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Emancipated but Unliberated?

Reflections on the Turkish Case

Author(s): Deniz A. Kandiyoti and Deniz Kandiyoti
Source: Feminist Studies, Vol. 13, No. 2 (Summer, 1987), pp. 317-338
Published by: Feminist Studies, Inc.
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Western feminist theory has often been castigatedfor its ethno-

centrismbut has rarelybeen subjectedto an explicitexamination
from the point of view of its relevance and applicabilityto non-
Westerncontexts.Conceptsgeneratedby Westernfeministshave
rarely been applied to informed analyses of women in Islamic
societies;conversely,the experiencesof women underIslamhave
not been systematicallyused to criticallyevaluate feminist con-
cepts. This has been at least partlydue to the persistenceof orien-
talist approachesand their tendency to treat Islam as a unitary
ideologyfrom which practicesrelatedto women can be automati-
cally assessed in any given Islamicsociety. Despite the privileged
place assignedto Islamin analyzingthe positionof women in the
Middle East,there is little actualagreementon either its implica-
tions for women or on where exactly the specificityof Islam lies.
Thus, CynthiaNelson and VirginiaOlesen, for instance,see Islam
as an ideology of complementarityand suggestthat "whatmakes
an understandingand identificationwith contemporarywomen's
liberationmovementsin the West so difficultfor Muslimfeminists
in the East is the latter'soverridingcommitmentto the notion of
complementarity."Further,"Islamby postulatingdifference and
complementarity(particularlybetween sexes) does not imply an
ideology of oppression."'
The "separate-but-equal" argumentappearsin the literaturewith
varyingdegreesof sophisticationand generallyimpliesa relatively
uncritical stand on the possible role of religion in legitimating
women'soppression.However, even when such a criticalstandis
adoptedtherecan be importantdivergencesamonginterpretations
of exactlyhow Islam construeswomen. FatimaMernissisuggests
FeministStudies13, no. 2 (Summer1987).? 1987 by FeministStudies,Inc.
318 Deniz A. Kandiyoti

C •

Asas Kocak, a cartoonist who lives today in Ankara, Turkey, drew this in 1983
while a primary school teacher in a rural Anatolian province. It illustrates his
view of the patriarchal oppression of women in Turkey.
Deniz A. Kandiyoti 319

in a provocativeand interestingargumentthat women's subor-

dinationis relatedto the Islamicview of female sexualitywhich
sees it as potent, active, and so potentiallydisruptiveto the male
social order. As she put it: "TheMuslim order faces two threats:
the infidel without and the woman within."2Hence, the institu-
tional arrangements(legal submission, veiling, and seclusion) to
protectthe unity of the umma(the collectivityof male believers).
This perspective provides a refreshingdeparturefrom Western
depictionsof female passivityin the orthodoxFreudianvein, but
where does it leave women? However, BinnazToprakfails to be
convinced by this argument as sexual potency does not imply
mentalcapacity.On this lattercount, she finds Islamicreligionrife
with clear indicationsof women'sinferiority.
In fact, so little is Islamic faith in women's ability for rational reasoning that
the Koran accepts the testimony of two women as equivalent to the testimony
of one man. In addition, the Koran explicitly states that men are superior to
women and this has been interpreted by some Muslim commentators as proof
of divine judgment that women lack mental ability and physical capacity to
carry out public duties.3
Yet, why shouldthese beliefs strikeus as so very differentfrom
those, for example,of a Chinesepatriarch?Indeed, Lois Beck and
Nikki Keddiesuggestthat "thebasic patternsof male domination,
the virginity-fidelity-son-producing
ethos, a sexual double stan-
dardand so on, existedin the MiddleEastand in otherpartsof the
world long before Islam was born."Nonetheless:
What is special about Islam in regard to women is the degree to which matters
relating to women's status have either been legilated by the Quran, which
believing Muslims regard as the literal word of God as revealed to the Prophet,
or by subsequent legislation derived from interpretations of the Quran and the
traditional sayings of the Prophet.4
Would the replacementof the Sharia(the Islamic code) by new
secularlaws and codes, as in the case of Turkey,leadto the loss of
such specificity?Or would there still be evidence of some con-
In this article I will argue that Islam as an ideologicalsystem
does provide some unifying concepts that influence women's ex-
periences of subordination.These are vested in the culturallyde-
fined modes of control of female sexuality, especially insofar as
they influence subjective experiences of womanhood and fem-
ininity. This is not to suggest that such culturalcontrolsare im-
320 Deniz A. Kandiyoti

mutableand unchanging;nor is it meantto deny the complexityof

contemporarysocioeconomicchanges and their independentim-
pacton genderrelations.5Whatis proposedis thatculturalcontrols,
to the extentthat they are intimatelyrelatedto the constructionof
oneself as a genderedsubject,may engagea deeper level of self-
definition,a level thathas to be acknowledgedif we are to address
the questionof feministconsciousnessin any meaningfulway.
I will also argue,however, that there is a greatdeal of diversity
and specificityin women'sexperiencesin Islamicsocietieswhich
vary with the nationalisthistoriesand social policies of the coun-
trieswithin which women are located.The discussionof the Turk-
ish case will thereforebe explicitlygearedto a discovery of the
general and specific conditions of women's experiences in the
MiddleEast.6 This discussionwill providethe backgroundfor an
evaluationof the relevanceand limitationsof Westernfeministap-


Among the countriesof the Middle East, Turkeymay be singled
out as a republic that has addressed the question of women's
emancipationearly,explicitly,and extensively.The formaleman-
cipationof Turkishwomen was achievedthrougha series of legal
reformsfollowingthe war of nationalindependence(1918-23)and
the establishmentby MustafaKemalAtaturkof a secularrepublic
out of the remains of the Ottoman state. The adoption of the
TurkishCivil Code in 1926,inspiredby the Swiss Code, outlawed
polygamy,gave equal rightsof divorceto both partners,and per-
mittedchild custodyrightsto both parents.Women'senfranchise-
ment took place in two steps:women were firstgrantedthe vote at
local elections in 1930 and at the national level in 1934. These
rightswere not obtainedthroughthe activitiesof women'smove-
ments, as in the case of Westernwomen'sstrugglefor suffrage,but
were grantedby an enlightenedgoverningelite committedto the
goals of modernizationand "Westernization."7 This fact had led to
considerablespeculation as to what the strategicgoals of these
reforms could have been. First-generationrepublican women
writers have stressed the inevitabilityof these reforms in the
developmentof a democratic,civic society.8More recently, Sirin
Tekeli has suggestedthat women's rightshave played a strategic
Deniz A. Kandiyoti 321

role both againstthe politicaland ideologicalbasis of the Ottoman

state and in termsof establishingproofsof "democratization" vis-a-
vis the West. She argues that singling out women as the group
most visibly oppressedby religion,throughpracticessuch as veil-
ing, seclusion, and polygamy,was absolutelycentralto Ataturk's
onslaughton the theologicalstate which culminatedin the aboli-
tion of the Caliphate in 1924. (The Caliph was the worldly
representativeof the ProphetMohammed.The last OttomanSul-
tan was also the last Caliph.)Tekeli interpretsthe timing of the
legislationon women's suffragein the 1930s, on the other hand,
partlyas an importantattempton the partof Ataturkto dissociate
his single party regime from the Europeandictatorshipsof the
time (Hitler'sGermanyand Mussolini'sItaly).9In contrastto the
"Kinder-Kiiche-Kirche" ideology of these fascist states, Turkey
presenteditself as a countryelectingwomen to its parliamentand
thereby symbolically claimed its rightful place among other
This approach concurs with analyses of the strategicrole of
women'srightsin other kinds of revolutionaryactivities.Gregory
Massell'sanalysisof the mobilizationof Muslimwomen of Soviet
CentralAsia and their use as a "surrogate proletariat" illustratesa
different but equally pragmatic political project." Maxine
Molyneux'sreview of policies geared to women in socialist so-
cieties suggeststhatimprovingthe positionof women may be seen
by reforminggovernmentsas a key to dismantlingthe old order.
In this respect, she points out that the most strikingdifferences
may be found between capitalistand socialist states in Muslim
societies of the ThirdWorld.12In the former,traditionalpractices
such as polygamy, veiling, child marriage,and the seclusion of
women from public life seem to prevailto a much greaterextent.
This brings us to the ratherobvious conclusionthat the Islamic
nature of a society can only be evaluatedwith reference to its
broaderpoliticalprojectratherthan the dominantreligiousaffilia-
tion of its population.
In this respect Turkey emerges as a unique case. In historical
terms,it is a countrythat has never been colonized.Therefore,the
dilemma of the emancipationof women in Islam has not pre-
sented itself quite in the same way as it has in those countriesthat
were former Western colonies. Nelson and Olesen note that, in
these latter countries,"thefact that western coloniserstook over
322 Deniz A. Kandiyoti

the paternalisticdefense of Muslimwoman'slot characterisedany

changesin her conditionas concessionsto the coloniser.Women's
emancipationwas readilyidentifiedas succumbingto western in-
Moreimportantly,LeilaAhmedarguesthat the facts of
dependencyultimatelycompromisethe consciousnessof women
For the Islamic woman, however, there is a whole further dimension to the
pressures that bear down on her urging her to silence her criticism, remain
loyal, reconcile herself to even find virtue in the central formulationsof her
culturethat normallyshe would rebel against:the pressurethat comes into be-
ing as a result of the relationshipin which Islamic society now stands in rela-
tion with the West.14
Although"Westernizing" bureaucratsin Turkey have similarly
been chargedwith capitulationto foreignvalues and, in extreme
cases, with a form of internalcolonialism,the level of investment
of elementsof nationalidentityinto women's"traditional" behavior
is notablylower than that in most Middle Easterncountries.The
process of secularization,althoughfar from being unproblematic,
has undoubtedlyleft its mark.'5Nonetheless, the emancipatory
measures geared to women in Turkey have been described in
rathercontradictoryterms as being either spectacularor merely
superficialand cosmetic.In actualfact, neitherstatementis strict-
ly true. It is a fact that Kemalistreformsremaineda dead issue for
a long time, especiallyin those ruralareasmost weakly integrated
into the national economy. The avoidance of civil marriagein
favor of the religious ceremony, with the related possibility of
polygamy,repudiation,and illegitimacy;the marriageof underage
girls;the demand for baslik(brideprice)in the marriagecontract;
the denial of girls' rights to education; and the emphasis on
women's fertilitywere continuingsigns of the uneven socioeco-
nomic developmentof the country.There is no doubt, however,
that the Kemalistreformshave directlybenefitedwomen of the
urban bourgeoisie. Ayse Oncii's incisive analysis of Turkish
women in the professions gives us important clues about the
reasons and the implicationsof the recruitmentof women into
prestigiousoccupations.The occupationsanalyzed are law and
medicine, in which statisticsindicate that Turkishwomen's par-
ticipationlevels comparevery favorablywith those in countries
such as Franceand the UnitedStates.Oncii suggeststhatthe entry
of Turkishwomen into the professionswas a functionof the initial
Deniz A. Kandiyoti 323

mode of recruitmentof cadres under conditionsof rapid expan-

sion in the new republic.'6The rapid expansion of elite cadres
with specializedand technical education is a mark of many re-
formingor revolutionarygovernmentsand may necessitatethe re-
cruitment of individuals from manual and peasant origins, if
upper-and middle-classwomen do not begin to enterprofessional
schools.The favorableclimateof opinionvis-a-viswomen'seduca-
tion in Turkeyhas been instrumentalin the recruitmentof upper-
and middle-classwomen into prestigiousand highly remunerated
professions. In this sense, women's education has acted not so
much as a means of mobility as a means of class consolidation,
because these women might have posed less of a threatthan up-
wardly mobile men from humblerorigins.
However class-biasedthe republicanreforms may have been,
they have had some obvious and some subtlerlong-termeffects.
As a case in point,we may turnto Oncii'sprognosticon the role of
women in the professionsin Turkey.She suggeststhat despitethe
historical specificity of their recruitment into the professions,
women'sentryhas createda momentumof its own and has avoid-
ed the sex typingof manyjobs and possiblyprovidedrole models
for youngergenerations.A Turkishwoman in the universityis as
or more likely to become an engineer as any of her Western
counterparts.All currentstudies, on the other hand, continue to
show that the socioeconomicstatus of female universitystudents
is clearlyhigherthan that of the overallmale studentpopulation,
indicative of a continuing elite recruitment pattern among
The aim of the foregoingdiscussionwas to illustrate,by means
of the Turkishcase, how the politicalprojectof the statecan act as
a major source of discontinuityin the experiencesof women in
Muslimcountries.The statemay be a powerfulinstigatorof change
throughpoliciesthat may in some cases representan onslaughton
existingculturalpractices.These may be met with variousforms
of resistance or may, on the contrary, be facilitated by new
politicalalliancesand majortransformationsin the socioeconomic
sphere, includingwomen'sown capacityto organizeand struggle
for their rights.The case of Turkeyillustratesboth the potentials
and the limitationsof reformsinstigatedby a politicalvanguardin
the absence of a significantwomen'smovement. This demonstra-
tion has, however, left out a crucialissue, namely, a discussionof
324 Deniz A. Kandiyoti

whether and how the discontinuitiesinstigatedby the state relate

to the developmentof a feminist consciousness.'8Put in another
way, what is the relationship,if any, between "emancipation" and
"liberation"?The changes in Turkey have left the most crucial
areasof genderrelations,such as the double standardof sexuality
and a primarilydomestic definitionof the female role, virtually
untouched.19In that sense, it is tempting to describe Turkish
women as emancipatedbut unliberated,because signs of signifi-
cant political activity by women to remedy this state of affairs
have been largelyabsent. However, putting down the failureof
the developmentof autonomouswomen's movements and fem-
inist consciousnessin the Westernsense to women's"Islamically"
mystified consciousnesses or their reticence to identify with
"foreign"values would be a gross oversimplification.Women's
liberationmovements do not simply refer to women'ssubordina-
tion as an abstractcategorybut give it a contentwhich is reflective
of concreteinstances of subordinationand subjectiveexperiences
of oppressiondirectlyderivedfrom them. These are generallythe
experiencesof women in the industrializedor postindustrialized
West. In what follows, I will arguea ratherobviouspoint:thatdif-
ferent cultural modes of control of female sexuality create dif-
ferent subjectiveexperiencesof femininity. Insofaras subjective
experiencesof femininityand/oroppressionhave a directbearing
on the shapingof what we mightimpreciselylabela "feministcon-
sciousness,"they have to be taken seriously and analyzedin far
greaterdetail than they have been.20


No singleissue has been fraughtwith as much contradictionas that
of Muslimwomen'ssexed subjectivity.Theirsegregatedlives have
been describedeither as instancesof unrelievedoppressionor as
rich social lives in "parallelworlds,"with greaterpotential for
psychologicalliberationthan theirWesternsisterswho have com-
promisedthemselves throughprolongedsocial promiscuitywith
men.21Theirrelationshipsto each other have also variouslybeen
described as typical instances of the divisive rivalry of the op-
pressed or, on the contrary,the sisterhoodand solidarityof those
with strongsame-sexbonds. Apartfrom the fact that both visions
Deniz A. Kandiyoti 325

tend to be relativelyethnocentric,they tell us very little aboutthe

underlyingdynamicsof women'sexperiences.Thereis nothingin
segregationper se that necessarilybreeds rivalryor fosters soli-
darity.It will be suggestedthat it is the mode of controlof female
sexuality, which includes the practice of segregation,that has a
direct bearingon how gender is internalized.The discussionwill
be by no means exhaustive but will selectively focus on the
following issues: the "corporate" control of female sexuality,the
psychological effects of sex segregation,and the characteristicsof
the female life cycle. Severalsimplificationswill have to be made
for the sake of clarity. Class-specificmodalitiesof these cultural
controlswill not be discussed;nor will distinctionsbe made be-
tween aspectsof the historyof the relationsbetween the sexes and
their contemporaryvariations.
The corporatecontrolover female sexualitybecomes strikingly
evidentin the largenumberof differentindividualswho see them-
selves as immediately responsible for ensuring women's ap-
propriate sexual conduct. Parents, siblings, near and distant
relatives,and even neighborsclosely monitorthe movements of
the postpubescentgirl, firmly imprintingthe notion that her sex-
ualityis not hers to give or withhold.This is clearlyapparentat the
criticaljuncture of the choice of a marriagepartner.
In societies where marriageis still defined as the formationof
family alliances,it is not up to the individualwoman to "gether
man."A nationalsurvey carriedout as recently as 1968 showed
that as many as 67 percent of Turkishmarriageswere arranged,
albeitwith full consentof both partners.In 11 percentof the cases
the marriagecontract seems to have taken place without the
women'sconsent,and in 3 and 9 percentof the cases in urbanand
ruralareas, respectively,the young couple escaped familialcon-
trol altogetherby means of elopement.22In any case, the choice of
a mate is by no means a personalmatter.Althougha woman'sper-
sonal attributesdo play a role in whether she is consideredmar-
riageable,it is ultimatelyher family'sresponsibilityto see to it that
a suitablematch is arranged.In the past, and currentlyamongthe
less permissive strata of society, this has kept multitudes of
women from competingagainsteach other on the free marketfor
sexualityand marriage.Againstthis background,the equationof
love with marriage,notions of romanticlove, and images of mar-
riage as woman's ultimate fulfillmentfind less fertile ground on
326 Deniz A. Kandiyoti

which to flourish. Emotional attachment is often expected to

develop aftermarriage.The degreeof emotionalcloseness, actual
or expressed,in the wife-husbandrelationshipis variable.In the
traditionalcontext,especiallyif it involvedextendedfamilyliving,
little overtdisplaysof interestin one'sspouse was encouragedand
few occasions for intimacy were allowed outside the marital
bedroom.In contrastto the apparentinstrumentalityof the wife-
husbandrelationship,legitimateexpressionsof emotionalwarmth
and closeness become possible in relationto one's children,and
also within same-sex groups, a point to which we shall return
A centralcorollaryof corporatecontrolover female sexualityin
this contextis the close connectionbetween female sexual purity
and family or lineage honor. Women are vested with immense
negativepower because any misbehavioron their part can bring
shame and dishonorto the male membersof a whole community,
lineage,or family.Strictexternalconstraintsareplacedon women,
which may rangefromtotalseclusionand veilingto severe restric-
tions of their movements and their access to public places. Both
Hanna Papanekin her study of purdahin Pakistan23 and Fatima
Mernissiin her analysis of Moroccolay great stress on the sym-
bolic value of restrictivepracticesdirected at women to protect
againstthe dangersof uncontrollableand socially disruptivesex-
ual desire.Mernissihas noted the explosiveand dangerousquality
ascribedto femalenessin Muslim societies. Papanekfurthersug-
gests that
it may be that internalised "guilt"feelings are more applicable to impulse con-
trol in societies which are highly dispersed. "Shame"mechanisms are more de-
pendent on sanctions imposed by members of a group with whom there is fre-
quent interaction. In terms of this differentiation, the purdah system clearly
relies more on the use of shame rather than guilt mechanisms of social control.
She concludes that "itwould be a potent irony to find that the
seclusionof women throughthe purdahsystem operateseffective-
ly enough to make sexual repression,in the Freudiansense, un-
Withouthavingto ventureso far afield,it mightbe quite safe to
assume that the very strictnessof the controlsplaced on female
sexuality gives women's femininity the status of an inalienable,
permanent property. It is an ascribed status rather than something
to strive for. The same cannot be said of man's masculinity. An
Deniz A. Kandiyoti 327

argumentthathad been presentedat a moregenerallevel by femi-

nists workingwithin a revisedpsychoanalyticframeworkis thatto
the extent that men's earliestidentificationis with their primary
caretaker,who is usually their mother, their ego boundariesare
predicatedupon a radicalseparationfrom the feminine.25I would
furtherlike to suggestthat culturalconstructionsof the masculine
and feminine play a significantrole in exacerbatingthe need for a
constantreaffirmationof this psychologicalseparation.The more
compellingthe myth of male superioritybecomes (asin the case of
the Latinmachismo),the moredifficultit is for men to live up to it.
Masculinityis not an ascribedbut an achieved status, one that is
never permanentlyachieved,becausethe dangerof being unman-
ned is ever present.Thus, provingone'smasculinityis a constant
preoccupationas is the concern over the loss of masculinity.It
may not be surprisingto find that in cultures such as Turkey,
which controlsfemale sexuality rigidlyand at the same time re-
quiresthat men flaunttheir masculineprowess,men areintensely
preoccupiedwith possible loss of sexual identity.This state of af-
fairs could partiallyaccount for the persistentelement of danger
associated with the female sex, an element that introducesthe
possibilityof subjugationthroughviolence especiallywhen and if
female behavior is construed as a slight against masculinity or
male "honor." FatnaSabbahis quite rightin pointingout the defen-
sive element Muslimpatriarchaldiscoursewhich sets itself the
urgenttask of "neutralizing" women and theirsexuality.Whetherit
reduces women to the rank of the "animal," as in eroticdiscourse
stressing female sexual potency at the expense of their humanity,
or weakens her physicallyand morally,as in the sacreddiscourse,
the result is a distortion and crippling of women's essential
However, althoughwoman'svery humanitymay be in question,
her femalenessnever is. Very little has been said aboutthe possi-
ble psychologicalconsequences of this specific combinationfor
women of corporatecontrol over sexuality and a culturallyand
emotionallychargedconceptionof one'sfemininity.Concernover
loss of femininity,a preoccupationreferredto in the psychological
literatureas one of the possible internalobstaclesto women'ssuc-
cessful professionalachievementin the West, seems conspicuous-
ly absent in this context.A study carriedout in the United States
by MartinaHornerproposedthat a basic inconsistencyexists be-
328 Deniz A. Kandiyoti

tween femininity and successful achievement:stories depicting

professionallysuccessfuloutcomesfor women met with negative
affect and fear-of-successimagery.27This study has been critized
on both methodologicaland substantivegrounds,and there have
been many failures at replication. Nonetheless, older, classic
studiessuch as MirraKomarovsky's also pointedout the pressures
on collegewomen to appearless competentthan they are lest they
should appear unacceptableto their dates.28Clearly, such con-
cerns are intimatelylinked to broaderexpectationsof the female
role which are subjectto transformationand redefinition.How-
ever, I thoughtthere might be some value in replicatingHomer's
fear-of-successmeasureon a groupof female and male university
studentsin Turkeyto find out whether similarconcernscould be
elicitedin a differentculturalcontext.Not only did I fail to find a
statisticaldifferencebetween the women and men, but, more im-
portantly,I did not identify the criticalqualitativeresponsesthat
were supposed to signal concern over loss of femininity among
women.29The women who wrote stories involving the anticipa-
tion of negativeconsequencesfollowingprofessionalsuccess were
preoccupiedby very tangible,externalcontingenciessuch as in-
tensified conflict with male colleaguesand within their families.
There was nothing to indicate that their perceptionsof profes-
sionalsuccess had any bearingon theirviews of themselvesas in-
trinsicallyfeminine and desirable.
The relationshipbetween Turkish women's gender roles and
theirprofessionalroles,on such occasionsthatwomen do step into
public roles, is extremelypuzzling. Paradoxically,their sense of
gender,while strong,does not seem to permeatetheirbeing in the
same diffuse,persistentway thatit does Westernwomen'sin most
cross-sex interaction situations, including professional ones. It
may be that the very rigidityof culturaldefinitionsof femininity
helps redefinewomen in positionsof power as "nonfemale," or at
least "asexual,"or thata varietyof culturalmechanismsare special-
ly mobilizedto constructsome cross-sexualencountersas sexually
"neutral" (such as falling back into the kinship idiom that labels
unrelatedwomen as sister, aunt, and mother accordingto their
ages, with explicitovertonesof asexuality).In any event, women
seem to have the ability to act as professionalswhose habits of
behaviordo not requirepersistentorientationto men as males.Ad-
mittedly,these observationsare highly speculative;the reasonsof-
Deniz A. Kandiyoti 329

fered to account for them are even more so. For instance, Lloyd
Fallersand MargaretFallers,in theirstudyof the women of a small
town in westernAnatolia,invokethe possiblepsychologicalimpact
of sex segregation.They suggestthat "theseTurkishwomen in the
public spherebringwith them from the traditionalseparateworld
of women a sense of independencefrom men which makes them
moreableto concentrateon the tasksat handin the publicworld."30
This assertionis in need of criticalexamination.
Most of humanity continues to live in more socially sex-
segregatedcircumstancesthat we are willing normallyto admit.
The fact that certainsocietiesdo not imposevisible restrictionson
women's movements does not in and of itself mean that women
share the same social worlds with men. Studies of Western
working-classwomen presentexamplesof intense primarygroup,
sex-segregatedsocializing.31Strongrelationshipsbetween women
expressedin frequentcontactand mutualcooperationdo not exist
only in formallysex-segregatedsocieties. Yet, there is a sense in
which, comparedwith men'sclearlyarticulatedpatternsof "men-
only"leisure activities,women'sculturein the West emergesas a
sort of residual category rather than as a truly self-contained
world. In sex-segregatedsocieties, women's parallelnetworks of
sociabilityare highly articulatedand involve structuredvisiting
patterns,specificformsof religiousand ritualparticipation,as well
as specifiedforms of groupentertainment.A lot of self-expressive
activitytakesplacewithin single-sexgroups(suchas singing,danc-
ing, andjoking),and women do not dependexclusivelyor primari-
ly on men for their self-definition.32The same is, of course, true
about male groupsand friendships.
This backgroundof sex-segregationmay seem to have very little
bearingon the contemporaryurbanmiddle class in Turkeywhere
couple or mixed-sex socializing is becoming the norm. Yet, a
specific pattern seems to be emergingwhich Emelie Olson has
characterizedas the "duofocal" family.33Apartfromthe time spent
togetheras a couple,women and men tend to continueto cultivate
their separatenetworksof same-sexfriends.Forwomen, this net-
work involves relatives,old classmates,and neighborsas well as
their colleagues,if they are workingwomen. However, this mode
of socializingimplies continuedaccess to their primarygroupnet-
works, and this access is bolsteredby relativelylow geographic
mobility.Under conditionsof increasedmobility,more character-
330 Deniz A. Kandiyoti

istic of the Westernmiddle class, it may be harderfor women to

cultivatelong-termprimarynetworks,and there may be a tenden-
cy-especially on the part of housewives-to gravitatetoward
husbands'networksof socialrelationsand the secondaryorganiza-
tions, such as clubs and associations,of the communityin which
they live. The extentto which the Westernnuclearfamily defines
itself as an inward-looking,emotionallyself-sufficientunit is clear-
ly quite variable,and there are importantdifferencesalong class
and ethnic lines. Nonetheless, to the extent that the "couple"
operatesas a unit, and may in some extremecases come to repre-
sent the only sourceof primarygroupinteractionfor both sexes, it
creates new sources of strain and places a greaterpsychological
burdenon the institutionof marriageor cohabitation.The danger-
ous levels of socialand emotionalisolationthatmay resultfor non-
working women have been documented extensively in both
feminist researchand fiction. It should not seem surprisingthat
the "rediscoveryof sisterhood"has been so high on the Western
feminist agenda.
Women'sgreaterability to foster and maintaintheir own net-
works of sociabilityin the Middle East appearsas an extremely
importantelementin their controlover theirlives. One of the con-
sequences of this "socialembeddedness"of women is their ability
to benefit from wider supportsystems for their domestic duties,
especiallychildcare.These supportsystemsmay be of a reciprocal
nature (especiallyamongkin) but arejust as frequentlyexploitive
of other women (as with domestic servantsor poor relatives).It
may seem ironic that, in the last analysis, these are the very
mechanisms that serve to shelter the male role from any fun-
damentalredefinition,as domestictasks continueto be effectively
absorbedby other women even when wives lead demandingpro-
It is thereforeimportantto rememberthat women'scooperation
and sociability in the Middle East takes place against a highly
patriarchalbackgroundwhere a varietyof both materialand sym-
bolic means will be mobilizedto minimizechallengesto men'sex-
isting prerogatives.An examinationof women's life cycles will
help us put in place a final but importantbuildingblock of their
identity as well as shed some light on the psychological
mechanismsinstrumentalin reproducingwomen'ssubordination.
The nature of the female life cycle in the "ideal-typical" patri-
Deniz A. Kandiyoti 331

locally extendedhouseholdprovidesus with importantclues with

respectto both the reproductionof women'ssubordinationin the
Middle East and the psychologicalinternalizationof this subor-
dination.This type of domesticarrangement,involvingearlymar-
riage of women into male-headedhouseholds, clear son prefer-
ence and devaluationof the female child, and a sharp age hier-
archy within both female and male domains, is by no means
specific to Islamic societies but is also quite typical of Southand
East Asian societies such as India and China. Nonetheless,many
cultural practices that have a profound impact on women's
psychologicaldevelopmentin the Middle Eastemanatefrom this
type of household, which is neither specificallyMiddle Eastern
nor Islamic,and which exhibitssome significantvariationsacross
Middle Easternsocieties.
In Turkey, the critical relationshipsin the household are be-
tween in-marryingwomen to the male-headedhousehold. A girl
comes to her husband'shousehold, as her title gelin (literally,the
"onewho comes")indicates.In her own socializationas a littlegirl,
it is made quite clearto her that she will have to leave her house of
originand go to el (strangers).This may not be as extremea break
with her past if she marrieswithin her kin group. However, she
starts out her married life under extremely unfavorablepower
terms. Within the household there is a clear hierarchywhereby
the newest bride is subordinatedto her mother-in-lawas well as
all the sisters-in-lawwith more seniority.Childbearing,especially
of a male child, gives her fulleracceptancein her husband'sfami-
ly, and, finally, when her father-in-lawdies she establishesher
separatenuclear household and comes into her own. However,
the apex of her influence and power comes when she in turn has
grown sons who bringher brides.The cyclicalnatureof women's
relativepower position in the household, as well as the fact that
their socializationis at every stage overseen by other women
whose authoritythey may covet, leads to a thoroughinternaliza-
tion and reproductionof this particularform of patriarchy.In this
context, a women's relationshipto her son is absolutely crucial.
The mother-sonrelationshipis an intimateand affectionateone,
where the woman indulgesher son greatly,sometimesprotecting
him againsta punitivefather,and lookingto him for futuresecuri-
ty and protection. Conversely, a man's relationship to his mother
may be stronger than that to his wife, and in cases of conflict his
332 Deniz A. Kandiyoti

solidaritymay easily go to the former. The tug-of-warbetween

mother-in-lawand wife for the man'sloyalityis a productof this
socializationwhich has far outlived the context in which it was
Currently,extendednessaccounts for a very short period of a
household'sdomestic cycle, and it may not take place at all. As
younger men become increasinglyemancipatedfrom their own
fathers,young couples in nuclearfamiliesare also more indepen-
dent.34The expectationof aging in an extended household sur-
rounded by subservientbrides is simply no longer there. How-
ever, the breakfromthe extendedfamilypatterndoes not seem to
have a definitive effect on women's familial expectations.
Women's socialization,which brings a promise of lifelong nur-
turance, is more often than not actually fulfilled in the Turkish
context. Adolescentsand youngsterscontinueto depend on their
families for shelter and materialsupport, regardlessof whether
they are requiredto contributeto the family budget. Even after
marriage,actualmaterialconstraintsmay make a periodof coha-
bitation,or at least close contact, inevitable.The birth of grand-
children brings new responsibilitiesand chores to the older
woman at a time when her Westerncounterpartmay well be con-
templating going back to college. On the whole, women ex-
perience continuityratherthan discontinuitybetween the prom-
ises of theirsocializationand theireventuallife-style.Moreimpor-
tantly, in societies which continueto be more familialin orienta-
tion, for bothwomen and men, the sense of psychologicaldepriva-
tion attachedto being "confined" to domesticitymay be less acute,
if there at all. The same is not true for many Western women.
Theirinvolvementin childcareextendsover a periodof ten to fif-
teen years, a shortperiod for an individualwith a normallife ex-
pectancy. Childrentypically become more independentor leave
home at a time when the husbandis still active in his careerand
the wife is at a near-menopausalor menopausalstage. Any at-
tempt to understandthe psychologicalimplicationsof women's
life cycles must simply take into account the emancipationof
children, adolescents, and young adults. In societies where the
materialand culturalbase for such emancipationexists, women
are more likely to sufferfrom "roleloss"and may more easily turn
to a fundamentalredefinitionof their role and a search for alter-
native life-styles. Significantly,many Western women's dissatis-
Deniz A. Kandiyoti 333

factions with their familialroles coincided with a restrictionand

impoverishment of these roles. It may well be argued that
women's liberationmovements in the West have helped to bring
women'ssocializationand consciousnessmore in line with the ac-
tual demandsof their situationratherthan let them shoulderthe
whole psychologicalburdenof change- alone, alienated,and mys-
To summarize,an attempthas been made to show how in Tur-
key, and more generallyin the MiddleEast,corporatecontrolover
female sexuality, sex-segregatednetworks of sociabilitywith ex-
tensive informalsupportsystems, and a life cycle involvinga con-
tinuedvaluationof women'snurturantroles combineto producea
specific experience of one's gender. This experience is clearly
fraughtwith deep contradictions.A secure sense of genderedself
is achieved as a by-productof the most restrictiveand oppressive
controlsover female sexuality.The sense of strengthderivedfrom
mutual cooperationand supportamong women is ultimatelyin-
strumentalin shelteringmen from new demandsand prolonging
their traditionalprerogatives.Moreover,the relationshipsamong
women often tend to be of a highly exploitivenature.Middle-and
upper-middleclass women, regardlessof whether they are in-
volved in remuneratedwork outsidethe home, may have the pur-
chasing power to hire domestic workers such as maids and nan-
nies. For poor women, who join the laborforce out of economic
necessity,the only householdmemberswho can be reliedupon to
share tasks are daughters, daughters-in-law,or other living-in
female relatives. In every case, the basic living comforts of the
householdare createdby women at the expense of other women.
Processesof rapidsocial change increasinglyreveal and intensify
these contradictions.There is no reason to assume that, in the
same way that young men resentedforgoingindependentincome-
earning opportunitiesfor unremuneratedlabor in their father's
farmor shop, girlswill not resentbeingtakenout of schoolto keep
house and take care of younger siblings.We may expect intensi-
fied conflictbetween differentgenerationsof women especiallyif
their position vis-a-vis each other representsan importantlabor
relationin the household. Similarly,there is no reasonto assume
thatas the minimumwage comes to representa significantportion
of middle-classincomes,and asjob alternativesare createdoutside
the domestic sector, the availabilityof domestic labor will not
334 Deniz A. Kandiyoti

decline, leavingbetter-offwomen with no satisfactoryalternatives

to cater for their needs.
Many other aspects of women'slives are also in a state of flux.
There is a growinguncertaintyregardingsexual mores. Although
corporatecontrolover sexualitymay continue to prevail,the ac-
tual natureof acceptablesexual conductis constantlybeing chal-
lengedand renegotiated,creatingimportantareasof confusionfor
both sexes across all classes.36This may expose women to sur-
prises and humiliationsthat their motherswere sparedyet at the
same time protectthem from some of the worst excesses of the
more traditionalsystem. In any case, there will be important
changes in the parametersthat currently shape women's ex-
periences. Whetherthese changes will promotegreaterempathy
with the centralconcernsof women'sliberationmovementsin the
West or will producea nostalgiafor and commitmentto traditional
values and practicesis difficultto predict.In all probabilityboth
tendencieswill be presentto some extent. At any rate,any obser-
vations on the development of a feminist consciousness within
this contextmust startwith a full recognitionof the set of specific
contradictionsof women's experiences.

In this articleI have attemptedto identifysome of the factorsac-
countingfor similaritiesand divergencesin women'sexperiences
in the Middle East througha detailed discussion of the Turkish
case. I have chosen a specific historicallocation to demonstrate
thatthe politicalprojectof the statecan exerta powerfulinfluence
which inflects and modifies the place and practiceof Islam and,
consequently, the life options for women. Thus, although the
secularreformsof the TurkishRepublicmay have had a set of na-
tionalisticgoals as their ultimateobjective,they have nonetheless
had a progressiveimpacton women'srights.I have, however, also
arguedthat despiteimportantvariationsthere are undeniableuni-
fying themes in the experiencesof women emanatingfrom the
nature of culturalcontrols over female sexuality in the Muslim
Middle East. The corporatecontrol of female sexuality, linking
female sexual purity to male honor, the segregationof the sexes,
and the nature of the female life cycle, have been singled out as
featuresthat exerta decisiveinfluencein shapingand reproducing
Deniz A. Kandiyoti 335

a culturallyspecificexperienceof gender.Althoughthere are deep

and importantvariationsboth amongMiddleEasternsocietiesand
within them (alongclass and ethnic lines), if an irreducible"core"
of culturalpractice had to be identified I would suggest that it
residesprimarilyin concretemodes of controlof female sexuality,
not all of which are specificto Islamicsocieties,ratherthan in the
unmediateddictatesof Islam.This searchfor specificityis of more
than purely academicinterest, because I have been arguingthat
ultimately we cannot totally divorce specific forms of con-
sciousness (feministor other)from the social relationsthat condi-
tion them.
It is in accountingfor culturallyspecific forms of sexed subjec-
tivity and their possiblelink with distinctmodes of consciousness
that I have found Westernfeminist theories either inadequateor
incomplete. Radicalfeminist theories of both the culturalistand
materialistvariety, insofaras they choose to stress the universal
aspects of women'soppression,have few tools to account for the
specifichistoricaland culturalarrangementsthatmediatebetween
biologicallyrooted universal phenomena (such as childbearing)
and theirdifferentinstitutionalizedforms.On those occasionsthat
they make statements about the universal experiences of
womanhood,the attemptsof Westernradicalfeministsturn out to
be either un-self-consciouslyreflective of concrete, culturally
specific contexts or ahistoricalsearchesfor the essentialwoman.
Marxist/socialistfeminists,on the other hand, are generallybetter
able to accountfor historicallyspecificforms of women'ssubordi-
nation (especiallywithin postindustrialcapitalism)and generate
conceptsthat are abstractand broadenough to escape chargesof
ethnocentrism.However, the very broad and abstractnature of
these concepts makes a considerationof culturallydefined sexed
subjectivity-the very stuff that consciousness is made of-dif-
ficult if not impossibleto deal with.37
I would like to concludeby suggestingthatthis is the terrainthat
still remainsto be captured.Advancesin this directionwould not
only enrich feminist theory but would also make it a more sen-
sitive tool for politicalaction.
336 Deniz A. Kandiyoti


1. See Cynthia Nelson and Virginia Olesen's "Veil of Illusion: A Critique of the Concept
of Equality in Western Feminist Thought," Catalyst, nos. 10-11 (Summer 1977): 8-36, 27,
2. Fatima Mernissi, Beyond the Veil: Male-Female Dynamics in a Modern Muslim Society
(New York: John Wiley,1975), 12.
3. Binnaz (Sayari) Toprak, "Religion and Turkish Women," in Women in TurkishSociety,
ed. Nermin Abadan-Unat (Leiden, The Netherlands: E.J. Brill, 1981), 285.
4. Lois Beck and Nikki Keddie, eds., Women in the Muslim World (Cambridge: Harvard
University Press, 1978), 25.
5. On these questions, see Deniz Kandiyoti, "Sex Roles and Social Change: A Com-
parative Appraisal of Turkey's Women," Signs 3 (Autumn 1977): 57-73, and "Economie
Monetaire et Roles des Sexes: Le cas de la Turquie," CurrentSociology 31 (Spring 1983):
6. Although most of the empirical material for this article is drawn from Turkey, my
aim is to open up a more general line of theoretical inquiry for women in the Middle
East and North Africa. Any references to Islamic societies and Muslim women within
the text must be understood to refer to this circumscribed area (excluding, for instance,
Islamic societies in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia).
7. Nermin Abadan-Unat, "Social Change and Turkish Women," in Women in Turkish
Society, 5-31.
8. Tezer Taskiran, Cumhuriyetin 50: Yilinda Turk Kadin Haklari (Ankara, Turkey:
Basbakanlik Basimevi, 1973), 176 pages. Afet Inan, Ataturk ve Turk Kadin Haklarinin
Kazanilmasi (Istanbul: Milli Egitim Basimevi, 1964).
9. Sirin Tekeli, "Women in Turkish Politics," in Women in Turkish Society, 293-310.
10. On this question, Nora Seni sees a greater degree of continuity between the Otto-
man and republican state traditions, especially in terms of the symbolic value attached
to the control of women. For her, the "granting"of political rights to women by the
republican state has the same analytical status as the painstaking Ottoman legislation
specifying the mode of dress and conduct of women in urban space. Although highlight-
ing the importance of the symbolic, this argument ultimately falls short of elucidating
the political necessity of the reforms. See Nora Seni, "Ville Ottomane et Representation
du Corps Feminin," Les Temps Modernes (July-August 1984): 66-95.
11. Gregory Massell, The Surrogate Proletariat: Muslim Women and Revolutionary
Strategies in Soviet CentralAsia, 1919-1929 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974).
12. Maxine Molyneux, "Women in Socialist Societies: Theory and Practice," in Of Mar-
riage and the Market: Women'sSubordination in International Perspective, ed. Kate Young
et al. (London: CSE Books: 1981), p. 167-202.
13. Nelson and Olesen, 32.
14. Leila Ahmed, "Feminism and Feminist Movements in the Middle East, Preliminary
Exploration: Turkey, Egypt, Algeria, People's Democratic Republic of Yemen," in
Women and Islam, ed. Aziza Al-Hibri (Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1982), 162.
15. The meaning and actual degree of success of this process is a hotly debated issue in
Turkey. Analyses attempting to explain the resurgence of Islamic values in Turkey
draw our attention to structural changes which produced the emergence of a new elite
at the center, in the form of the religious National Salvation Party (see Toprak, 291), and
to a more diffuse search for identity stemming from the rapid transformation of society
which had to be acknowledged even by the country's "secular" military rules (Nur
Vergin, "Quand L'Islam reinvestit la ville," Le Monde Diplomatique [November 19821:
11). Interestingly, most analysts seem to think that these developments do not pose a
serious threat to women's rights.
Deniz A. Kandiyoti 337

16. Ayse Oncii, "Turkish Women in the Professions: Why So Many?" in Women in
Turkish Society, 81-193.
17. Surveys carried out among university students consistently show that on the
whole, female students come from more affluent backgrounds than male students,
judging by indicators such as father's profession, family income, parents' education, and
patterns of residence (metropolitan, urban, rural). This suggests that parents of modest
means will make a special effort to put their sons through college-but not their
daughters. There is therefore a closer relationship between girls' class background in
terms of giving them access to higher education, than boys' who are drawn from a wider
variety of social backgrounds.
18. For the purpose of this paper, I will adopt a minimalist definition by proposing that
a feminist consciousness may be deemed to exist whenever women act as the self-
conscious subjects of their own struggle, that is, when they recognize a set of demands
as explicitly their own.
19. Deniz Kandiyoti, "Urban Change and Women's Roles: An Overview and Evalua-
tion," in Sex Roles, Family, and Community in Turkey, ed. Cigdem Kagitcibasi (Bloom-
ington: Indiana University Turkish Studies, 1982), 101-20.
20. This is not to suggest that the complex historical forces that have led to contem-
porary feminism can be reduced to a mere epiphenomenon of specific women's or
men's consciousnesses but rather to indicate a willingness to explore the impact of dif-
ferent cultural contexts on the shaping of sexed subjectivity. Ultimately, this should
lead us into a discussion of alternative constructions of the human subject. This issue,
although critical to an understanding of feminism, must remain outside the scope of this
21. Ahmed, for instance, argues convincingly that the segregated women of the Ara-
bian Peninsula are not in the least mystified as to the true nature of the relations be-
tween the sexes in their society and have few doubts about their own self-worth despite
the prevalent ideology of women's inferiority. See Leila Ahmed, "Western Ethnocen-
trism and Perceptions of the Harem," Feminist Studies 8 (Fall 1982): 521-34. Daisy H.
Dwyer's study of Morocco, on the other hand, seems to suggest a greater degree of col-
lusion on the part of women with the stereotype of female inferiority, although their ac-
quiescence is mingled with protest and resistance. See her Images and Self Images: Male
and Female in Morocco (New York: Columbia University Press, 1978), 263.
22. Serim Timur, TiirkiyedeAile Yapisi (Ankara, Turkey: Sevinc Matbaasi, 1972): 69-98.
23. Hanna Papanek, "Separate Worlds and Symbolic Shelter," Comparative Studies in
Society and History 15 (June 1975): 289-325; Mernissi.
24. Papanek, 316, 325.
25. Nancy Chodorow, The Reproductionof Mothering: Psychoanalysis and the Sociology of
Gender (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978).
26. Fatna Sabbah, Woman in the Muslim Unconscious (New York: Pergamon Press,
27. Martina Horner, "Femininity and Successful Achievement: Basic Inconsistency,"
Feminine Personality and Conflict, ed. Judith M. Bardwick et al. (Belmont, Calif.: Wads-
worth Publishing, 1970): 45-74.
28. Mirra Komarovsky, "Cultural Contradictions and Sex Roles," American journal of
Sociology 52 (1946): 508-16.
29. Deniz Kandiyoti, "Dimension of Psycho-Social Change in Women: An Intergenera-
tional Comparison," in Women in Turkish Society, 233-58.
30. Lloyd Fallers and Margaret Fallers, "Sex Roles in Edremit," in Mediterranean Family
Structure, ed. J.G. Peristiany (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976), 255.
31. See, for example, Michael Young and Peter Willmott, Family and Kinship in East
London (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1957); and Lee Rainwater, R.P. Coleman,
338 Deniz A. Kandiyoti

and George Handel, Working Man's Wife (New York: McFadden Bartell, 1962).
32. See, for instance, Carla Makhlouf-Obermeyer, Changing Veils: A Study of Women in
South Arabia (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1979). She suggests that women's
meetings are also a vehicle for satire and ridicule of the male world.
33. Emelie Olson, "Duofocal Family Structure and an Alternative Model of Husband-
Wife Relationships," in Sex Roles, Family, and Community in Turkey, 33-72.
34. For greater detail, see Deniz Kandiyoti, "Rural Transformation in Turkey and Its
Implications for Women's Status,"in Womenon the Move: ContemporaryChanges in Fami-
ly and Society (Paris: Unesco, 1984); and "Social Change and Social Stratification in a
Turkish Village,"Journal of Peasant Studies 2 (January 1975): 206-19.
35. I do not wish to suggest that gender relations in the family, as we know it, are not
intrinsically oppressive to women but rather want to reflect on when and how they come
to be perceived as such. I am intrigued by the possibility that such perceptions may
arise at the point of transformation of such relations or when an important disjunction
takes place between the ideology and the facts of domesticity.
36. For instance, the continuing value attached to women's virginity in a context where
opportunities for cross-sex contact are more available and to some extent more per-
missible creates new practices such as the surgical replacement of the hymen designed
to cover up any premarital lapses. For an insightful discussion, see Fatima Mernissi,
"Virginity and Patriarchy," Women'sStudies International Forum 5 (1982): 183-91.
37. It is noteworthy that on those occasions when Marxist/socialist feminists do discuss
subjectivity they often fall back on psychoanalytic theory and its contemporary off-
shoots in ways that tend to obfuscate and trivialize, rather than engage with and prob-
lematize, the very real differences the experience of womanhood may represent.