands subordination and respect as the legitimate authority in all family matters (Al-Krenawi 1999).

In contrast, the mother is perceived as the emotional hub of the nuclear family. Her role is to nurture and bring up the children and to take care of her husband. She often wields tremendous emotional power and may serve as a conduit between the children and their more forbidding father, conveying their messages and requests to him. Nonetheless, she has little public power or authority and is expected to defer in most matters to her husband, his parents, and the elders in his hamula (Al-Krenawi 2000). Her status in the family is strongly contingent on her bearing sons, who are viewed as valuable contributors to the family's economic and political strength. Bedouin culture holds the woman responsible for any lack of sons (Al-Krenawi 1998b).

Children are expected to show respect and obedience to their parents and other relatives, who, as in other Arab families, generally play a substantial part in raising them. Boys and girls are socialized separately into their future roles by the parent and relatives of the same gender. Girls are taught from earliest childhood to be submissive to male authority and to conduct themselves with the modesty and restraint required to preserve the family honor. In preparation for their future as wives and mothers, they are enlisted in helping their mothers in the home.

Boys are taught to be strong and brave, not to show weakness, to maneuver effectively within the social system, and to treat visitors with due hospitality. They are also taught their obligations to preserve the family honor, by guarding their sisters and by undertaking blood vengeance when so required (Al-Krenawi and Graham 1999). Although boys are given more responsibility than girls, the rules governing their behavior are more flexible. For example, boys are more readily permitted to socialize with peers outside of the home than are their sisters.

Alongside the stringent rules governing father-child relations, mediating mechanisms provide flexibility. Male relatives or grandmothers, whose age bestows respect and frees them from the constraints on younger women, may intervene in intergenerational disagreements.

Sibling relationships are also governed by the hierarchies of age and gender. Boys are viewed as more valuable to the family than girls and thus have more prestige and power than their sisters. The eldest brother has authority over and responsibility for his younger siblings. He is expected to serve as a role model for them and to assume the role of the father when the father is away. He is also expected to take care of his younger brothers and sisters throughout their lives. The other brothers are similarly expected to protect their sisters throughout their lives.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaMarriage: Cultural AspectsBedouin-Arab Families - Marriage And Divorce, Family Dynamics In Bedouin-arab Society, Interpersonal Dynamics, The Impact Of Societal Change