Foster-Daughter or Servant, Charity or Abuse: Beslemes in the Late Ottoman Empire




This paper addresses the complex and contradictory framing of youthful female sexuality, personified in the figure of foster-daughters (beslemes), in the nineteenth century Ottoman Empire. Beslemes were both sexually exploited and attempted to be disciplined under the critical gaze of the upper classes and the state, since they disturbed the accepted rules and limits of sexual agency as sexually active unwed adolescent girls. They were marginalized as indecent and fallen girls, since sexual agency and chastity were considered to be incompatible. Though acknowledging the subordination of foster-daughters, this paper suggests that these young women were not completely subjected, silenced and helpless and that they were able to find ways of taking the initiative in resistive strategies.