Marriageability Test

Teenagers in North America face tests every week. Schools want to know how well the teens have learned their subjects. Teens want to know: do they own the latest electronic gizmos; do they know how to use such items to their advantage; do the teens and their friends have access to the latest fashions; do they and their friends listen to the most popular singer or watch the most Oscar-nominated movie? And how about the in-crowd? Got any friends in that group?

Teenagers in the Ottoman Empire lived in very different times and had a set of concerns and tests to face that no North American young person would ever think about. Each teen had to meet the criteria of their culture for marriage. Yes, that’s right – marriage. Girls were considered marriageable by the age of twelve (1971. Everyday Life in Ottoman Turkey.)

Whether Turk, Armenian, or Kurd, each culture had its own way to measure marriageability. Turning this stone on the beach of history revealed a criteria for Armenian girls with which no North American girls need concern themselves – passing the white glove test.

In the early 1900s, the prospective bride knew to expect a visit from the groom’s mother and perhaps an aunt or sister. The women would inspect the girl’s work in her entire house. “They would raise the cushions on the couch, check under the furniture for dust, and even open the storage cupboards where bedding and kitchen equipment were stored. If they were convinced that the prospective bride was a good housekeeper, then — and only then — did they put a stamp of approval on the marriage” (1977. The Bride’s Escape, p. 99).

In Ottoman Turkey, an Armenian girl had to pass the housekeeping test, but not a cooking exam, to be considered marriageable. Only after she married her groom would she learn how to cook. (Since the young couple would live with his parents for a while, the bride had ample opportunity to learn from her mother-in-law the best way to prepare her husband’s food the way he liked.)

How many young teen girls in modern North America would be able to pass this housekeeping test? At age twelve or thirteen? Probably zero. At age twenty-one even? Maybe ten percent. And North American women have insisted on being called homemakers, not housewives. Humph. It seems as if something basic is missing completely.