I started this research to create a space for women to share their divorce experiences, and how they reflect on these processes. During the interviews I conducted between 2014 – 2015 with twenty-seven participants across four different regions of Turkey in six provinces; Black Sea, Aegean, Marmara, and Central Anatolia, seven common issues −that deserve further thinking− came to the fore. However, in this piece I will focus on the internal reasonings that lead to a marriage, how the participants decided to get a divorce, how the other party reacted to this decision and how they personally reflect on their divorce experiences.

Introduction to home

Fox (1975) argues that love marriages are common in modern communities within a society, whereas arranged marriages are common in traditional communities. As a matter of fact, a society which expects women to save their virginities until they get married, might find a love marriage dishonorable since it suggests the presence of a pre-marital relationship. However, Hart (2007) asserts that researchers that associate love with modernism, urbanization or westernization and individualism, disregard the fact that love is not a modern, western feeling, but a humane one. Through the anthropological research she has conducted in Turkey, Hart demonstrates that as long as families allow the space for a premarital or post-marital romantic relationship to develop, arranged marriages can include love. Similarly, Özyeğin (2009) illustrates that a modern and educated woman who had premarital sexual experiences, can end up marrying any candidate, at an early age, to overcome the distress caused by losing her virginity. Given the fact that a couple can fall in love in a traditional, arranged marriage and a modern love relationship can lead a woman to get married at an early age, positioning types of marriages according to the modern vs traditional binary can be misleading.

Sirman (2004) defines honor crimes as violations of women’s rights to work, to take a walk and on their own bodies. The ultimate one is the violation of the right to life. Within this definition, we can consider the institution of marriage as a space that serves for the reproduction of the concept of honor through legitimate means. Koğacıoğlu (2004) argues that modern institutions reproduce the traditions in subtle manners, and the concept of honor should not be identified with pre-modern traditions.

The hierarchical mechanism which makes itself present through collaborating with traditions and modern institutions, starts at family homes where marriage decisions are made. As long as marriages are taking place to fulfill an obligation (Delaney 2001) −and for families to witness−, this mechanism will keep on pointing out the importance of decision-making processes. As demonstrated further in the examples below, in most of the narratives the decision to marry seems to be made by the families of the women, and not participants themselves. Focusing on the decision-making processes in the narratives, reveals the different power dynamics present in the participants’ lives. Even though each participant represents an individual case, we can conclude that the fact that all participants go through similar gender and class-based social dynamics, shows that certain common factors are present in marriage processes.

“I loved the guy. And then…  then, you have no other choice but to keep loving him.” This sentence, which made me contemplate women’s active role in decision-making processes related to marriage, belongs to Aydan.  I determined four different categories that focus on women’s active roles in marriage processes and internal reasoning behind their decisions. The first category is forced marriage −which also includes girls who were forced to marry at an early age− and implies cases when women are forced to get married by their families; marriage as an escape strategy is the kind of marriage women lean towards when they want to escape from their family set-up; marriage of convenience includes cases when women resort to marriage as a practical solution to defy their challenging living conditions; and lastly love marriages where women associate their decision to get married with love. I will continue elaborating on these four categories through corresponding narratives.

Forced marriages

In the cases of participants who had forced marriages, the marriage decision was mostly taken by the families, especially by the fathers, and like Aydan, participants did not object to these decisions: “If my father gave me away, then I don’t have the right to say anything, the case is closed.” Most of the participants who were forced to marry were children when they got married. According to the 2011 report of International Strategic Research Organization, all marriages with parties who are women below the age of eighteen were cases in which girls were forced to marry. But in Turkey the approach towards this issue differs according to different types of law. According to the Civil Code married girls below the age of seventeen, according to the Child Protection Law married girls below the age of eighteen, according to the Penal Code married girls below the age of fifteen are considered as girls who were forced to get married (Çakmak 2009). Furthermore, according to the penal code individuals having a sexual encounter with a girl below the age of fifteen shall be sentenced to imprisonment for a period of six months to two years, but only upon complaint (Erdoğan 2014). However, this issue cannot be resolved through laws as long as the culture and social values normalize the cases of young girls who are forced to get married. Also, as asserted by Erdoğan, approaching the subject through a psychological perspective falls short of understanding the underlying sociological, cultural, and religious structures. It would be impossible to argue that none of these girls were subjected to pedophilic behavior, but the issue at hand requires an approach that goes beyond regarding it as a psychological issue. According to the report mentioned above, families who are going through economic challenges resort to solutions that involve their daughters. In such cases, some of the families think of marriage as the only way to save their daughters. Moreover, since in traditional societies men are seen as fit to marry once they completed their education −at least to a certain degree− and military service, the age difference between man and woman is regarded positively. Traditional families consider moving along with their husbands as the best and well-suited position for their daughters and assume that if they get married at an early age, they will be more in sync with their husbands in every step they take for the rest of their lives. Above all, traditional societies consider women of all ages capable of maintaining a household.

Leyla was the one that married youngest among the participants. Since her father was absent, she was forced to marry so that she can save the family honor:

I was living in Malatya, my mom got me engaged to my husband when I was twelve, without my consent… I never wanted to get married, but six months before our wedding I started liking him. Of course, I was a child back then, he was taking me to the movies, my mom was coming with us. I didn’t want to go, so my mom was accompanying me….we got married, he was appointed to Yozgat, since he is a teacher… My mom gave me away to him, because we didn’t have a father, because we were from Malatya, because you never know what will happen in the East, just in case. (Leyla)

I was sixteen when I got married, I became a mom at seventeen. I had my second child at eighteen. My husband was six years older than me.  When I was sixteen, he was twenty-two. He was my aunt’s son. Our families wanted us to get married. My father asked me, and I was always timid when it came to interacting with my father, I  am still timid at this age, especially when he’s about to ask something… I shake like a leaf in front of him. At the time, he said that he was thinking of getting us married, found it suitable, I said I didn’t know what to think, I was engaged that very week. I had a wedding six months later (Nükhet)

Meltem found out at age seventeen that the man who raised her was not her biological father by coincidence, when her biological uncle (father’s brother) wanted her to marry his son. Within a year her stepfather takes her to visit her relatives −who call her Mahinur−, and there they get her engaged even though she didn’t want to:

I confronted the guy, my fiancée and told him this wouldn’t work, I told him that from the start. Take your ring back and let’s break up. I broke up with my fiancée that same night, the night of our visit. Next day he takes me around, since my father passed away so young, they have a certain feeling about me, they know my name…  they come and see me, offer to show me around the village. We were about to go to the village, we stopped by somewhere, a place that looked like a private office, there they introduced me to another relative of mine. My stepfather told me that I owned some land here in previous visits, these people said that’s why they looked for and found me. They said since you broke off the engagement, you don’t want to be with our son, we won’t force you, but you inherited some land here from your father, if one day you decide to sell them… I told them I would donate the land to them. I didn’t care for the land, they said ok, gave me a notebook to sign for the donation, apparently that was our wedding ceremony. (Meltem Mahinur)

I got married when I was seventeen. I ran away from home to get married. When you mention that you ran away to get married, people think that you were in love, but your parents didn’t give permission, this was not the case. It was my mom’s ignorance, fearing my family. Our next-door neighbor had a son, I was reading a book, our place had a garden −half balcony, half garden− I was reading there, he was older than I was, we were exchanging books, my mother was furious, for her if you were reading or going to school, you were the ultimate whore. That is to say, you didn’t have any other option. I was receiving books from a stranger, one day she made a scene. At the time my brothers were in İzmit, they opened a shop there, she said she would call my brothers to come and deal with the situation. My father was more open minded, I told him about it, I said there is a guy, but he’s not my boyfriend, asking if he’d like to meet him. He said yes. Where? At Gençlik Park [Youth Park], but the park had almost eighty entrances, I mean I was a child, I didn’t know any better, and my father didn’t show up.  I thought they must be looking for me, which meant that I couldn’t go back to our place. Then the boys’ father went to look for them and said that our garden door was locked up. I thought that they must definitely be looking for me, and I ran away out of fear. It was ridiculous like that. (Şeyma)

Şeyma’s marriage is a good example demonstrating the secret contract between the institution of marriage and honor. It is obviously no coincidence that marriage was the only way for her to regain her family’s respect and save her honor. Even though Duben (1985) defines marriage as a bride’s inclusion in her husband’s household, the narratives suggest that women were sent to their husbands’ households by their families, from their family homes. In other words, women were not included into a household, rather they were sent away from one.

Marriage as an escape and marriage of convenience

According to participants’ narratives, having shared experiences with their partners was more common among women who got married as an escape strategy or out of convenience, compared to the ones who were forced to marry. Women who married out of convenience were the ones that had the most shared experiences with their partners prior to marriage. However, we can argue that having an active role was a more prominent motif in the narratives of participants who chose to marry as a practical way to escape their family situations. As a matter of fact, these women were looking for the most suitable candidate for their situation and they married them, uniting their lives with theirs. Giddens (1992) asserts that women’s self-discovery is associated with their departure from their family homes, and for most women this rupture happens through marriage. Thus, a lot of women equate moving out of their family homes with establishing new relationships. In a manner that supports this argument, a lot of participants stated that they just wanted to be more liberated or away from their families’ oppression, but they didn’t have the courage to challenge social structures.  Emphasizing that she herself paid for her wedding and furnishings by working, making her own money, Candan said:

[So, here’s what I thought] I didn’t get to be anything, I was working at a regular place and all, then I should be a good housewife, a good wife, a good mom, because I have nothing else left, I didn’t even graduate, I didn’t have any skills …. The day I got married, I signed the papers as a way to note that this marriage was bound to end. I mean, I got married to escape from my family home, I never adored or loved him, he wasn’t one to die for…  At first my friends said “Candan, don’t you get married, Candan beware, no,” I had friends at the store who got married and divorced, they said Candan please don’t, you’re not one to marry, you’re not one to sustain a marriage, you’re doing this to escape, you should move out and get a place of your own instead, but I wasn’t brave enough to move out. (Candan)

Like Candan, Menekşe got married to escape a family situation that was making her uncomfortable:

So you know we’re Georgian, and Georgians have a rule, not a rule, but I can’t find the exact term, so once upon a time, when our ancestors arrived here during the war, they found solace in each other, really bonded, so Georgians are conservative, devoted, loyal, and this effects things in domestic life, for example we always have a lot of visitors … Not all our relatives were here, only a few of them were here, others who had to go to the hospital would stop by, stay over. I grew up in a crowded family.  Of course, I enjoyed it as a child, but as you grow up, they expect you to clean up, host guests as a girl… Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate visitors, but it’s crazy, when I tell my friends about it, they say wow, is your household still like that. Sure, one can feel overwhelmed even from the outside. Perhaps this is why I didn’t lean towards any suitors from here, because I always thought if I married someone from here, my household would be like my mother’s, grandmother’s. So they would also come by my place, I wouldn’t be peaceful …  In order to run away from that household, perhaps I couldn’t foresee things and made the wrong decision by marrying him. (Menekşe)

Just like Candan and Menekşe, five other women stated that they got married to escape their family situations and looked for the candidate that would be most suitable for their needs at the time. Some of them decided to get married despite their families’ objections.

After the part where I will include women’s experiences during divorce, it will become clearer that at least for some women marriage functions as a means or a transition period to move towards a more independent life. However, especially participants who got married out of convenience, hovered between being an independent woman and experiencing the challenges brought on by this independence. Obviously, women who can flirt are not exempt from all other traditional challenges.

For example, Rüya left the country for a few years since she was politically active as a young woman during the 12 September coup d’etat process. During her years abroad, she had a relationship that lasted six months. After deciding to move back to Turkey, she broke up with him and started working at a union. There she met her now ex-husband and then prospective husband, who just got out of prison six months ago, and she decided to get married to him:

So, I mainly decided to get married because there were a lot of men around hitting on me, you know what I mean I was frequently harassed, a lot, you must know all this since you work by yourself in Turkey. Especially in a work environment like a union, I call them union bosses, it’s unbelievable, they’re no longer working class, they are paid professional union managers. I suffered a lot. I mean, I suffered from loneliness, and to be honest there weren’t many men around me to whom I could trust, count on, who are honest and wouldn’t abide by the social norms, at least this was the case in my environment. Thus, shortly after meeting Cem I felt like I could trust him, and I also wanted to have a child, I was 28 by then, I really loved children. (Rüya)

Among the participants three women stated that they married out of convenience, and all three of them were educated, working, already trying to make it their own when they got married.

Love marriages

It could be said that women who affirm that they got married out of love are also repressed, but not to the extent that women in forced marriages are. In the participants’ narratives about their love experiences, men were approaching women as objects of love to tackle with just like Firestone (1970) argued. Fromm (1956) writes that care, responsibility, respect and knowledge are elements of love. He defines care as an active engagement with your loved one’s life and development. Responsibility is the skill to meet all spoken and unspoken needs of your loved one. But Fromm also warns us that in the absence of respect, this form of responsibility can easily turn into bullying. According to him, respect is to get to know someone just as they are. One should not expect his/her partner to behave in a way that serves his/her own needs, on the contrary one should wish them to behave in their own terms, to behave as they want, know and believe in. Within this context, love experiences women have in the absence of respect reveal the unequal power dynamics that leave them unguarded.

Just like Hale told in her story, all the other women who stated that they married out of love, were loved and chosen by their ex-husbands at one point.  Hale’s narrative is illuminating in terms of understanding the unequal power dynamics at play within love, and how these are experienced differently by men and women. Hale’s ex-husband saw her on the street and liked her. Then he arranged a date through a mutual friend:

My husband sat across from me, saying I wanna marry you, this was the first thing he said that night. Apparently, he fell in love with me at first sight, it was a lot already. I was twenty-one years old at the time, I had never dated anyone, never had a boyfriend, I’m serious…  But my husband was very handsome, well rounded, he had had many experiences … He fooled around with many women but when he saw me, he knew I was the one. So, obviously I was charmed by how much he liked me, we never dated, because he immediately came over to ask for my father’s permission. (Hale)

You can see in this story that she is feeling proud of being “worthy of marriage”. The other seven participants who confirmed that they married out of love also told me that  −just like Hale− they got married before they could get to know each other, without sharing anything. The common ground between these narratives was the fact that they were all fancied and chosen by their ex-husbands. Furthermore, some of them said that they got married to their ex-husbands because they were either their first boyfriends, first kiss or the most persistent candidate. This attests to the fact that women experience love under oppression, and they are treated as objects of love that need to be convinced rather than subjects determining their own criteria.

For the original in Turkish / Yazının Türkçesi için

Translator: Gülşah Mursaloğlu

Proof-reader: Müge Karahan


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