Family honor (or honour) is an abstract concept involving the perceived quality of worthiness and respectability that affects the social standing and the self-evaluation of a group of related people, both corporately and individually. The family is viewed as the main source of honor and the community highly values the relationship between honor and the family. The conduct of family members reflects upon family honor and the way the family perceives itself, and is perceived by others. Family honor can be dependent upon many factors and areas that are affected by family honor include multiple aspects of lifestyle such as social conduct, religious practice, dress, eating habits, education, occupation, possessions, and marriage.
People who live in cultures of honor, perceive family as the central institution in their society and a person's social identity depends largely on their family. Therefore it is important for these individuals to fulfill expectations of family and society in order to be accepted by their family and experience feelings of belonging to this central institution that they are tied to through birth or marriage. In some cultures, maintaining family honor is perceived as more important than either individual freedom, or individual achievement.
The ideology and practice of family honor varies from country to country. Individuals of certain cultures are often unaware or discerning in their understanding of differing cultural traditions. Many fail to grasp the concept of honor as the basis for traditions such as defending one's honor or their family's. Some cultures value family honor more than others. Many times a family's honor may overpower the actions or beliefs of the individual. However, a theme that is common within many traditions is the respecting of elders. Children of the family are to respect their elders who have earned what some call a "badge of 'honor'" representative of their age. Once an individual has lived throughout life for several years, they have earned this badge of honor and should be shown respect teaching their young the cultural traditions that have deemed them honorable.
- 1 History
- 2 Family honor within different cultures
- 2.1 Middle East and Africa
- 2.2 Asia
- 2.3 Europe
- 2.4 North America
- 2.5 Hispanic countries and culture
- 3 See also
- 4 References
An individual is considered as honorable based on his/her behaviors and characteristics he or she displays that the society deems to be worthy of honor. In addition, honor also entails the aspect of how high of a position an individual holds in relation to the group and how much he or she is respected by others.
One of the ideals of family honor is social class. Social class can be defined as a group of people categorized into a hierarchy based on the amount of money they have accumulated, how much education they have received, and the amount of power they hold within society, amongst other variables. People who play similar roles within society tend to have similar outlooks. Social standing affects the way in which families form. It determines how and who a person mates with, how they raise their children, and how people relate to one another.
Historically, honor is a quality ascribed to an individual in two ways: either by obtaining it through his or her birth into an honorable family or being assigned as honorable by powerful people who hold higher status in the society. An individual's parental lineage, is the traditional source for his or her honor. Because honor is passed through paternal lineage in most patrilineal cultures, these societies historically considered having sons as a source of pride and honor. For example, in the Moroccan culture, it is still a preference among women to have sons instead of daughters. Morocco is a typical patrilineal society in which the son has a more important function for the family such as the son supports his parents once they have aged compared to the daughter who will marry into a different group becoming a loss to the family. In such societies men also hold more sexual rights compared to women besides the supportive role men obtain from caring for their aging parents. Females in these societies are perceived as threats to family honor.
Within cultures, honor is an important and highly esteemed theme. It can be maintained through living up to one's word and promises, providing for the family, and keeping a certain social status. Honor can be affected by both men and women through ways in which a man heightens his family's honorable status, and a woman can shame her family through disapproved actions. Ensuing constant pressure to uphold her family's honor, a woman can suffer psychological and social damage.
The different effects honor instills upon men and women can be seen in the ancient world, where women and men played contrasting roles in society. Men displayed their honorable roles in public while women were restricted to the limitations of their households. While in public, women were required to avoid conversations with estranged men while only visiting places frequented by women. In the present Islamic culture, men hold a higher social status, but they also carry more responsibility in caring and providing for their family. If a man is single or childless his place in society does not waver or become lower. A woman should have a family whom she stays faithful to and respectful towards at all times. A man's actions will not greatly affect or hurt his family's standing like a woman's actions would. Women are perceived as vulnerable individuals who must be kept safe at all times. This aspect of a woman's characterization comes from her fertility and role within her family.
Societies in which “family honor” is considered highly important generally place a correspondingly high degree of restriction of the freedom of women. In these cultures, a family may defend its honor, or may seek reparation or revenge if the family honor is perceived to have been abused or treated with disrespect. In Ancient Rome, sexual activity of married women outside of their marriage was seen as dishonor to the family and it was legal for men to kill their wives or married daughters that shamed the family through adultery. Reasoning for the designation of women to private and/or nonmale areas comes from the ancient tradition of a woman's place in the world. Women are not seen as independent individuals, but rather extensions of their male counterparts' identity and honor.
Family honor within society
Because the approval of honor is dependent upon the recognition of others, during ancient times individuals worked hard for the approval of their peers within their societal cultures. This meant that individuals were more likely to behave like their honorable counterparts. Groups reinforced what it meant to be honorable through various expected behaviors and goals placed amongst individual members. This discouraged members from any negative activity that may have adversely affected a group or family's honor. In the event that the leader of the group promoted actions that did not appear to be honorable on a larger societal scale, the leader then offered some explanation defending their actions which lead to the preservation of what they defined as honor and their traditions forever.
In Ancient Rome, chastity and loyalty of members of a family was an important factor contributing to family honor in addition to social standing and accomplishments of that family. For example, if a married woman committed adultery, her father had the legal right to kill her whereas her husband was required to divorce her. If the husband chose not to divorce his wife, he would jeopardize his honor and be labeled as a pimp.
Family honor within different cultures
Middle East and Africa
The aspects of family honor mentioned above differ throughout varying cultures and countries. Family honor in the Bedouin and other Middle Eastern cultures consists of interdependent forms of ird and sharaf. Ird is the honor of a woman she is born with which involves her chastity and continence whereas sharaf is the honor code for men which depends on ird of women in the family. Due to its connection to ird, sharaf includes protecting ird of the family members. The adherence to these gender-specific honor codes is important to keep the respectability and sexual honors of the family, particularly men, known as namus. For example, the sexual relationships of a girl are seen in these societies to make her impure and of lesser value, which affects her eligibility for marriage. Public knowledge and gossip about sexual impurity or adultery are proposed to be the main reasons that loss of family honor can bring shame to the family. Preservation of family honor is not only important for respectability of family members in society but also affects the fate of all family members. To protect family honor and dignity, families may resort in killing the woman who is involved in the dishonorable act. In an associated context, to protect the purity and chastity of young girls, families may decide to practice female genital mutilation, a practice that removes or damages female genital organs to assure that sex will not be pleasurable. A mutilated woman is changed so that she has no desire to engage in sexual activity that may undermine the family's honor.
An example of this can be seen in Sierra Leone, Africa where young girls are mutilated every year. The number of girls mutilated in Africa per year has risen to 3 million. Rugiatu Turay, founder of the Amazonian Initiative Movement, protects young girls from being circumcised by other women in secret societies like Sande and other female practitioners who still engage in the ceremonial tradition today. Girls as young as the age of five assist in the mutilation of other young girls in the country. At the age of 12, Turay was snatched by female family members, held down and had her clitoris cut off with a knife. She was beaten, forced to walk, and had hot pepper water poured in her eyes. As she was mutilated, the women sang, danced, and clap ceremoniously. According to these women, Turay had become a woman. However, females are generally mutilated under the age of 15. Girls who are trained to assist in this ceremony are trained as young as five years old. Turay has convinced 400 practitioners to stop the practice of female mutilation, but 97 million females have been mutilated within the country and the numbers remain constant, even increasing. The practice has been enforced by politicians within the country and locals refer to the practice as a ceremony that initiates womanhood, prepares females for marriage, and restricts their sexual conduct.
An ideology of preserving family honor is deeply rooted is society and is not affected by high levels of education. Many women in Turkey are well educated but still are expected to be modest and sexually pure in order to preserve the honor of their families. If a family's honor is breached, it brings shame to the entire family. In such cases, traditionally the family would decide the fate of the female that brought shame. This might involve forcing the young woman into a shotgun wedding, while in extreme cases a young male in the family was given the duty to cleanse the family name through an honor killing. With recent changes to criminal law that removed reduced sentences for honor killings, females that brought shame to the family are sometimes forced to commit honor suicides by their families, especially in the predominantly Kurdish South-East regions, a region that greatly values traditions. Families who do not want their sons to face possible incrimination have encouraged their daughters to commit suicide. The number of female suicides over the years has increased greatly. Stories have surfaced revealing girls who are given tools with which to kill themselves such as rope to hang themselves, poisons to drink, or a gun to shoot themselves. Some murders have also been disguised as suicides in order to protect family members. Female family members are not the only ones that may be punished to preserve family honor. It is proposed that the death of a male homosexual physics student, Ahmet Yildiz, was an honor killing.
Members of the Republican People Party have stated that that in the six months preceding Hatice Firat's death a woman had been killed every day because of domestic violence.
Courtesy is highly valued in South Africa, and is perceived a sign of honor. Different cultures such as the Tamil, Urdu, Bantu and others express their courtesy for others through their language and customs vary with culture. Social status and gender is marked through individual's etiquette practices. The older one is or depending upon their position within society (politics especially) and the family comes from projects respect from others and dignity for one's culture. Families in rural areas have special customs in which they greet each other and show appreciation. In more urbanized areas, these same customs are not present, however, social status are nevertheless defined. Those who enter the house of a family must say hello to the parents of the household using the name of the couple's eldest sibling. (i.e. Hello, Mother of...) The youngest children must make way for their elders around the home allowing them to come through. If one is said to be rude it is considered a big deal.
Depending on the area within South Africa, the manner in which honor is expressed varies. For example, traditionally in rural areas, women handled all agricultural jobs (except for herding and plowing). They also took care of the home and the children. Men were involved in various aspects of life including politics, all jobs that required heavy lifting and moving and took care of their animals. Many men become what is called a labor migrant and send their earnings back to their families and in some families women are labor migrants instead of men. Because of high rates of unemployment, more and more women have taken on this role. For those families who live in the city, both men and women go to work, but women are still responsible for taking care of the home (both mothers and the oldest daughter in the home).
Customarily, men are the head of the household and from this role stems dominance within different cultures in South Africa. Laws have been passed and constitutions made to create and uphold equality between men and women. However, amongst the culture these ideals of equality aren't commonly practiced. Women are gradually gaining more recognition within the culture.
Another aspect of life that includes the ideal of practicing honorable traditions includes the ceremony of getting married. Before Christianity, polygyny was widely practiced and a practice called bridewealth took place amongst the families of men and women. Bridewealth is the practice of offering livestock to the bride's family in exchange for her fertility. The practice of polygyny is still legal within the country, but many men marry only one woman as the idea of Christianity spreads throughout the country. Divorce rates are high and cohabitation before marriage is common in most homes. Even though many families are based on unmarried couples, marriage is still a highly important and open ceremony within the community.
Once a couple is married, traditionally their home consisted of a husband, however many wives he had, and their children. Each family had their own personal small home. Currently, many homes consist of older couples and family members from failed marriages. Instead of living in small units, many family now live in a large house with many rooms. Most homes include extended family members as well as those in the immediate family. What is seen in black shantytowns is the presence of family members from different families surrounding at least two or more related family members.
When a father dies, the oldest son inherits everything even for his younger siblings. He is responsible for taking care of his mother and his siblings as well as his father's other wives and children. Many families have large clans which can include thousands of people. Family members do not necessarily have to be blood related and can be from different ethnic regions. Amongst groups who speak the Nguni it is against their beliefs to marry anyone in their family that has their same name, their mother's same name or their grandparent's same name.
Elderly within the South African culture also play a major role within the family and preserving honorable traditions. Mothers, grandmothers, and older female daughters take care of infants. Infants are carried by their mothers on their mother's back wrapped in cloth. Teenage pregnancy is a common occurrence within these communities. Adults within the clan provide support and guidance for children within their clan. Economic and social difficulties affect poor families making it difficult for them to uphold their family structure. Certain rural communities structured their children's education when the child graduated from adolescence. For several months, children were taught traditional rites and customs eventually leading to the child being circumcised. A son of the chief in the community was responsible for initiating the boys and girls were able to get married after they graduated from their initiation school.
Similar to the South African and Turkish culture, family is a central value for Asian societies. Asian families are usually multi-generational, patriarchal and self-sufficient structures strongly bound to traditions. For instance, in India touching feet of relatives and elderly is a ritual to express respect and submission. However, family honor entails different components depending on the continental region. For example, family honor is strongly linked to female chastity in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India in a similar fashion to Middle Eastern and Mediterranean societies. Whereas men threaten family honor by extreme actions such as murder and addiction, females may dishonor family by leaving the house too often or having unnecessary conversations with men. Sikh women need to be modest and reserved to be considered honorable; even rape is seen as a major insult to family honor. Cultures near the Middle East also consider involuntary sexual assaults dishonorable and shameful.
Far East Asia
Contrastingly in other Asian cultures, especially for families in South Asia and the Far East, family honor depends on other factors such as education. Academic success of a student is seen as a source of pride and honor for the Asian family. Therefore both the Asian student and the parents work hard to avoid academic failure which brings shame to the family. In the past, honor in East Asia was also linked to success in the battlefield. In Japan, for example, ritualized suicide practices such as harakiri were committed by Japanese samurai for centuries in the event of a defeat in battle. Instead of being captured or living with the shame of defeat, harakiri was committed in order to preserve the honor of their families.
In Europe, similar to traditional practices in South Africa, honor relates to different concepts depending on the geographic area; whereas honor is strongly linked to family reputation in the Mediterranean countries, in Northern Europe it has a more individualized meaning that is focused on personal accomplishments and qualities. Similar to gender-specific family honor codes in the Middle East, Mediterranean nations also traditionally exhibit such codes; women are seen as honorable by their chastity whereas men are seen as honorable by their productivity, toughness, and by protecting the honor of the women. In Italy, infidelity of women was seen dishonorable, thus crimes of passion were classified as second-degree murders until the 1970s. Although Western and Northern European nations traditionally have a more individualistic approach to honor, there have been an increase in honor killings or crimes of passion within their borders by immigrant populations residing in these countries. The European culture also served as a basis for American traditions of honor as well.
The Old South
The Old South took honor particularly seriously. Southerners in the Old South held themselves to their own sets of social codes. An affront to a Southerner's honor, if serious enough, was resolved by a duel. Dueling was originally a European custom, later adopted by the United States. Dueling was not technically legal in the United States, but it was difficult to enforce the laws written against it, especially in the Old South. Usually only men engaged in duels; their opponents were men they perceived to be equals. Public opinion for dueling varied: some thought it was a barbaric and backwards custom, while others believed it was a perfectly legitimate way of dealing with affronts to honor.
Hispanic countries and culture
Looking at the Hispanic community, similar to many of the countries mentioned above, elders are seen as wise and are to be shown respect from other family members. Family members turn to elders for help regularly, and when a family member falls ill wisdom on what should be done to care for the ill family member is searched for within the elders of the family.
Men are the dominant figures within their households and embody a decisive, authoritative role. Contrary to popular belief, women hold as much weight within their homes as their husbands. They are the matriarchs of the family, and the family’s health and stability relies on the mother. Although they need to be protected, women are cherished within their families as important figures.
Hispanic families strongly display their emotions towards one another. Family members show that they care and love one another through taking care of each other. They search for reinforcement and support within their own homes more often than they would in today’s society. The Hispanic culture has what is called Curanderismo. This is a system in which families consult the help of a religious figure called a curandero who gives medical, psychological, and social advice. Families make offerings unto the curandero such as money, candle lighting, creating metal or wooden offerings (shaped in the form of the body part in need of healing), etc.
Many families believe that all personal or familial issues should be kept within the home. The Hispanic culture values modesty for all individuals including males and children in addition to females who historically, are expected to behave in a modest fashion. Family members that suffer from mental illnesses are reluctant to inform their family members of this information in fear that their family members will criticize them.
In the aspect of childbirth, men are required to wait until after the mother has had birth and dressed in a decent manner to visit his wife and newborn child. Mothers typically accompany the new mother during birth. Much like the American culture, Hispanic women take time to rest after childbirth, but traditionally they returned to heavier labor jobs as opposed to jobs normally held by women within society.
In one country in particular Brazil, the community attempts to divide the upper-class families who are considered honorable from the lower-class families who are seen as a threat to society in Rio de Janeiro. The country defends family honor through the creation of different policies and laws, but this has caused great opposition. Politics has played a major in role in determining the status and meaning of what is considered to be honorable within Brazils’ society.
Honor of women in Brazil
In the late 1800s Viveiros de Castro noted an increase in violations of female honor within Brazil at the turn of the century. Women were expanding their roles throughout society which many believed opened doors for women to be taken advantage of and seduced. Viveiros de Castro believed that women’s working in factories was a threat to society and morality. Men believed that the new change in opinion amongst women contributed to this new susceptibility. Many men believed that women believed they were freer than they actually were, and because of this the actions of women led them to lose honor because of their lack of dependency on the male gender. The new century had changed the image of how women were historically perceived and portrayed. Certain individuals, a judge by the name of Nelson Hungria (quoted in Sueann Caulfield's book) specifically, labeled a woman’s reserved role as the source of her honor which was lost once she branched out into society losing this reserved quality attributed to women. Because women chose to leave the traditional role of being the homemaker they lost the characterization of being innocent and some assumed they were engaging sexual activities.
Michael Herzfeld, an anthropologist, argued that the idea of women losing their chastity derived from those who wished to explain a woman’s new role within society. The idea of women expanding their roles outside of the home in society went against the ideas and morals that were upheld centuries before. In order to defend this morality, many highlighted the customs of the past as something that should have been continuously practiced and enforced even in a new modern era.
Many women were subjected to sexual trials in which they were criticized for being dishonorable. Women during this time were similar to their ancestors. They engaged in practices such as sex before marriage, consenting to unions, and taking on the head role within their homes. However, these acts were perceived in an extremely contrasting manner during this period (after World War I). Because of this, many were uncertain of how they should approach the act of preserving sexual honor.
Politics and honor within Brazil
Turning to a different aspect of society that intertwined itself with idea of honor, politics played a major role in defining honor within Brazil. The country attempted to define honor while displaying this view of honor along with the country's traditions to others around the world. In September 1920, King Albert and Queen Elisabeth made a trip to Brazil. This trip sparked major controversy from different parties in the country. Many believed the trip was an attempt to “Europeanize” the country. Some viewed the trip as a positive way to show off Brazil the country and its civilization. Others viewed the trip as a negative opportunity in which the culture would attempt to conform to European standards. In doing so, attempts by the upper class would be made to hide Brazil’s struggle of poverty which was a main part of its society and culture at the time. With this trip the importance of honor intensified. Before the King and Queen arrived, preparing for the couple included exposing and exercising honor in a manner many believed would promote the division of social classes and international affairs. Those who were responsible for posing as advocates for their country concealed their social class under what was perceived as honorable and behaved as though they themselves were a part of an “honorable” class. One of the aspects they displayed were gender ideologies that played a crucial role in differentiating social classes from one another. Natives desired to portray the country the best way possible. In doing so, they defended their families’ traditions and morals and sexual honor.
Towards the end of the 1930s, the definition of honor within Brazilian society has transformed completely. In result, in 1940, a penal code derived definitions of the term honor. Sexual crimes became a breaking of not family honor but “social customs”. With the Vargas regime (Dictator Getúlio Vargas who ruled from 1937–1945), came a new form or definition of honor. Many attribute the change in the meaning of honor and a devaluing of its meaning to Vargas’ rule. Vargas attributed the aspect of authority to the meaning of honor. Vargas closely tied traditional Brazilian family honor with the aspect of the nation’s honor. Through his regime, Vargas intended to create a hierarchy of social, authoritative classes. However, debates over class, and gender in relation to honor and the nation of Brazil continued to take place. Women continued to transform their traditional roles and these changes could not be neglected.
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- Caulfield, Sueann (2002). In Defense of Honor: Sexual morality, modernity, and Nation in Early Twentieth-Century Brazil. Duke University Press. p. 83. ISBN 0822323982.