5. Compliance and Resistance

Whatever the social or psychological returns, involvement in such practices and performance styles inevitably supported stereotypical views about the superstitious and emotional nature women. It was on these very grounds, of course, that women were not trusted to engage with the wider world and were discouraged from doing so (12). In this way the process of stereotyping came full circle and appeared completely naturalized, for women almost as much as for men. On any Friday afternoon (except during the month of Ramadan, when many temporal routines were disrupted, if not inverted), whilst men prayed in the mosque and listened to the learned interpretations of Islam's sacred texts, women chanted together, danced and let out impassioned cries to the open sky. In Foucault's (1980) terms, these women had fully adopted the 'subject-position' created for them by local gender discourses and actively perpetuated these through such rituals.

Nevertheless, it was difficult to listen to this music without regarding it as a loud broadcast of complaint to the rest of the neighbourhood, and therefore a subtle act of resistance. Like the yu-yu accompanying those moments of the ritual when the audience seemed to empathise as a body with the dancer's feelings, the sound of such gatherings could be clearly heard throughout the quarter, although no single voice could be identifiable by listeners.

Accordingly, the Aissawa communicated in at least two ways simultaneously. To the women present the event allowed a visual reading of the psychological and emotional well-being of their neighbourhood, gathering a larger community than they were usually free to create and providing mutual support within it. To this extent the event served to express 'hidden' or 'muted' sentiments, similar to those described by Abu Lughod (1986) amongst Bedouin women. At the same time, through this communal act, the Aissawa sent a loud signal to the community at large that they existed at all and had heartfelt grievances. Unlike comparable cases amongst the Zar of Ethiopia (discussed by I. M. Lewis in 1996), these ecstatic rituals brought little obvious political pressure to bear upon the male population which could be converted into material benefits.

However, another aspect of gender stereotypes, held, or implied, by many men I knew in Oujda, was that women themselves had close affinities with djinn and nature spirits. This view was partly used to explain women’s 'natural differences' and their religious association with cults like the Aissawa. It had also been suggested to me that, like djinn, men should be wary of too close a proximity with women, that their influence might be spiritually corrupting; that they could cause men to be over-emotional, or 'lose their reason' (that is, to be, more like the female stereotype themselves). Such depictions quite literally, 'demonised' women, further distancing them from the eminently cultural and rational masculine pole of this opposition. By identifying with this model, however, and making the most of this fearful reputation, women were perhaps, in some circumstances, able to intimidate the male community to some extent (13).  

At the climax of the event, performers and audience merge
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