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Chapter 5 Acquired Identities: Occupations Nothing irritates me more than when men claim they do not wish us to work because they wish to spare us the burden. We do not want condescension, we want respect. —Bahithat al-Badiya, 1909, “A Lecture in the Club of the Umma Party”1 From Plato to the present, occupation has been the most common indicator of stratification. . . . Occupational categories are one of the major factors which differentiate people’s beliefs, values, behavior, and even their emotional expressions. —Lipset and Zeterberg, in Ibrahim 1982:388 It has been claimed that in English and other European languages the great majority of terms designating occupation more readily evoke the image of a man than a woman. The following riddle serves to illustrate this point: A man and his son were apprehended in a robbery. The father was shot during the struggle and the son, in handcuffs, was rushed to the police station. As the police pulled the struggling boy into the station, the mayor, who had been called to the scene, looked up and said,‘My God, it’s my son!’. What relation was the mayor to the boy? (quoted in Smith 1985:45 and attributed to Eakins and Eakins 1978) The mayor, of course, was the boy’s mother. This kind of riddle could, as Smith (45–46) suggests, be used as a simple test of the degree to which a particular occupation or activity is more strongly associated with women or men. From our perspective, it serves to illustrate the extent to which occupation as a form of acquired public identity may be sex differentiated. 212 Occupations 213 Such riddles are probably easier to construct in a language like English with little, if any, grammatical gender marking. They would be more difficult, though not impossible, to come by in languages like Arabic simply because of the grammatical gender system that permeates the language. For example, the word for “mayor” in Arabic (  umda) is marked with the feminine ending -a(t) and thus lends itself to such potential male-female ambiguity. But although the ambiguity is linguistically possible, the riddle would get a different response from an Egyptian audience. It would be viewed as a linguistic joke, a witticism perhaps, but not a realistic possibility since no woman has ever occupied the position of  umda, someone who heads villages and towns in rural communities.2 The word is understood to refer only to men and therefore takes masculine grammatical agreement only.3 The language we use to identify people reflects not only their actual achievements, positions they may have occupied, and identities acquired through such achievements but also our perceptions of the likelihood that such a person or group would have achieved or occupied such positions and of the importance we attach to such identification. Because identification by occupation and professional (more so than social) titles is clearly dependent on a person’s having occupied some position in a certain occupation or profession, one is tempted to interpret this form of identification as a reflection of social realities, a demonstration of the relative status reached by women and men within a community. This approach, legitimate as it may be, ignores perceptions (perhaps even biases) the identifier may have in determining the appropriate , most suitable form of identification for the occasion. The identifier may therefore choose to ignore certain aspects of a person’s identity, depending on actual context or perceived appropriateness. Such factors are important in interpreting the data on identification of the deceased by occupation and its implication for the gendered picture of the obituary pages. In this chapter we examine the identification of the deceased by occupation in order to assess the combined effects of Sex and Culture, and later Time, on this variation. But if the analysis of occupation as a form of acquired identity is correct, as we propose it is, it predicts that identification by occupation should follow a pattern of behavior similar to that observed in other types of acquired identities. The second purpose of this chapter then is to pursue this comparative analysis between identification by occupation and by professional and social titles to further test the validity of this proposal. 214 Chapter 5 1. OCCUPATIONS BY SEX AND CULTURE Statistics on identifying the deceased by occupation proved to be signi ficant for each of the three variables Sex, Culture, and Time (table B...


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