It is amusing enough to find Abu Taleb reckoning liberty, and the confidence of the men in the virtue of the sex, among the advantages of the condition of Asiatic women. In Europe, he observes, a woman may indeed go about where she pleases, and converse with strangers, but yet she never stirs a step without being accompanied: whereas, in the East she might absent herself several days, and pass them with her relatives or friends, even without the permission of her husband.
In case of divorce, the laws of most European countries deprive a mother of the children whose education has occupied the best part of her life. In Asia, she retains the girls; the law allowing the father to take the male children only.
Lastly, the woman who is ill-treated by her husband can quit his house to seek an asylum with her father or some other relation: and she absents herself, till due reparation is made for the affront offered to her feelings.
Such, according to Abu Taleb, are the advantages as enjoyed by females in the East. Without pretending to examine whether they are real or chimerical, we shall confine ourselves to a few remarks on one point, that is, liberty.
For Asiatic women, there is really and truly no such thing as liberty. The very circumstance of their being allowed to leave their homes for several days, seems to be a fresh proof of the jealousy of man rather than of his confidence in their virtue. A Mahometan, who tolerates the absence of his wives, well knows, that in quitting his harem they have merely changed their prison, and that in their temporary abode they will be not less carefully watched and secluded from the society of men than in his own house: his security therefore springs from his confidence in the jealousy of another.
It may admit of a question, whether the privation of this liberty be so great a hardship as we suppose. Most probably it is not. We judge in general of things by comparing them with our own customs, manners, and opinions; and hence the erroneous notions and ideas that we form. Pleasure and pain depend much on habit; what pleases in one country, disgusts in another. We are unable to conceive a more wretched condition than that of a woman whose life is passed in a harem; but this woman, who from disposition and habit is fond of repose, who has never known the pleasure of attracting the attention of the other sex, and eclipsing her own in personal charms, and in splendour and elegance of dress, cannot imagine that in other countries a female would compromise her honour, her dignity, and her modesty, by exposing her face unveiled to the public eye, and mingling among crowds of pedestrians. Of course, she does not complain of being deprived of a liberty adverse to