Study Guide

A Border Passage Gender

By Leila Ahmed

Gender

Ahmed often meditates on the difference in perspective between men and women. As a woman who has lived in gender-segregated societies, she believes that there's a "gulf" between men and women in how they view the world around them.

For the women of her family, men are like "meteors cutting a trail across [their] sky, causing havoc possibly..." It's precisely because they're living separate, different lives that such a distance exists, that such damage can be done to women because of it.

But gender differences don't always determine allegiance or predict prejudice. Ahmed identifies with her father and feels sheer hostility toward her mother and everything she stands for—at least for a while. While she expects men to oppose her efforts in Abu Dhabi (and some do), she finds that many want change for the women in their lives.

Yet even her feminist colleagues in America don't seem to understand or support issues that are important to women of color or faith. It's a complicated exchange, with gaps in understanding pretty much everywhere she goes.

Questions About Gender

  1. In what ways does Ahmed think men and women differ? Think in terms of philosophy and views of life.
  2. Why does Ahmed prefer her father to her mother? Is this a preference that she maintains later in life?
  3. How are women perceived (their roles, how they are valued, etc.) at Ain Shams and Zatoun? How is Ahmed's family's perception of women different from that of Egyptian culture in general?
  4. What kind of "work" do the women of Zatoun do, according to Ahmed? How does it stack up to the "work" done by the women at Girton College? What does Ahmed think about judging the work of women?

Chew on This

Ahmed comes to believe that the diverse experiences of men and women and the different spaces they occupy lead to divergent ways of seeing the world.

Ahmed learns that gender alone doesn't determine solidarity; true sympathy happens when a person's experience and point of view are valued.