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Contents I. Ottoman Women through Western Eyes II. Ottoman Women in the Household Harem III. Ottoman Women as Slaves in the Harem IV. Ottoman Women in the Imperial Harem V. Ottoman Women in Court Records VI. Ottoman Women in the Metaphysical Mirror Introduction Ottoman women have long been a subject of strong controversy. While the Orientalist view has portrayed them as exotic, indolent and depraved, their admirers have described them as noble, refined and chaste. Initially Ottoman women were a subject of disinterested curiosity for me. Having lived in Turkey for close to two decades, I had heard frequent references to the Ottomans and Ottoman society, usually very positive or very negative ones. Some referred to the Ottomans as noble, enlightened exemplars of mankind, while others, particularly the official view, portrayed them as the personification of backwardness and reactionaryism. Ottoman women were described as capable and dignified ladies by some and as submissive and suppressed women entrapped in the harem by others. When I began reading European travelers' accounts regarding Ottoman society, I found the same divergent views. The Orientalist view again depicted the Ottomans as barbaric despots, at worst, and as naive infidels, at best. It was claimed that Muslim women were denied to have souls and that they were merely the chattels of their husbands. On the other hand, these views were later openly disclaimed by such female travelers as Lady Montague, Julia Pardoe and Lucy Garnett, who actually lived in Ottoman lands for significant periods of time. At the other end of the spectrum, they argued that Ottoman women were perhaps the freest in the universe and that the treatment of Turkish women should be an example to all nations. The disparity between these two views became resolved only in the light of court records involving Ottoman women. Western scholars have led the way in the investigation of the legal rights of Ottoman women and the effectiveness of their usage of the courts to protect these rights. Evidence so far overwhelmingly shows that Ottoman women, far from being suppressed and helpless members of society, were legally free agents who could and did frequently use the courts to defend their rights, even against their husbands and other male relatives, if need be. There are examples of women coming to Istanbul from as far away as Egypt to petition the Sultan for redress of injustices when they could not get satisfactory legal results locally. In view of the image of Ottoman women that is reflected in court records, I could no longer remain "disinterested" regarding them. I found in the Ottoman woman a female model that transcends time and place. Physically and in demeanor she was extremely feminine and graceful, like a delicate butterfly. However, in spirit she was a fighter, a staunch and courageous defender of her God-given rights. Both her masculine and feminine natures were highly developed and in balance, which enabled her to act as a powerful pillar in the family and play an extremely important, if not visible, role in the social structure. Her piety and fortitude set a high standard to be met by others. Today, at a time when women worldwide are casting aside an image that has constrained them for centuries and are searching for a new and better identity, the Ottoman woman offers a powerful model of how to be. She had a deep and abiding connection with her Creator, which compelled her to manifest the Merciful's Compassion and Love, at times, and the Almighty's Majesty and Power at other times. Of course, women's social parameters have changed today; however, the principles that molded the Ottoman woman's identity are just as relevant to the 21st century as they were to former times. Publisher's Note .......................
Library of Congress Subject Headings for this publication:
Women -- Turkey -- History.
Women -- Turkey -- Social conditions.