chapter  7
Who’s the boss?
Pages 26

During the course of fieldwork in Ürümchi, I noticed in shops and supermarkets that some Uyghur wives quickly dismissed their husbands’ choices, or gave shopping bags to their husbands to carry when they left shops, and walked and chatted with their children as if their husbands were not around. To me, these incidents clearly deviated from the Prophetic hadith that “The best woman is she who delights her husband and obeys him when he commands her, and, in his absence, looks after his wealth and dignity”.1 Although I found far more occasions in which Uyghur wives carried stuff and walked behind their husbands, I began to question my stereotype that Muslim husbands held absolute power and wives occupied a subordinate position in the family. Who’s the boss in the Uyghur household? To what extent can religiosity explain the distribution of family power between the husband and the wife? Are family processes related to the allocation of domestic power among Uyghur couples? There is a very large literature on family power in the West. Yet few scholars have examined spousal power in Muslim societies. This is probably because of the stereotypes about dominant and authoritative Muslim husbands and obedient and subservient Muslim wives. This chapter assesses these stereotypes by studying power relations in Uyghur homes. For convenience, the terms family power, domestic power, marital power, spousal power, and power relations are used interchangeably in this chapter.