This paper examines some variables which may explain differences in the position of women, particularly in Middle Eastern tribal societies. By position of women, I mean women's status and roles vis-à-vis men. I am primarily concerned with differences in the dominant or male models concerning women, and the behaviours associated with them, however at a number of points in the paper, for illumination, I refer to women's models of women—that is, muted or counterpart models which are alternative, and sometimes contradictory, to the men's models (E. Ardener 1972; 1975; S. Ardener 1975: xi–xii). But my main argument is in a different direction: I suggest that certain features of social organization and structure determine these dominant models concerning women. Among the more obvious explanations of this kind would be those in terms of economic factors, such as the types of social production (whether a given social group is predominantly pastoral nomad, settled agricultural, or urban commercial-industrial, etc.) or the sexual division of labour within the group. But in my view certain more subtle factors than these are also of explanatory importance. The problem arises from the study of two particular tribal societies, the Shahsevan of north-western Iran and the Durrani of north-central Afghanistan; the women's position in these two societies differs in three significant spheres, yet the economic factors suggested above cannot explain these differences, for the two societies are economically similar, and women are excluded to a similar degree from control of economic and political resources.