Autonomy and Dependence in the Family: Turkey and Sweden in Critical Perspective

By Rita Liljeström; Elisabeth Özdalga | Go to book overview

Contrasting Modernities

ELISABETH ÖZDALGA

Many years ago, when I was still a newcomer to Turkey, a woman from the Anatolian countryside who was working as a cleaner in a bank in Ankara told me the following story about her daughter's marriage:

The daughter was about twelve years old when her parents divorced. Her mother moved to Ankara and started to work as a maidservant, while the girl stayed in the village with her father and other relatives. The girl got engaged to a boy from the same village when she was 17 years old. This boy was a couple of years older than the girl. Unfortunately, he died in a road accident shortly before the wedding.

As the woman was narrating her story, she showed me a photograph of a fully grown, rather strongly built young woman in a white bridal dress. At her side was a boy who was between ten and twelve years old. He wore a black wedding suit. I did not understand the meaning of the photograph.

She explained that in the face of the catastrophe of the fiancés death, there was no alternative but to let the girl marry the dead fiancés young brother. That picture of the young, but fully grown bride with the boyish bridegroom, who could have been her younger brother rather than her husband, has engraved itself on my memory.

My first reaction was that this ill-matched pairing was the expression of some exotic cultural pattern, something that should not concern me directly. It was, however, impossible for me to take a neutral position on what I had seen, as it did upset my own moral feelings and sense of justice. Later on, I came to realize that this remarkable marriage arrangement was a manifestation of the fact that the girl was, first and foremost, not married to the boy but to his family.

The practice of matching couples for the good of the family stood out in sharp contrast to how people in my native Sweden formed relationships. I knew from my own experience when I was a student at the end of the 1960s that nobody seemed much concerned about the family or problems related to family life. Of course, most of us were eager to find a partner, but the idea of finding an ideal partner was not related to setting up a future family. What people like myself had in mind was Love, perceived as a wholly spontaneous and almost sacred feeling. A long tradition of literary works and private stories had taught us that the most important factor in getting married was emotional involvement. In addition to this, women of my generation were preparing for independent professional careers, which meant that in contrast to our mothers and grandmothers we did not have to worry about making a good match. As a result, practical concerns about a future living did not have to distract us in our quest for the Select. In this romantic view, practical household concerns were not only ignored, but even seen as offensive to the sacredness of our feelings. The idea of the loving couple overshadowed that

Elisabeth Özdalga

-3-

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