Continuing the excellent dissection of Cairene family life undertaken by several American-based scholars, Hoodfar focuses on poor women and how they cope with the tribulations of daily life. An anthropologist of Iranian origins teaching at Concordia University, the author spent a decade in Cairo doing research. She has much to show for her efforts. At base, she shows how much of a contract marriage is, and how this explains such patterns as the preference for husbands to be older than wives, the advantages of marrying within the family, a woman's need for parental approval of her husband, and the ridicule men face when they do housework ("men in the kitchen look like women").
Most striking, Hoodfar shows the way in which patterns are changing: how the Western ideal of a love marriage has an unsteady impact ("I married for love, but want my three daughters . . . to marry in the traditional arranged way"); the effect of waiting until later in life to marry; and the huge consequences of women being gainfully employed.
Hoodfar's perceptive study points to family life in Cairo becoming with time less Western, not more. For example, she finds that the immensely detailed marriage contracts now prevailing (which regulate everything from the wife's use of contraception to the number of meals with meat per week a husband can expect) "emerged only in the last few decades." This in turn suggests that, superficial signs of convergence to the contrary, the Middle East in its essence is not Westernizing.