The Extended Family

Turkey Table of Contents

Although a majority of households in Turkey are nuclear family units, the larger extended family continues to play an important social role in the lives of most individuals. The extended family always includes all relatives by blood or marriage through an individual's paternal grandfather, or sometimes, great-grandfather. In addition, many individuals, especially those of middle-class and elite social status, consider the parents and siblings of their own mother to be part of the extended family. In general, the extended family functions as an emotional support network during life-cycle events such as birth, marriage, and death, or during major family crises. It often functions as an economic support network by providing loans for exceptional personal expenses, finding employment for new graduates, and caring for indigent members who are elderly or disabled. In urban areas, the extended family--especially fathers and sons or two or more brothers--can serve as a means for the formation of business partnerships. In rural areas, members of an extended family may work together to farm large acreages or raise large herds of sheep.

By expressing approval or disapproval of its members' social behavior, the extended family also functions as an effective mechanism of social control. Every individual is expected to comport himself or herself in ways that do not bring dishonor to the family. There are many types of behavior that might bring shame to a family, but sexual promiscuity, especially among women, is considered the most serious offense. Regardless of class, women are expected to avoid any activity that might raise suspicions about their sexual conduct. Thus, unmarried females are expected to abstain from all sexual activity before marriage, and married women are expected to remain faithful to their husbands. Female adultery carries heavy social sanctions; among the lower classes in cities and in villages, it still is socially--albeit not legally--acceptable for a betrayed husband to redeem his family's honor by killing his adulterous wife.

The unequal burden placed upon women to uphold family honor highlights the ambiguous role of women in society. Official state ideology extols the equality of men and women. Intellectually, men tend to accept women as equals, and elite women have been able to achieve high positions in professional careers since the 1960s. Since the mid-1980s, women also have been active in politics; one, Tansu Çiller, became prime minister in 1993. Nevertheless, men traditionally view women as emotionally and physically inferior and thus in need of male protection, which in practice means male control. Both men and women traditionally have judged a woman's social status not on the basis of her personal accomplishments but by the number of sons she has borne. Thus, women--like their husbands--customarily have prized boys over girls. Mothers have tended to socialize their sons and daughters differently, rearing boys to be assertive and girls to be obedient and passive. The relationship between a mother and a son tends to be warm and intimate throughout life.

The traditional status of women continues to be established during the early years of marriage for most lower-middle-class and lower-class women. Within the extended family, a new bride tends to be under the critical surveillance of her husband's relatives, especially his mother. Whether the new couple lives in a separate household--this often is a requirement of the bride-price--or resides temporarily in the home of the groom's parents, the bride is isolated from her own family and friends and is expected to learn from her mother-in-law how to care for her husband. Her situation is recognized in the language: the expression gelinlik etmek , used to refer to the status of a new bride, means to be "on call." Although a bride may establish a close personal relationship with her mother-in-law, especially if the latter is also her aunt, friction and tension are more common. In such cases, the mother-in-law expects her son to side with her against his wife. A new bride only gains status and security within a traditional extended family after she has produced a son.

The status of a wife changes as she matures because within all extended families, whether traditional or modern, considerable respect is accorded to age. Younger family members are expected to show respect toward their elders regardless of their gender. Respect has many dimensions, but usually it means not speaking in the presence of one's elders unless requested, and refraining in their presence from arguing, smoking, or behaving in a casual way. Thus, a woman whose children are nearly grown is accorded respect and does not expect to be harassed by her mother-in-law. The authority of a mature wife and her opinions in family matters are important. If she also has employment outside the home, her influence increases. The migration of husbands to cities or foreign countries in search of work also changes the role of married women within families. Left at home to rear the children on remittances sent by her spouse, the wife often is forced to assume many of the daily decision-making roles previously filled by her husband. In addition, since the late 1960s, thousands of migrant workers have sent for their wives and children to join them in the foreign countries where they are employed. These prolonged residences abroad have tended to alter traditional extended-family relationships.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress