wives disparaging husbands with female privilege: the case of Humayda

man shitting loose stools

Ḥumayda bint Nu‘mān ibn Bashīr (Humayda), who died in 684 GC, was a daughter of a Companion of the Prophet. Humayda was a woman close to the ideal woman of our time: “She was a poet with tongue, contrariness, and evil, and she would satirise her spouses.” She had at least three husbands. In disparaging her third husband, Humayda sounded common notes of female privilege and viciously applied them to abusing him.

Humayda’s third husband was named Fayd. That name literally means in Arabic “overflowing.” It’s typically understood in the sense of generosity. Fayd’s wife Hamayda declared in Arabic poetry:

Your name is Fayd but you overflow with nothing
Save your excrement between door and dwelling

That’s like calling your husband a piece of shit. At least such abuse doesn’t disparage men for their gender disadvantages. However, Humayda also declared in Arabic poetry:

Fayd does not overflow with gifts for us
Rather he is overflowing with loose stool for us
A scowling ill-tempered lion when he sets on us
Yet in wars he is timid of bosom and menstruating

Men commonly give women material gifts and money in the hope of getting in return sex and love. Women seldom do the same for men. Wars are institutionally structured as men-on-men violence. Ancient Arabic poetry records women assailing men’s masculinity to incite them into violence. Even to this day, about four times more men than women die from violence. Humayda in essence disparaged her husband for not sufficiently supporting her female privilege.

Overturning female privilege starts with breaking the gynocentric conspiracy of silence and speaking obvious truths. Classical Arabic poetry tells of the original understanding of chivalry before it became men-degrading love servitude. The classical Arabic poet Layla l-Akhyaliyya wrote poems poignantly representing men’s social disposition. Nazhun’s muwashshah provides an astonishingly perceptive guide for men seeking sex with women without unequal gift-giving. Studying classical Arabic poetry, and talking and writing about it, can help to overturn female privilege.

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The quote characterizing Humayda is from Abū l-Faraj al-Iṣfahānī’s tenth-century Kitāb al-Aghānī {Book of Songs} 16:38 (ed. Beirut, 2004), from classical Arabic trans. Hammond (2005) p. 257. The poems come from a ninth-century collection of Ibn Tayfūr (Ibn Abī Ṭāhir Ṭayfūr), Balāghāt al-Nisā’ {Eloquence of Women} 97-8, part of Ibn Tayfūr’s Kitab al-Manthur wa al-Manzum {Book of prose and poetry}. On Ibn Tayfūr, Shawkat (2005). The English translations from classical Arabic are those of Hammond (2014) pp. 260-1. Whether Humayda actually wrote these poems, or they are just attributed to her, is uncertain. The poems at least attest to a public perception of Humayda’s character. In the second poem, the word ḥayyāḍ {menstruating} occurs only in Ibn Tayfūr’s version of the poem. Hammond convincingly argues that other redactors mis-corrected the Arabic text. More generally, women’s abuse of men tends to be socially obscured.

[image] Man suffering from diarrhea (non-bloody stool). Image created by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for identifying symptoms of Ebola. Via Wikimedia Commons.


Hammond, Marlé. 2014. “The Foul-Mouthed Faḥla: Obscenity and Amplification in Early Women’s Invective.” Ch. 15 (pp. 254-265) in Talib, Adam, Hammond, Marlé and Schippers, Arie, eds. The Rude, the Bad and the Bawdy: Essays in honour of Professor Geert Jan van Gelder. Warminster: Gibb Memorial Trust.

Toorawa, Shawkat M. 2005. Ibn Abī Ṭāhir Ṭayfūr and Arabic writerly culture: a ninth-century bookman in Baghdad. London: RoutledgeCurzon.

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