Women's History
Book Reviews


Never Marry a Woman with Big Feet
Women in Proverbs from Around the World
Mineke Shipper, Yale University Press, ©2003.

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Shipper has spent 15 years collecting and cataloging these more than 15,000 sayings. Mostly they are negatively prescriptive, but some value women. Used as a basic resource, the book provides a concise and useful way to bring attention to the universality of gendered beliefs. And, where possible, to provide information that discounts or challenges them by exploring the reality on which they are based. One enlightening exercise is to read them substituting the word “man” for “woman!”

Shipper begins by carefully describing the impact of proverbs, showing how those about women can throw a “light upon the worldwide existing gender division of roles in life,” and that “proverbial messages are an excellent yardstick for finding out to what extent, individually and socially, we continue to swallow those stubborn ideas, or have come to look differently at the world than our ancestors did.“ Her chapters group the proverbs based on the following subjects (with sub topics within them). 1) Creation and Procreation. 2) The Female Body: “From Head to Foot.” “Beauty and Beautifying.” 3) The Phases of Life; “Girls, Daughters" "Brides. Wives, Co-Wives.” “Widows. Mothers and Mothers-in-Law.” “Old Age.” “Death.” 4) Basics of Life: “Love.” “Sex” “Fertility, Pregnancy, Childbirth.” 5) Female Power: “Verbal Talent.” “Work.” “Knowledge.” “Witchcraft and Other Occult Forces.” “Countermeasures.” “Violence.” 5) Messages of Images. “Women as Objects.” "Gendered Places and Spaces.”

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