Reading Anwar Accawi’s The Telephone, I wondered if someone without my emphatic loyalty to feminism would trace the patterns of gender inequity throughout the essay. Or, more likely, would these patterns be overshadowed, undermined, and forgotten? The Telephone descends into rural Lebanon’s technological breakthrough—or perhaps more appropriately, subjugation—in the mid-twentieth century. Yet Accawi reveals more about his former culture in the village of Magdaluna than the pitfalls of technology alone, exposing great differences between the lives of village men and village women. These differences stand out more to me than do all other aspects of Magdaluna’s cultural climate.
Accawi recalls that native women “wrung their hands and complained to one another about their men’s unfaithfulness, but secretly they were relieved, because [the mistress] took some of the pressure off them and kept the men out of their hair while [the village women] attended to their endless chores.” Quite the opposite, the village men are remembered as being “exhausted from having so little to do.” In another example, the author candidly recalls a drought from his childhood and fixates on the oft made journey retrieving spring water. These lengthy excursions were endured exclusively by village mothers, young and old, while fathers stayed behind to nap.
Clearly, this essay is not limited to its main topic, proving itself unafraid to pull the reader into unexpected, somewhat discomforting subtopics. My attention was drawn as much to these gender-fueled differences as it was to the effects of technology on an archaic society. Another passage focuses on the author’s interactions with the village husbands: “…I used to hang around [the mistress]’s courtyard […] waiting for some man to call down from a window and ask me to run to the store for cigarettes or arrack, or to deliver a message to his wife, such as what he wanted for supper.”1 Deliver a message to his wife, such as what he wanted for supper. This is harmless by itself, but when you consider the context in full there seems to be a level of unfairness for the women. Recall that these women primarily tend to chores without assistance from their husbands. Now add that their husbands are making requests for them while in the company of the village mistress and you have the making of spousal imbalance in 21st century United States. Even as I note that this essay dates back several decades in a nation roughly eight time zones away from my own, I still want to protest this domestic arrangement in spite of the normalcy with which the author writes about it. Then again, I think about my own ideals of normalcy and realize it’s as subjective a concept as they come.
Accawi’s childhood notions of normality feature strong examples of gender roles. My objection addresses the vastly different expectations of men and women a la 1950s Magdaluna, Lebanon. However, I look at my own culture’s status quo and feel humbled. The practices and policies embedded in my daily life are hardly less divisive than those showcased in this essay. Some sixty years later and my city isn’t fretting over its first telephone. Instead, we’re mechanically awaiting the newest Smartphones to replace the ones we already have. Our televisions are getting thinner, lighter. Wristband watches are no longer restricted to telling time. Moreover, vehicle manufacturers are getting remarkably close to giving us a real life version of Knight Rider’s artificially intelligent Trans Am. We can rightfully consider ourselves more technologically advanced than almost every other nation, certainly more advanced than Accawi’s native setting. And yet even with such modern progress we continue to see signs of gender inequality in our nation. We watch commercials on our High-Def TVs that feature Hannah Davis selling DirecTV in a bikini. Meanwhile, Matthew McConaughey looks well-refined endorsing the 2015 Lincoln MKC in business attire. Perhaps, dare I say, we may not be as “advanced” as we fancy ourselves.
Accawi, Anwar F. “The Telephone.” The Best American Essays. Ed. Robert Atwan. 7th ed. Boston: Wadsworth, 2014. 40-44. Print.