Feminism | Posted by Baykan O on 07/15/2009

The Social Politics of Young Turkish Women

Being that I am ethnically Turkish, to grasp precisely what the “Western” view of its social attitude toward women is, poses a number of difficulties. In casual conversation, people are far more comfortable idealising Turkey as an idyllic getaway, an awkwardly beautiful paradox of Eastern tradition (age old cuisine, arabesque music) and Western normalities (alcohol, cigarettes, art). The symbol of a scantily clad sequinned-hip-scarf-adorned beauty is just as relevant to Turkey’s cultural image as that of a burka, niqab or hijab-clad Islamic woman. Indeed, it is between these two extreme ideals that sociological problems fester, and from my own understanding and experience, Turkish women are often seen as little more than these aforementioned symbols.

Being simultaneously British and Turkish and perhaps most unfortunate of all, a woman, means then that ones life is subsquently outlined by racial and gender stereotype. My family rarely integrated with other Turks – not intentionally, but the family in and of itself is large and extensive enough that family friends were not seen as particularly necessary, there was no shortage of company or conversation. As the youngest and a girl, my formative years passed without question. I had amazingly influential female figures to look up to in my mother and my aunts – who generally gave the finger to what it meant to be a “Turkish woman” and who thus instilled in me the foundations of my feminist tendencies – and a brother and (solely male) cousins, whose boisterous nature inspired me to ensure that my voice, too, was always heard. And this is the way my life continued, until puberty hit and the truthfully shitty nature of things came to light.
As i’ve come into contact with an increasing number of my female Turkish contemporaries, I am never shocked to discover that the majority of their friendship circles are made up of…other Turkish girls and boys. While I find this social pattern upsetting, it is not difficult to see why. For me, puberty was a hormonal and venemous wake up call to the realisation that, while my familial unit was wildly whimsical, it was and very much still is, a patriarchal structure. Bringing boys home is a no, going out with boys is a no, staying out late is a no, being out alone is a no, being out late with friends is a no. And while at the ages of 13, 14, and at a push, 16, these rules are perfectly plausible, at 18 they are just fucking ridiculous. Ultimately then, one option alone is granted – bring home a boy (if he is Turkish), go out with a boy (if he is Turkish), stay out late (with other Turkish people), be out alone (in a Turkish neighbourhood), be out late with friends (provided they are Turkish). Growing up, it was truly shocking to me that this dangerously backward fallacy was (and, indeed, still is) echoed throughout British-Turkish families.

This patrairchal logic has, over time and through generation, permeated into the physce of an overwhelmingly large number of Turkish women. A sexually assertive and (shock horror!) active young woman is gossip fodder for bored housewives and judgemental peers. And needless to say, this same level of scrutiny is not inflicted upon male members of the community. Indeed, sexuality is something to be ashamed of, because of course, the only virtue a woman has is neither mental nor emotional. It is made up only of what is, or has been, between her legs. Relationships (particularly interracial) are kept a secret, so as not to stain the purity of what a Turkish “hanim” (lady) should be. Browsing through a friends Facebook, i couldn’t help but laugh out loud when i came across a group for “non-rezil” Turkish girls. “Rezil”, by definition, implies someone disgraceful or shocking. My laughter was as much the result of humour as it was confusion. Are we, seriously, as women in the 21st century, entertaining (let alone celebrating) the idea of measuring a woman by her reputation? Excuse me while I throw up……

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  • d.prakash @ at 12:05 pm, July 15th, 2009

    interesting post! as an older teenager of indian descent i have encountered some of the same issues. parents often restrict their daughters more than their sons– instead of being realistic and preparing their girls with how to deal with dating, sex, and having healthy relationships. i can only help that things will change with a generation or two.

    Thanks for sharing, Baykan!

  • cbaizan37 @ at 12:16 pm, July 15th, 2009

    Same with the Mexicans.

  • Tea @ at 3:24 pm, July 15th, 2009

    I don’t know if you’ve ever read it, but this reminded me of the book Does My Head Look Big in This?, but Randa Abdel-Fattah.It’s got a lot of focus on clashing religions and cultures from a teenagers point of view. Anyways, good book.

  • Lolita @ at 1:10 pm, March 25th, 2011

    Hey, Im half Cypriot (turkish Cypriot that is- not that im being rasist or anything-) Im also half Welsh, by my mothers side, my mother is a feminist and I think my Grandma is too, they are free thinking, strong, indipendant and talented women. My father left Cyprus at the age of 18, and moved to Australia, he lived there for twelve years, then moved back to Cyprus and met my mother, when he came back he had changed, his view on society were different, and he found the fact that his sisters were maried off disguisting.
    I live in Cyprus and I identify as a Cypriot, although my views are very different from my peers.
    The highest amount of Turkish sociolizing I do is with my uncle’s wife (my Yenge) she is a Bulgarian Türk and is very narow minded.
    I sometimes hate her for being so narrow minded and making comments like ^(why did you cut your hair so short? who are you texting? have you found a husband? why are you wearing that?) my mother resents her.
    The thing she says the most is^ ‘Namusunu korumal?s?n) Namus means -honor
    in the dictonory, to her it means all you are worth.
    I just wanted to comment on this to say that this really pisses me off.

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