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June 09, 2005


"suggesting that the "resistance" they put up while being coerced into the marriage is a bit of cultural theater as well"

No, it suggests the human capacity to resign oneself to one's fate and be happy regardless, which in no way expiates the original act.

I realize in some cases it's a complicated version of eloping. In all other cases, the perpetrators should be jailed, no matter how happy the bride eventually becomes. What a horribly mysoginist practice.

No, it suggests the human capacity to resign oneself to one's fate and be happy regardless, which in no way expiates the original act.

I would agree with you on that point before watching the Front Line piece, Sidereal, but the way the first kidnapped bride was actually visibly happy after about 45 minutes of protesting violent was really odd. It didn't look like it was about resigning oneself (how could that happy so quickly?), but truly as if it were theater.

Okay, 45 minutes I give you. The original post included 'months and years', which I wouldn't grant as exculpatory.

Cultural expectations. If a girl's life-narrative in K. includes the expectation of being kidnapped, romanticization of it, etc., then it's a lot more easy to imagine her becoming reconciled to it if she's kidnapped by someone not on her Top 10 Kidnappers list.

I'm also curious (w/o having seen the TV spot) to what extent the "kidnapper" is actually engaging in a courtship ritual. If the kidnapper's a total jerk (let alone rapist), so that the girl is horribly upset & stays that way, her family can press for an "annulment" as described.

I read an article about this in Harper's about a month ago and I meant to ask Edward about it. The gist of the article was that there were three kinds of kidnappings: completely consensual ones, sexual harassment/stalking ones, and arrangements made by parents to force the issue with a reluctant young woman. The article made it seem that the stalking-type kidnappings functioned as a way of intimidating young women into second class citizenship. Women were afraid to go to school, go to work, and so on.
For all the free market enthusiasts--I think there is an opportunity here to sell Mace to young Kyrgyzstani women.

I recall from Albion's Seed that kidnapping of some sort is also part of some regional American cultures. Maybe Andrew Jackson did it.

For all the free market enthusiasts--I think there is an opportunity here to sell Mace to young Kyrgyzstani women.

I don't disagree. I really struggled with the tone of this post, because although I really object to this practice, I think there is something to the observation that a "girl's life-narrative in K. [may] include the expectation of being kidnapped, [and the] romanticization of it." It's beyond mysoginistic from our POV, but our POV is not universal....

"but our POV is not universal...."

No, but the principles of ethics are.
This is one distinction that I think causes a lot of confusion both for people who believe in tolerance and those who criticise them.

Generally, when people talk about tolerance of other cultures, what they mean is that you shouldn't prevent or demean a practice merely because it's different or unfamiliar, as many many people are wont to do.

However, people often go too far and forget that decrying criticism of a cultural artifact just because it's different doesn't mean you can't criticise for some other reason, e.g. because it's unethical. This is where people get tied up in knots about things like female gential mutilation. They're so used to defending foreign culture and the critics of tolerance are so used to them defending foreign cultures that both forget that there're some standards. It's easy to avoid the knots if you remember that there are legitimate reasons to criticize and even prevent some aspect of some culture. This, I would argue, is clearly one of them.

'genital', of course. And I blame my sporadic spelling of 'critici[sz]e' on my wife's Australian devilry.

Kidnapping was a traditional method of gaining a wife amoung many groups of Australians for probably thousands of years. On self reported measures, kidnapped wives were less happy than those whose husbands had not kidnapped them.

I personally would not be too happy if a man kidnapped me, no matter how much my grandmother thought it was a good idea.

Brak and Sidereal,

I hope that I have not suggested in amyway that I approve of kidnapping (words like, "totally bararic," "difficult to watch," "I object," are meant to convey strongly that I don't). My tolerance here is not for the practice, but rather the cultural attitude toward it. The practice is already illegal, so I'm not sure what more Kyrgystan as a state can do other than change attitudes, and although a crackdown seems like it might probably be in order, as I note, even when the highly oppressive Soviet Union was running the show, the practice was still common, so I'm not sure a crackdown is the answer.

If the acceptance of the practice is cultural, then spreading it's unacceptance will need to be cultural. That could include more efforts to create situations where men and women safely meet, public campaigns to highlight the unhappy marriages resulting from the practice (although, from what I saw in the FrontLine segment, that's an uphill battle), very public campaigns to spread the notion that marrying one's true love is a right, etc.

The article described one young woman who spent days trapped in her apartment, unable to go to work or school unless she arranged to be accompanied by a group of friends. She was terrified. The stalker was a complete stranger to her. Another young woman escaped by attempting to strangle the kidnaper. I don't know how accurate the article was--but, if accurate, it describes a cultural practice that frightens at least some young women more than it flatters or entertains them.
I guess I've never felt inhibited from expressing an opinion about a cultural practice, ours or someone else's, that I find abhorrent, if my distaste comes from, to use Catsy's words, a violated sense of ethics. I'm not one of the people who gets all defensive about AI's use of the word "gulag", either, for example.

"but our POV is not universal...."

No, but the principles of ethics are.

I don’t think the principles of ethics are universal. It appears to me that ethics are a descendant from the mix of religion and culture. What we hold true in a western culture from an ethics standpoint does not automatically supersede or map evenly to corresponding thoughts and practices typical of other societies.

We as an ethically sound (tongue firmly planted in cheek) community cannot come to a consensus on something like single sex marriage. So who are we to determine that the Kyrgyz people's marriage traditions are of poor taste based upon the same ethics that dictates that two people who are dedicated to and love one another may not get married if they are of the same sex?

I admit they are very different examples from a macro level - single sex marriage vs. kidnapping = kidnapping bad. But I think its pretty hypocritical of those of us here in the US to say we believe Kyrgyz marriage practices are unethical when we cannot reach common ground on less decisive (and more decisive) matters prevalent within our on country.

I was going to make a similar comment about that quote toby, but I didn't want to thin out the ice I'm standing on more than the original post already has with regards to women's rights. The stories Lily is share are discussed in the Front Line segment as well.

I think any system that has women hiding out in their homes or afraid to go out by themselves is barbaric. When I asked Bambino about it though, he suggested it's not like that's a constant state of fear for women, that women can get out of going through with the marriage (although he admits that being kidnapped by someone you don't know is not a pleasant experience), but that no woman would be surprised/confused about why it was happening to her (meaning, I suppose, to some degree that they won't be worried about being murdered or raped [mostly] as anyone kidnapped in the US might).

I don't know. I was all set to write a post totally denouncing the practice. I assumed Bambino would agree with me that it's horrible. I was surprised that he thinks it's OK. I was even more surprised that the young Kyrgyz woman acting as the guide for the Front Line reporter, who had been strongly against the practice throughout the piece, softened her stance about it at the end.

What it taught me, in a very nuanced way, is that my ethics are not universal...the concept of ethics may be, but the details vary. Toby's example is perfect, IMO...to me, the fact that straight Americans deny Bambino and me the right to marry is also totally barbaric.

Edward (08:19 AM) "campaigns to spread the notion that marrying one's true love is a right"

True love is a culturally determined concept, a pretty recent one even in the west, at least as measured against the total span of recorded history. I think there's a strong case to be made that marrying on the basis of 'true love' is not necessarily unambiguously good. Marriage is a complex institution, and it requires the ability to live together and work together over the majority of one's lifespan. The characteristics that make it possible to do this successfully are not necessarily the same as those which lead to the complex emotions we westerners call 'true love.' Perhaps it's better to focus on those elements of a relationship that will make it strong, stable, and robust against the vagaries of life, and settle for 'adequate love,' i.e. the love that develops slowly through long term contact and a mutual respect and affection. I suspect that the notion of 'true love' has a lot to do with the high divorce rate in western societies (though ease of access to divorce muddies the waters enormously). An ex-girlfriend of mine ended up in an arranged marriage where she had met the groom for less than 20 hours (spread over a few weeks) prior to the wedding. Her marriage is one of the most stable and happy of all the people I know.

One of the problems with the 'true love' model of marriage is that the intensity of emotion involved interferes with setting clear guidelines about duties and expectations within the marriage. Love conquers all is a nice idea, but in practice the everyday friction of expectations not quite met can erode it and lead to degradation of the relationship over time. Love is complicated and messy. One of the important roles of culture is to set clear standards that help stabilize romantic relationships.

There is another more practical downside to the kidnapping prior to marriage ritual in Kyrgyrstan. Again, according to the article (which might be too limited in its understanding) one effect of the kidnappings is to inhibit bright, ambitious young women from pursuing education or careers. In a country that is trying to modernize, a practice that has the effect of yanking people out of a productive job and confining that person to a house and kids lifestyle might not be good for the whole society. I admit I have a bias. I identify with the young woman and imagine myself strangling the kidnapper rather than go to his home and spend the rest of my life pregnant. An independent career path for women probably isn't a deeply rooted part of their culture. It is probably much more the norm that women marry and stay near the place where they were born. There is also a lot of good in that; familial stability, for one thing. On the other hand, if the people want a more modern economy, this practice is in the way.
The question of when a cultural practice should be challenged, and on what basis, is a hard one. I had to really struggle to find an argument against the kidnapping practice that wasn't rooted in my belief in individualism. I can understand the point of view that other cultures should be thought about in the context of their assumptions, as well as mine. On the other hand, we are all people, on one planet, connected to each other. So the discussions and arguments about right and wrong are going to cross borders whether we like it or not. So isn't the important thing that we be open to what others say about us, while we go ahead and say what we think about others?

extremely well put lily.

So isn't the important thing that we be open to what others say about us, while we go ahead and say what we think about others?

Totally agree. Just because I respect Bambino's right to his opinion about the kidnappings in no way obligates me to agree with him or be silent about my disagreement. I just know him too well to assume his acceptance is based on disrepsect for women or other less "sophisticated" points of view. He's probably not thinking through the way the ritual limits the options young women have, but again, there's a sense of nationalism all wrapped up in the Kyrgyz response to this. Given his culture stretches back so much further than mine was even conceived of, it's difficult to argue it's a dangerous or destructive practice, though. I think the best argument against it is the modernization one you're outlining here.

It is interesting that you brought up nationalism, Edward. I've been toying with the idea that the people who are very disturbed by AI's use of the word "gulag" are responding from nationalism.
Also my understanding of Islamic terrorism is that, at the bottom, the motivation is cultural nationalism, the formation of a a hyper-conservative interpetation of Islam out of a sense of threat to political independence and cultural values. So maybe the rise of Islamic terrorism and the rise of fundamentalism in the US are both reactions to the globalization of cultures. I know I'm making BIG mental jumps here, connecting dots which might not be connected at all.
Of course this doesn't have much to do with the kidnappings except that the tradition won't change if people connect it to their basic cultural identity.

"I don’t think the principles of ethics are universal."

Whoops, yes. I was sloppy there. What I meant was that once you have some ethical principles that you adhere to, they can be applied universally. Meaning you can (and ought) apply them regardless of the cultural context.

I fully agree that different people have different ethical principles, a fact without which there wouldn't be much use for this blog. But given that I have a principle something like 'No person, man or woman, may be deprived of their freedom of action so long as they are doing no harm', I'm compelled to apply it just as much to the Kyrgyz (is this correct?) as to my own backyard, cultural sensitivity notwithstanding.

In Japan there was a proverb that roughly translated means, "Arranged marriages start off cool, but end up hot." However, studies arrived at the conclusion that arranged marriages were (on average) less happy than unarranged marriages, despite lots of social support for the idea of arranged marriages.

I mention these facts just in case there are people who think that following traditional ways is some sort of recipe for happiness.

"I mention these facts just in case there are people who think that following traditional ways is some sort of recipe for happiness."

Your "facts" might be correct, but might I suggest that you'd be making a case for them by actually presenting some cites, not just assuring people that "studies" agree with what you say, as well as proverbs? Just suggesting.

For a Westerner's often uneasy perspective on Kyrgyz family life and gender roles, may I plug my friend's Peace Corps blog: http://erunda.org/erika/

There are some useful links about bride-stealing in the 9/19/04 post, and she had the following conversation with a young guy in her host family:

"I asked Melice when he is getting married. He said soon. He is a little put out that my host family forbade him to kidnap his wife. He said to me, 'all my classmates stole their wives, and I'm the only one who has to ask.' He doesn't seem to think this is fair. He went to his chosen one's house twice this week to talk to her. They might marry at the end of the month."

That one sounds like the theater/ritual version, but she heard other stories that were not consensual.

I'm sorry. I'm probably too young and inexperienced to be commenting here. My appologies.

"I'm probably too young and inexperienced to be commenting here."

On the other hand, the place is relatively meritocratic, loosely speaking. So if you have something to offer, feel free. Just have a tough skin. :-)

If you put お見合い into google, you will get a page count of 686,000 pages. Unfortunately, those are in Japanese, though a site like rikai.com or altavista"s babelfish site can get you closer to the meaning. However, if you type in 'omiai + survey' a number of pages come up.
link describes the falling number of omiai in Japan. However, this is a bit tricky as some have suggested that people are still getting married by omiai, but are claiming that they are 'rabu kekkon' It is also not apparent how online omiai are being factored into this. To underline this, the following abstract has the figure of 15% in 92 and 23% in 87, which may or may not jibe with the graph in the first link.

Given that the divorce rate has increased as the number of omiai have decreased, it suggests that omiai were more durable. However, as in another thread where the tax system was linked to happiness, we seem to agree that we can't settle on a measure of happiness, so the answer to the question is "Mu!"

liberal japonicus, thanks for your links.

And Gary Farber, thanks for inviting me to put my two cents in, although I think I'll probably keep my mouth shut most of the time, as my known unknowns are many and are only matched by my unknown unknowns.

"And Gary Farber, thanks for inviting me to put my two cents in, although I think I'll probably keep my mouth shut most of the time, as my known unknowns are many and are only matched by my unknown unknowns."

I started jabbering my opinions into print when I was twelve, although I'm quite sure I had little value to add -- beyond retroactive embarrassment -- until 15, crude as my grasp of writing still was for years to come, so I hate to see anyone discouraged from writing simply because of youth.

(Not being able to back up your reasoning, on the other hand, is still not a good idea; but there are plenty of teens who can do a far better job of reasoning than many over-the-hill farts of my age.)

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