Study Guide

The Red Tent Gender

By Anita Diamant


[…] even the men, for whom the babies held as little fascination as cooking stones, would stoop to run a callused hand across her remarkable cheek. (1.1.15)

Gender roles back in Dinah's time were pretty stereotypical: the men didn't pay much attention to daughters. But Rachel wasn't your typical child. Her beauty even as a child made the men stop and stare.

[…] not even Rachel's youth would excuse a girl speaking out when men were addressing one another. (1.1.21)

Gender roles have a huge impact even on children. For a girl to speak out while men are talking is like throwing your Spaghetti-Os at the wall during a dinner party. Why do you think this society is set up this way?

She was half a head taller than most of the men she had ever seen, and she dismissed them all because of it. (1.1.29)

Leah is a big woman, which places her outside of the norm for what a woman should be and look like. So to counter her unusual state, she decides that she'll dismiss any man who is smaller than her. Sounds reasonable.

Zilpah had little use for men, whom she described as hairy, crude, and half-human. Women needed men to make babies, and to move heavy objects, but otherwise she didn't understand their purpose, much less appreciate their charms. (1.1.36)

Zilpah has a purely objective view of men: they lift things and help make babies. That's it.

"He smelled, you know. Much better than most of the men. But still, the smell of goat and of man was overpowering." (1.2.6)

Yeah, men still smell. But at least they have Old Spice now.

The women rolled around on the mats, holding their sides, laughing about the tender equipment that men carried between their legs. (1.2.88)

See, women joked about men, and men joked about women back then, too. Anyway, why do you think the women find this particular fact so funny?

When they grew to boyhood and left her side, Zilpah sorrowed over the fact that she had no girl to teach. (1.3.52)

The sex of a child was very important for the daughters of Laban. Though many women wished to have sons to appease their husbands, these women all wanted daughters; unfortunately, only one—Dinah—is born into the family. And to put it lightly, things don't exactly go as planned with her.

That was the first time I heard women's voices and men's voices raised in song together, and throughout the journey the boundaries between the men's lives and the women's relaxed. (2.3.21)

The division between men and women is so strong in this world that Dinah is amazed to hear them sing in harmony.

The river was not very wide where we forded it, or "him" as Zilpah would have me say. (2.3.26)

Often, we refer to the sea as if it were a woman, but Zilpah insists on speaking of the river as if it were male. Why do you think she does this? What does the river mean to her?

He did not like to hear his daughter spoken of so crudely, even though he could not quite conjure up the image of Dinah's face. (2.7.87)

Jacob really doesn't care much for Dinah, yet the sheer fact that she's a female causes him to become angry with King Hamor for talking crudely about her. Jacob may respect women—but he still isn't a great father.