Turkey is Typing…Sex Matters

The equality of the sexes has been a topic on the fingertips of Turkish bloggers as of late. Even with reforms to the penal code about a woman's right to veil (or not to), a woman's freedom of body, and stricter repercussions for rape, the equality between man and woman in Turkey is still contested. The legacy of Ataturk‘s secular reforms when the Republic of Turkey was founded has given the country the veneer of female equality…but with probing questions does the polish wear away?

Mustafa Akyol from The White Path has a wonderful set of articles on the post-patriarchal society of Turkey, where he discusses the history of Turkish feminism and why it has been stunted by the very reforms that were meant to foster it.

When I told her that I was reading a report which shows that Turkey is making great progress in women's rights and the AKP government is helping that, she was first surprised, then defiant, and finally counter-attacking. “Who is financing that report,” she asked, “it must be the EU who spreads these lies.”

By saying so, she was just confirming to me a crucial point made in the ESI report – that, “Kemalist women… are the out of touch with the reality of contemporary Turkey.”

To understand why, one needs to look at a bit of history. A standard story in Turkey is that our women were in total darkness before Atatürk, and his reforms gave them all that they needed. But that is a half-truth. Atatürk of course made many important reforms, but there are other facts which one needs to realize in order to get the sex matters right.

One of those facts is the feminist movement in the pre-Atatürk, i.e., Ottoman, era. As the ESI report also notes, Ottoman feminists – such as Ms. Fatma Nesibe, who used to quote from John Stuart Mill and argue for a “feminine revolution” – addressed the gender gap much before the Turkish Republic. In the last decade of the Ottoman Empire, societies emerged with names like Taal-i Nisvan or Müdafaa-i Hukuk-u Nisvan, or “The Advancement of Women” and “The Defense of the Rights of Women.”

When Atatürk came to power, he gave many important rights to women, but he did something that would be very harmful in the long term: He closed down these feminist clubs. Why? Well, it was due to the widespread belief at the time that the state should be the master of society and orchestrate it authoritatively. (For the same reason, Mustafa Kemal also banned Sufi orders and freemason lodges; civil society was considered dangerous or, at best, useless.)

Turkish Diary adds her voice in response to a recent article about women's rights in Turkey and how the debate between Secularism and Islamism figures into the situation:

What strikes me in the second chapter is the last part: one of the two periods in the whole history of the Turkish Republic when women saw major improvements starts in 2001. Which, as you know, is the period when the Akp, the “Islamist” party, went to power.

Please don't get me wrong. I know I may look like a fan of Akp. I'm not. I mean, I'm fully aware of their many faults – not only in the last weeks – and I know they are far from being the solution to Turkey's problems. But I must recognise Turkey has made lots of improvements under their rule.

Now that I have made this point clear, let me go back to the subject of this post. A couple of years ago, in Istanbul, I met the leader of a feminist organization. One of the things she said that stroke me most was: “There are two kinds of discriminated women in Turkey: those who don't want to wear the headscarf, and are forced to; and those who want to wear the headscarf, and are forced not to”.

Of course, one could think that a headscarf is just a piece of tissue and that women have far worse problems to think of. But don't forget that Atatürk, just to abolish the fez, didn't hesitate to kill the men who wore it. For women who wear the headscarf, this may mean not having access to university. Or renouncing a political career. Is this fair?

Now, I have heard many arguments against the Islamic headscarf in public places. None of them ever convinced me, in Turkey or in France. While I heard women who are against the scarf but, in spite of that, think that the France law against it is one of the most stupid things the French government could have done. One of them is Nobel Prize (winner) Shirin Ebadi. I agree one hundred per cent with them.

I won't go into details on this specific issue, I only want to point out that the “Islamist” party many are so afraid of is the one that, according to a European think-tank, has made the biggest improvements in the condition of women ever.

Spooky Sense by Garfucius doesn't hold back his opinions on what it means when a woman voluntarily wears the veil or turban:

covering up makes woman socially recognizable namely by the sexual favors her gender implies. conversely, covering up is the only way she can avoid being just that. a woman covers up because she believes she then stops being a sexual entity, except for the husband/male who practically owns her. concealment denies any “illicit” man, driven only by sex in the hermeneutics of his life, a chance to conceive of her as an instrument to be enjoyed. a türban signifies that a woman willingly submits to an oppressive dress code because she agrees to the hermeneutics that she is by nature and god's will, afflicted with the curse of representing a sexual being, or a being only definable by her sexuality!

in iran or saudia, such acquiescence may be coerced out of women. in turkey, in a much worse manner, it is quite often voluntary. “türban politics”, especially by men but by women, too, is an admission that the particular individual concerned with open vistas of the feminine is guided more by what lies between the legs than what lies between the ears. therefore, (s)he is dangerous for the mental health of the public in general.

i feel closer to the school of opinion that claims the türban and similar religious dress codes (***) will gradually fade away if not fade out, as modernization progresses. therefore, i believe gül's statement that “türban can be made more modern” does in fact, reveal a new concern among the religious “circles” that “modernity is necessary”.

In a slightly different twist, Me and Others writes about a disturbing conversation that he had with a male friend about his female boss:

today i was involved in a very interesting chat about a woman working in a client company of ours. the woman demands too much of a job in a needlesy short time which causes problems here. people sometimes work extra hours just to fulfill her (her company's actually) demands and it turns out that they need the end-product the next week.

so it was a complaining department that took place, and i think it is quite normal to criticize this situation. but all of a sudden the subject of the chat became the big round beautiful ass of the woman. well, to some extent i think it is perfectly ok for men to talk about the beautiful asses of women. after all, we cant deny, we men are animals.

but even though it was half joking, the conversation became ugly. one of the guys started to speak out what he would like to the with the woman. he said that the woman even hit on him once. i tried to remind him that she is married, and he replied “so what, i am married too.” and kept on talking about his fantasies about her.

Of course, this discussion of equality isn't on the forefront of all Turkish bloggers, let alone the female ones: Turkey and My Foreign Perspectives contends that there is equality and defends the rights and roles on the Turkish family, and our girls on the town Idil from Ignore Me If You Can and The Chronicles of a Turkish Girl talk about their active dating lives. So this leaves the question, is this an important debate or not? You tell me.

Top Links of the Week:
1. Ignore Me If You Can writes of a recent blogger meeting with Erkan's Field Diary and others.
2. Mavi Boncuk gives a review for a new book about Turkish society: The Person You Have Called Cannot Be Reached At The Moment.
3. Carpetblogger tackles the ceremonies for male circumcision in Turkey.


  • The equality of sex? Not all sex is equal!

  • I believe equality of the sexes should be discussed at every opportunity because women consist of over 50% of the world and typically are the ones raising the boys, even the men. They also suffer from most of the poverty in the world too.
    Dialogue among the sexes, no matter the society, is a way for understanding and peace.
    When it comes to religion, many misinterpret what they see or hear and more accurate information must be available. Recently, I wrote about Secrets to Islam in Turkey and how it works in a secular society. Each nation can reveal ways to live freely yet with their religious beliefs intact. This makes for equality between the sexes as well.
    I agree with Turkish Diary. I see many improvements in infrastructure and rights across the board under the AK Party, and for this they deserve applause.

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