Female Virginity Tests in Muslim Turkey, a Varied Perspective

In the mostly Muslim culture of Turkey, it’s a social norm for females to remain virgins until marriage. Female virginity is not only highly valued, it’s expected. Virginity is celebrated and is symbolic of the woman’s importance as mother of the home and of how her body belongs only to her husband. This belief is so emphasized in the Turkish culture, that it’s a normal cultural practice to test a female’s virginity, even against her will. This is done for many reasons including, verifying the virginity of a potential bride, certifying that sexual relations did not occur prior to a divorce, suspicion of consensual sexual intercourse, and lack of vaginal bleeding after first marital intercourse. Unmarried females found not to be virgins experience great shame and legal discrimination. Proof of un-chastity is a valid reason for the permanent expulsion of females from the formal educational system. A female that is found to not be a virgin is labeled unfit to marry by most of the society. The shame is so great that there have been many reports of girls committing suicide before such a test.

There are two different ways an individual or group can analyze and form a viewpoint on a specific cultural practice: cultural relativism, ethnocentrism. A cultural relative viewpoint would involve looking at this particular practice from the perspective of the culture within which it goes on. This is to include the culture’s ideology. By using this as a reference, the observer would attempt to understand the practice from within the practicing culture’s belief system. All bias from the observer’s personal experiences and views on the world are theoretically supposed to be omitted and the practice should only be examined from within the particular culture’s values. A cultural ethnocentric viewpoint would involve using the observer’s own culture or another particular culture’s values and accepted norms as the reference point from which to judge or compare a different culture’s practices and customs to.

A culturally relative view of female virginity testing involves understanding the importance of the family and the gender views of Turkish Muslim culture. Family is of extreme importance and patriarchal. Men head the household and women are suppose to contribute to a strong family. Women’s bodies are believed to belong to their husbands and should be “used” only to give pleasure to her husband. This is illustrated in the covering dress designed to be un sexual. Using this perspective as a basis to determine a viewpoint, the practice of female virginity testing seems relatively natural. If a women’s body was to belong to me and it was socially important that she only give me pleasure, it would seem logical that I would want to ensure that she was a virgin before I married her, in order to have a strong “faith” in my family and a sense of pride in my wife. Using this culturally relative viewpoint, virginity tests would be an acceptable practice and symbolic to the importance and value placed on women as mothers and guardians of a man’s family.

An ethnocentric view of this same practice, using the current United States culture as a reference point, would conclude that female virginity testing is a horrible unjust practice that denies the female control of her own sexuality. Virginity is downplayed in the U.S., so requiring a test for virginity and then making important social judgments based on the results, like if to marry, seems archaic and discriminatory. It’s unnecessary and unfair to women, as only their virginity is on “trial” (men aren’t tested). In addition it’s also a violation of privacy as every human beings has the right to privacy concerning his/her own body. Being forced into a test of your personal fidelity is degrading and embarrassing. This practice is wrong and should be stopped.

My personal position is much closer to the ethnocentric viewpoint. It’s hard to distance myself from the western ideas of human equality and personal privacy. There culture seems so sexually repressed to me. The idea that only female virginity is of the utmost importance seems unfair and illogical. Having your personally life tested and put on display is very demeaning and could be embarrassing. There are numerous reports of females committing suicide before forced virginity tests. That thought provokes an emotional response of anger and repulsion when I think about it. My opinion is definitely slanted toward the ethnocentric side in this particular case.

When a cultural practice concerns what we now label as “human rights” I believe there has to some sort of universal standard that all human being are held to regardless of culture. Cultural relativism is great in the fact that it enables cultural understand and thus promotes tolerance, but there has to be some line when the cultural practice negatively affects human beings. What if a cultured condoned human sacrifice? Theoretically you could understand this culture’s religious beliefs and through cultural relativism understand how it was an absolutely essential practice because it promoted group unity, which enabled that culture to survive. Even if it made complete sense from a cultural relative perspective, there would still be a human life at steak. I believe there are basic “human rights” that all cultures regardless of time or place should be required to follow. Cultural relativism is great, but at some point there must a limit to ensure the prevention of human suffering and atrocities.

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