The world imagined in proverbs is changing rapidly in some respects, and slowly but surely in other respects, thanks to the increasingly accepted integration of male and female roles and domains. Proverbs serve as a simple and effective instrument in critical debates about tradition and change.
Local ideas about gender reflected in proverbs and other traditional thought patterns are often wrongly and confusingly presented as part of ‘our’ religion, even though originally and officially they have nothing to do with the religion concerned.
A cross-cultural discussion of oral traditions about gender contributes to a greater awareness of legacies we either still accept as ‘natural’ or, on the contrary, believe we have left far behind us. To some extent such legacies are indeed disappearing and partly they have disappeared, but there is quite some baggage we still carry along. An easily accessible genre as the proverb convincingly reveals the gendered burdens we continue to share across cultures.
Reading and quoting each other’s proverbs from around the world reveals to what extent gender patterns from the past have been so utterly internalised that we find some of those patterns self-evident, even today. If humanity is a family which has hardly bothered to meet, we urgently need to learn how to communicate cross-culturally, as men and women today. And in order to define where we want to go, and where we do not want to go as a global family, we first of all need to know where we come from.