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A clinical approach to the impact of patriarchal values on psychological functioning of Turkish women/Ataerkil Deger Yargilarinin Turk Kadininin Psikolojik Islevselligine Etkileri: Klinik Bir Yaklasim.


This article examines the current status of Turkish women from a relational psychoanalytic perspective. Statistics indicate that Turkish women have been historically oppressed and discriminated by the Turkish men. The patriarchal nature of the society is a major reason that have led to perpetuation of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse of the Turkish women, especially in the rural areas. Even though the regulations and recent laws ameliorated the discrepancy between the rights of Turkish women and men, the findings of practical applications of these laws suggest that changes in the legal system are not truly internalized by the society. Women are still subjected to various forms of oppression, including objectification. In addition, working women aspire to be superwomen as they attempt to excel at multitasking at work, home, and relationships, which often has an overwhelming effect on women. It appears that both traditional and urban women receive double messages at home, relationships, and work and suffer in multiple domains of life. Clinical cases discussed in this paper help to illustrate the psychological difficulties, such as depression, anxiety, and eating disorders, Turkish women experience due to the patriarchal nature of the society. Implications and recommendations that would potentially have a positive impact on elevating the status of Turkish women were discussed.

Keywords: women, Turkey, psychopathology, discrimination, oppression, psychotherapy, objectification, gender inequality, relational psychoanalysis.


Bu makale Turk kadinlarinin toplumdaki guncel yerini iliskisel psikoanalitik acidan incelemektedir. Istatistiklerden anlasilacagi uzere, Turk kadinlari, erkekler ve toplum tarafindan uzun yillar boyunca fiziksel, cinsel ve duygusal anlamda baski altinda tutulmus ve siddet gormuslerdir. Ataerkil Turk toplumunda kadinin yerini korumak amaciyla yasalarda olumlu degisiklikler yapilsa da, bu degisikliklerin gunluk hayatta ne kadar uygulandigi ve bireyler tarafindan ne kadar icsellestirildigi buyuk bir soru isaretidir. Gunumuzde geleneksel Turk kadini tarihsel olarak suregelen baskinin altinda ezilmeye devam etmektedir. Orta sinif ve calisan modern kadinlar ise is hayati, aile, ve iliskilerin dengeli ve saglikli bir sekilde yurutulmesinde yasanan sorunlar ve super kadin idealinin yarattigi baski altinda ezilmektedir. Kadinin nesnelestirilmesi ise yasanan sorunlardan bir baskasidir. Dolayisiyla Turk toplumunda hem geleneksel hem de modern kadinlar evde ve isyerinde cifte mesajlar almakta ve sikinti yasamaktadirlar. Bu makalede belirtilen klinik vakalar ataerkil toplum yapisina bagli olarak Turk kadininin yasadigi guncel sorunlari ve bu sorunlarin yol actigi depresyon, endise ve yeme bozukluklari gibi psikolojik sikintilari betimlemeye yardimci olmaktadir. Makale bu sorunlari, etkilerini, ve Turk kadininin toplumdaki statusunu yukseltmeye yardimci olabilecek onerileri tartismistir.

Anahtar kelimeler: kadin, Turkiye, psikopatoloji, ayrimcilik, baski, psikoterapi, nesnelestirme, cinsiyet esitsizligi, iliskisel psikoanaliz.


Historically women have been no different than the black, poor, disabled, or LGBT populations in terms of their human rights. Women have been oppressed by the society cross-culturally in all ages. Turkish women have received their fair share. The discrimination and oppression is widespread across various domains of life for Turkish women. Oppression represents itself in romantic, family and social life, at school and work, and even on the physical appearance of the women. Women from all backgrounds, both rural and urban, appear to suffer from discrimination in Turkey, although gender inequality hits them differently.

This paper aims to explain perpetuation of interpersonal relationships from a relational psychoanalytic approach, examine psychosocial mechanisms that perpetuate gender inequality in Turkey and consequences of inequality within the relational context, and to offer recommendations that would ameliorate the status of Turkish women. The paper emphasizes that both rural and urban Turkish women are subjected to discrimination, though in different ways. Examples of clinical cases will be used to illustrate the struggles of Turkish women as they shed light on the impact of oppression on psychological malfunctioning.

A Relational Approach to the Regulation of Interpersonal Relationships

Relational paradigm suggests that human beings strive to establish connection with others. Relationships with others, actual or internalized, are the core elements of human experience. Internalization of the interpersonal experience shapes inner representations of self, other, and the relationship pattern between the self and other (Borden, 2008). Relational paradigm posits that we experience others as we perceive them based on the expectations developed while interacting with caretakers; the perceptions of others do not necessarily need to be the realities. In other words, the relationship patterns that were developed while interacting with the caretakers tend to be generalized to other relationships as one develops connections with partners, friends, colleagues, and other acquaintances.

Infants need interpersonal relatedness from very early on for survival. Caretakers feed, change, protect, and soothe infants. By maintaining relatedness with the caretakers, infants maximize their chances of staying alive and meeting their needs (Bowlby, 1969). Therefore, relatedness is a crucial component of survival for infants. Even some aspects of caretakers might be invalidating, the infants desperately need their caretakers in order to survive. When there is such an intrinsic need to relate to the caretakers, the infants internalize both validating and invalidating aspects of their caretakers. Subsequently, they treat themselves accordingly.

When interactions with adult caretakers are consistent and nurturant, infants internalize the positive exchanges, and develop a representation of self as "good me". On the other hand, when the caretaker is inconsistent, anxious, and tense while interacting with the infant, he or she would internalize the caretaker's anxiety and experience parts of it's self as "bad me". Finally, when the caretaker disapproves aspects of the infant, the infant feels intolerably anxious and experiences parts of if s self as "not me". In other words, aspects of the self that are categorized as "bad me" or "not me" are those parts of the self that were not accepted by his or her caretakers (Sullivan, 1953). Therefore, those experiences that are associated with extreme anxiety, do not become well integrated into memory, and are not represented as part of the self (Safran & Muran, 2000). Those nonintegrated parts of the self represent distorted schemas and tend to contribute to difficulties in relating to the self and others.

As discussed above, during the process of development, individuals develop expectations of themselves and others based on how they were treated by their caregivers (Safran, 1990). In other words, individuals make generalizations on how relationships work based on their early experiences. This creates a perpetuation of relationship patterns. For example, a girl who was accepted by the parents only when she ignored her own needs and adapted to the patriarchal values of the society might come to disown her assertive parts, because her assertive parts would make her intolerably anxious. She would learn that being loved requires ignoring the needs of the self. She might repeat this pattern and enact it in her relationships later in life. In other words, she would tend to engage in relationships where her needs, thoughts, and feelings are constantly invalidated. She would come to learn that relationships last when she focuses on the needs of the other in expense of her own needs.

Distorted schemas tend to repeat and maintain themselves in close relationships through the principle of complementarity, which suggests that individuals affect each other's behavior in predictable ways (Kiesler, 1983). The principle of complementarity states that an individual's behavior constrains the other's subsequent behaviors or responses. A complementary interaction is defined by the second participant adhering to the constraints placed on his or her behavior by the first participant. The first participant then would be likely to repeat his or her original behavior (Orford, 1994). According to the circumplex theories, there are two main human behaviors: affiliation and control. All of the human behaviors are a blend of affiliation and control behaviors. Affiliative behaviors are considered complementary when they are corresponding, in which friendly behavior tends to elicit friendly behavior and hostile behavior tends to elicit hostile behavior. The behaviors on the control dimension are considered complementary when they are reciprocal, in which dominant behavior tends to pull for submissive behavior and submissive behavior tends to pull for dominant behavior (Kiesler, 1983). For example, the girl whose needs were neglected as a child by the caretakers might believe she should not express her needs while interacting with others. As she refrains from expressing her needs in relationships in a submissive manner, she will pull for more dominant behavior from others. This would strengthen her schema that the needs of the self should not be expressed and one should be passive.

An Overview of the Societal Status of Turkish Women

A brief overview of the statistical data reveals that Turkish women are physically, sexually, and emotionally abused by Turkish men. Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat, 2008) Domestic Violence Research Project surveyed over 24,000 households. The results showed that 39% of the women reported that they were physically abused and 15% were sexually abused at least once in their lifetime by their husbands or partners. When men physically abused women, they slapped, punched, kicked, threw objects, or pushed their women. Single women were abused less, physically and sexually, compared to the married, divorced or separated women. Ten percent of the single women were abused sexually or physically at least once in their lifetime as opposed to 40% of the married women and 77% of the divorced and separated women. Forty-four percent of the Turkish women reported being emotionally abused by men at least once in their lifetime, which often manifested itself with insults, disparagements, and threats. The abuse often goes unpunished by the legal system. If women were exposed to domestic violence, only 39% of the women in urban areas and 26% of the women in rural areas left their husbands or took the case to the court. The rest reported they would do nothing, remain silent, cry at home, or complain about the husband to the family. Overall, only 35% of the Turkish women said they would report domestic violence to the authorities or leave home.

Sufferings of the Turkish women are not limited to abuse. The opportunities provided to women are limited and the attitudes towards women are oppressive (Aksoy, 1996). Women are not as educated as men are and they have less chances of being employed. According to TurkStat (2009) statistical indicators, 12% of the women were illiterate compared to 3% of the men. Gender disparity in education is striking in underdeveloped regions of Turkey (Kagitcibasi, 2010). In 2000, while 76% of the men were included in the labor force, only 42% of the women were included in the labor force. There is a gap between attitude and practice of work. While 89% of the women support the idea of women working, only 38% of them actually work or have an employment history. When women do work, 71% of the women tend to quit working after getting married (O'Neill & Guler, 2009). There is a wage disparity between males and females as the mean income of males is much higher than the income of females, with married women earning the least (Ozcan, Ucdogruk, & Ozcan, 2003). Low salaries, long hours of work, little opportunity for advancement for women, and lack of adequate child-care support are crucial factors keeping women out of work settings (Ilkkaracan, 1998). Until very recently, 1990, the women were not free to decide for their own on job related issues, because they had to get permission from their husbands in order to work (Arat, 1995). When women do work, they have the burden of multitasking at work and home. For example, 90% of the working women reported they were also responsible from housework. 68% of the same group reported they were also responsible from child-care (O'Neill & Guler, 2009).

The discrimination is observed in social roles, responsibilities, and expectations of the family members as well. Male decision-making is predominantly experienced in the households. Men make decisions regarding buying the necessaries and deciding on how many children the couple will have. Husbands make the final decision when there is a disagreement about an important decision between couples (Kagitcibasi, 1981). According to TurkStat (2006) statistics, 58% of the women believed husbands having extramarital affairs were a reason for divorce, whereas 92% of the men believed the wives having extramarital affairs were a reason for divorce. This indicates a significant gender discrepancy on the standards for fidelity. Furthermore, 31% of the women and 33% of the men believed having a male child increased the dignity of the women. This suggests that every one out of three mothers believe that having a boy rather than a girl will help improve her social reputation. In other words, even women believe being a male is more prestigious than being a female in Turkey and one third of the women internalized perceived male superiority over females. Implications of this on child-rearing would be significant, some of which might include mothers discriminating girls against boys during development, which would be internalized by the girls during the developmental process and would be acted out as adults, which then would manifest itself as a repetition of discrimination across generations. In addition to limited opportunities and tyrannical attitudes that women are exposed to, Turkish women do not have an equal say in their own, women-related, issues because the women are underrepresented at the Turkish Grand National Assembly. The women hold only 9% of the representatives in the Assembly in 2011. The efforts to encourage women to participate in management and politics appear to be inadequate mostly due to the patriarchal nature of the society, which discourage active and independent aspects of the women (Arat, 1989).

A historical review of the value of women helps to explain longstanding struggle of Turkish women. The economy of Turkey developed around agriculture until the eighties. This had an indirect impact on gender inequality. The families wanted to have boys because it meant direct men power who could work in the fields and bring in money for the family. Moreover, men would get married and bring in extra manpower, wives, to the family who would help at working in the fields. Girls, however, were supposed to get married and serve to the family of the husband. Since the girls did not have an investment value, the families, especially the men who controlled the finances of the family, preferred having boys. This indirectly brought discrimination against girls. The investments were made on males of the family rather than the females. If the family had limited resources, the boys received the training and education, rather than the girls (Atabek, 1989). Being the bread earner gave men the power of decision-making. Women had less control over decisions at home except childrearing. Unassertive and submissive aspects of Turkish females have been rewarded by the society, which perpetuated discrimination against the females (Mocan-Aydin, 2000).

As women increasingly began working outside of home, similar to men, power dynamics between men and women gradually shifted. Even though, there are still prominent differences between the Eastern, mostly rural, and Western, mostly urban, parts of Turkey in terms of expectations of the women in the society, with the increased exposure to the media, and particularly television, women are increasingly exposed to different female-role models, who are more education and career oriented. Exposure made it easy for traditional women to acquire characteristics of the Western women. With urbanization, as women received more education and took more responsibility in corporate life, the male-dominant approach began to change. Women have been increasingly showing that they have the capacity to provide for the family. Earning money through employment facilitated an increase in the status of women (Elmaci & Oto, 1996), but it did not completely ease the sufferings of the women. When women entered the workplace, mostly in the West of Turkey, assertiveness became an important quality for the urban women to be successful in the workplace. However, assertiveness is not valued at home and working women experience difficulties similar to traditional women when they exhibit assertive behaviors at home (Mocan-Aydin, 2000). Being assertive while interacting with the husbands and older relatives tends to put women under the risk of even physical abuse (Mocan-Aydin, 2000). Therefore women, who are similar to men in terms of education and careers, experience difficulties asserting themselves at home. This is particularly difficult for women because even though they are expected to compete with men at work, they are still being oppressed by men at home, which is quite invalidating for women.

Despite the efforts to regulate the laws that would protect women, Turkish woman lives a drama because not only she is explicitly subjected to different forms of abuse but also she herself internalized the discrimination and receiving mixed messages about her responsibilities. Rural women tend to be controlled by her parents and society. Middle-class urban Turkish women's life appears to be stuck in between the responsibilities of a modern world at work and expectations of them in a traditional home environment. As a result of internalization of the contrasting expectations of them, the Turkish women are overwhelmed.

A Relational Approach to Perpetuation of Gender Disparity in Turkey

The principle of complementarity appears to regulate gender discrimination in Turkey. Even though the preference for having sons has weakened from 1970s to 2000s in urban areas, son preference prevails among older females in rural areas and in low socioeconomic status urban areas (Kagitcibasi & Ataca, 2005). Furthermore, university students and their parents in rural areas of Turkey still have a distinct preference for sons, with higher economic expectations from sons pointing to a strong patriarchal worldview (Aycicegi-Dinn & Kagitcibasi, 2010). According to the relational approach and the principle of complementarity, when the society treats females as less than males, the females would treat themselves accordingly. In other words, when there is such a preference for sons, an average Turkish woman in rural areas of Turkey, would tend to be raised by internalizing that she is less than a man. Since she grows up observing that parents prefer sons to girls, she would internalize this, and being treated less than a male would be acceptable for her. She would then tend to ignore parts of her self that are creative, assertive, and dominant, but instead display obeying and submissive parts of the self. Furthermore, she would be likely to behave in ways that will pull for more dominance and discrimination from future male figures. For instance, a female who was oppressed by her family as a child would act in ways that will pull for dominance and discrimination from her husband when she gets married. She will then pass this pattern on to the next generations. Thus, the discrimination will continue as a vicious circle until one of the parties changes his or her maladaptive behaviors, decides to leave the relationship, or harms the self or the other. The literature indicates that older women who suffered from a lack of authority in their youth and led their lives observing the patriarchal rules, reinforce the patriarchal rules stronger than even the males of the family in order to establish their own authority (Brown, 1997; Kandiyoti, 1988). Therefore, female internalization of oppression and discrimination contributes to the perpetuation of oppression towards females. In extreme cases, oppression towards females is internalized by females in such a strong manner that, they subsequently punish and physically harm themselves. In other words, presence of oppressive parents is no longer needed once females internalized the oppression. For instance, in Batman, where female suicide rates are three times higher than the national average, female suicides go along with parental controlling attitudes. Among those who attempt or complete suicide, there is a striking trend for the parents to control their daughters' mate and friend selection and attendance to social activities, and to limit their mobility (Sever & Erkan, 2004). To put it differently, as daughters are controlled by the parents and discriminated against

the boys, the daughters internalize parents' harsh attitudes. They perpetuate the discrimination either by punishing themselves physically and psychologically or by oppressing younger females. Thus, perpetuation of discrimination of females across generations becomes a problem at a personal and societal level.

Case Examples that Illustrate the Struggles of Turkish Women

Clinical case material is presented below in order to explain struggles of Turkish women from a clinical psychology point of view. The author provided integrative therapy (a combination of relational, cognitive-behavioral, and supportive psychotherapy) to all cases described below in a private outpatient clinic in Adana, which is the fifth biggest city of the country, located in south-central part of Turkey. The cases below were selected because they represent the difficulties that repeatedly bring rural and urban Turkish females and their families to outpatient psychotherapy.

Invalidation of Rural Turkish Women in the Family

A 20-year-old university student coming from a rural family, came to therapy with depressive symptoms and anger management problems. She was very confused in the beginning of psychotherapy, had feelings of sadness, worthlessness and hopelessness, loss of appetite, crying spells, intense anger, and passive suicidal ideation. She was afraid of and angry with her brothers who allegedly controlled her life. She reported her brothers controlled her choice of clothing, her phone calls, and the time she came and left home. Her brothers allegedly did not want her to leave home unless she absolutely needed to leave home, such as leaving home to go to the doctor's appointments. She could not disclose information regarding her dating life to her brothers because she was concerned about their reactions. She explained her brothers were physically abusive towards her and her sister, as the brothers slapped them on the face when they did not obey the orders of the brothers. The brothers controlled even the mother. She noted, however, her brothers had their own girlfriends, whom they brought home to socialize. It was only the females of the family who could not wear the clothes of their own choice, who could not have decent relationships with men, who could not come and leave home freely. At home, the patient had to hide aspects of her self, which did not comply with patriarchal values of the males in the family. Denying aspects of her self led to psychological difficulties, which were manifested as depressive symptoms.

Her symptoms alleviated once her feelings were validated, her being discriminated as a woman in a patriarchal family system was addressed as an issue, and a family meeting with the supportive mother eased the strict rules at home. The patient gained more access to the source of feelings of anger and was able to manage them in a healthier fashion. When a meaning was attributed to her confusing and traumatic experiences the patient's mood became stable. Furthermore, the patient's hostile and submissive patterns of relating to her brothers, partner, and friends have changed to a more assertive pattern.

Invalidation of Middle-Class Turkish Women in the Family

The oppressive attitude towards women in the society has not changed drastically, despite their involvement at work. In other words, even though women took over extra responsibilities and showed they had a capacity to provide financially for the family, this has not completely elevated the status of the women or eased their living conditions. On the contrary, some working Turkish women are subjected to additional emotional pressure due to working. In family therapy, teenagers of middle-class families often complain about their working mothers. Many families come to therapy because the children are acting out, either at school, with the parents, or with their friends. Some of the children attribute their difficulties to "their mothers who were working when they were young". For instance, a 14-year-old suicidal hypomanic female high-school student, coming from a middle-class family, complained about the work schedule of her mother. She noted she felt emotionally deprived because she had to be fed by babysitters who were paid to feed the children. A 17-year-old male university student with impulse control problems mentioned that he did not have enough time to spend with his mother because his mother had to work during the day. Both teenagers blamed the mothers for leaving them to the relatives or babysitters. Both claimed that their mothers left them to the relatives or babysitters because "their mothers did not love them enough". Even though some children eventually understand that their mothers worked because of the financial necessities and repair the relationship with the mothers, some of them fail to do so. The mothers in family sessions often get very emotional upon hearing their children's thoughts and feelings about themselves. The mothers have difficulty explaining their own point of view on how they raised their children and why they had to work. In therapy sessions, the Turkish women themselves tend to believe that they are defective mothers because they could not spend as much time with their children due to the obligations at work. Simon de Beauvoir (1973) mentioned in Second Sex that women were perceived as "other, limited, vulnerable, passive, emotional, untalented" compared to men in patriarchal societies. Since, all relationships, whether work related or personal, are regulated through these conventions, the women are consciously or unconsciously influenced by these conventions (Doltas, 1995). In other words, the women themselves internalize the idea that they are not complete and in some ways they are defective. It appears that working Turkish women are in between two separate worlds, which are home and work, and are negatively influenced by being caught in the middle. On the one hand, Turkish women are criticized by their own children and families for leaving their children at home or at day-care centers in order to work. On the other hand, the financial requirements of contemporary life force women to work outside of home. Solely men working per household is not sufficient anymore for a family to support itself. These women, who have families and have to work, appear to be torn between pleasing their children and husbands and being professional at work and earn income. They blame themselves for having to work and thus depending on the relatives or professional strangers to take care of the children, which appears to result from internalization of patriarchal values, and can be quite painful for the working mothers. Limiting mobility of the women to home, which was once a way of oppressing women, is now replaced by giving the women double messages as the society encourages the women to work but the family and children emotionally punish the women for working.

Clinical material suggests that Turkish women's difficulties are not limited only to work related issues. Turkish women appear to suffer because they are prevented from making desirable personal choices due to the patriarchal nature of the society. A middle-class woman in her early 40's, married with two children, presented to psychotherapy with depressive symptoms due to marital problems. She had an arranged marriage when she was 18. She explained she and her husband had no emotional or intellectual connection. She felt her husband refrained from treating her lovingly. She reported she never heard a compliment from her husband throughout the marriage, even though he allegedly had a capacity to pay compliments to the other female acquaintances. They had a poor sexual life. She felt he treated intercourse as a duty; there were no loving interactions. Basically she perceived him treating her as an object rather than a subject. Despite being unhappy, she could not get a divorce because "her own family would not approve it". She explained that the family already discouraged her from getting a divorce when she attempted to verbalize her discontentment with the marriage. She explained her family would control her behaviours in all aspects, such as the time she came and left home, her choice of clothes, her trips, if she ever got divorced. She noted that her family would not want her to meet her friends at nights, she would not be able to travel to different cities for touristic purposes, and she would not be able to dress as she wished because her family would not want her to wear fashionable clothes if she were single. Moreover, she reported she believed her family would withhold money from her if she were divorced. She also feared losing her social support. She believed her married friends would exclude her from social gatherings if she were single. She also feared she would make her son angry if she divorced her husband. She explained that if she got a divorce, her son would be angry and would call her "names". Her daughter, however, was not a cause of worry for her. Moreover, she did not have financial independence. She did not have a job. She believed she would have no money if she were divorced. In summary, she believed her family wanted her unhappy but married rather than single and happy. She believed when she was married, she was unhappy only in her marriage. If she were to get a divorce, all other areas of her life was going to be controlled by the son, family, and society. It felt too much for her to give up the freedom that she already had, in order to divorce and gain her independence in the marital arena. She continued her unhappy marriage in order to avoid a bigger social pressure, which would probably make her even more miserable. In other words, she chose to stay in a marriage where her needs and parts of the self were invalidated due to the patriarchal pressures.

Overworked and Objectified Urban Turkish Women

On the opposite side of the spectrum, we have the Turkish women who aspire to be the superwomen. They are well-educated and they work at corporate jobs. One of them, in her late 30's married with a baby, reported in an interview that she was scared of losing her high-paid executive job in the media. She was afraid because she believed a younger woman might have taken her position any moment. She explained she did not have time to invest in herself, such as going on vacations or exercising regularly, because she was working long hours. She noted she wanted to have another child but she would not do it because she was concerned of losing her job if she took a pregnancy leave. Another reported she had only weekends to spend time with her daughter because when she came home during the week, her daughter already went to sleep.

In addition to obligations at work, employed women are responsible for taking care of household chores, children, and arranging the social gatherings of the family, which can take a full-time job by itself. Married working woman also needs to ensure having a working relationship with the family of the husband, because problems with the husband's family have a negative effect on the marriage (Cindoglu & Toktas, 2002). Multiplicity of female roles is a major source of stress for women (McClellan & Hamilton, 2010). Holding multiple roles expose married women to psychological difficulties, unlike married men (Yasar, 2007; Yuksel, 1998). Satisfaction with role performance decreases when women have multiple conflicting roles at work and home (Williams & Anderson, 1991). When women believe they do not completely fulfill their prescribed gender roles as mothers, they experience anxiety and guilt (Duxbury & Higgins, 1991). The schedule of urban women who work at full-time jobs and take care of home and children appear to be too intense. The demands of such a busy schedule might easily explain why Bernard (1972) suggested when education and social status of the women were comparable, married women had more psychological difficulties compared to single women.

There is an increasing pressure on women, especially on working women, to stay young and beautiful even though getting older is an unavoidable characteristic of human nature. All over the world, there is pressure on women to stay young because it supposedly brings its own privileges. Physical attractiveness highly influences women's quality of life as it correlates with dating and marriage opportunities and increases in mobility at work and school (Walster, Aronson, Abrahams, & Rottman, 1966; Wooley & Wooley, 1980). Through excessive focusing on the appearance, the women are losing connection to their own bodies and the true self of who they are, only one aspect of which is how they look physically. The pressure of the society on how one must look like is cutting women off the beauty of connecting to the soul, which is assumed to be necessary for the women to grow. Cutting women off from their true self, through focusing on the appearance, is objectifying the women. Objectification theory states that women tend to internalize an observer's perspective as a primary view of their physical appearance (De Beauvoir, 1973; Young, 1990). Consequently, they monitor their bodies' outward appearance and they themselves treat their bodies as objects, which are to be looked at and evaluated. When women consistently evaluate their bodies according to the expectations imposed by the society, they are prone to develop psychological difficulties, which often include shame, anxiety, depression, sexual dysfunction, and eating disorders (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997). Objectifying the woman body is another way for maintaining a patriarchal society as women are induced to "objects", and therefore, can be owned and controlled.

All over the world, women increasingly undergo plastic surgeries to appear younger. For example, in the USA, breast augmentation procedures went from 32, 607 up to 264, 041 a year, between 1992 and 2004 (Levy, 2005). According to International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery statistics, plastic surgeries increased 80% in Turkey in 2003 with women having 79% of all plastic surgeries. In Turkey, women appear to believe that in order to be beautiful, they need to be thinner, have bigger breasts, smoother noses, and flat abdomens. Besides plastic surgeries, Turkish women control their feminine appearance through limiting their food intake. Abnormal eating patterns among Turkish females are now as common as they are in the Westernized countries (Altug, Elal, Slade, & Tekcan, 2000; Celikel, Cumurcu, Koc, Etikan, & Yucel, 2008). Research shows that thin body ideal and emphasis on physical appearance for social success are risk factors for eating problems among Turkish females (Kugu, Akyuz, Dogan, Ersan, & Izgic, 2006). Turkish newspapers publish weight loss regimes every day, which promote a thin body ideal. Consequently, the thin body ideal prescribed by the highly Westernized Turkish media promotes dieting and eating problems. Turkish women who follow mass media publications regarding weight loss strategies endorse higher degrees of abnormal eating attitudes compared to those who are not exposed to similar publications (Elal, 2003). Among a group of Muslim participants, including Turkish women, internalization of dominant cultural standards of beauty was related to body shame and eating disorder symptoms (Tolaymat & Moradi, 2011).

Impact of Discrimination on the Integrity of the Self

The problems of the Turkish women described above illustrate tfie common problems in the society. On the one hand, the women, especially in rural areas, are severely abused, not only physically but also psychologically and emotionally (Akyuz, Kugu, Dogan, & Ozdemir, 2002; Guler, Ten, & Ozkan-Tuncay, 2005; Karatas, Sener, & Otaran, 2008). Many women in rural areas still do not have a voice in choosing whom they want to date, get married to, or divorce (Sever & Erkan, 2004). They cannot choose their own clothes or travel as they wish, especially if they are single or divorced, because their own families will label them, control them, deprive them from accessing to financial resources, or isolate them. It appears that average Turkish woman internalized the victim role in the society as a result of physical and emotional oppression. They believe being a victim is natural because they have internalized their parents' and society's oppressive attitudes. Once they themselves believe they are "less than a man", they reenact it in different relationships and thus pull for further oppressive behavior, which then strengthens the schema that they are to be abused. On the other hand, some Turkish women aspire to be the superwomen. They work long hours, have a short period of pregnancy leaves which they often do not use because they are concerned about losing their jobs. They try to be good enough mothers even though they have difficulties in finding consistent and professional part-time child-care, blame themselves for working even though the modern society requires an average middle-class woman to work, and they desperately try to stay thin, young, and beautiful to keep their relationships going with their partners or to keep their jobs. They aim to be the perfect women who are successful in all areas of life, which inevitably creates a lot of existential and psychological problems. By targeting unattainable goals they set themselves up for failure. Therefore, the feeling that they are somewhat "less than a man" perpetuates.

Women grow in connection, which occurs when women are being together with and joined by another person. It feels like an increase in vitality, aliveness, and energy. Women experience this feeling when they make emotional connections with others. It is the opposite state of being is "down", when we feel we do not make authentic connections with others. Through emotional connection, women express their feelings and thoughts directly and stand by them within the moment of immediate exchange, which promotes growth. As a woman expresses her feelings and thoughts in an authentic way, the respondent's recognition and attention at her validates her feelings and promotes a sense of self-worth. When women's experiences are not joined by the significant others, and the attention and recognition are withheld, individuals tend to suffer badly (Miller & Stiver, 1997). This puts them in a state of being misunderstood, not seen, and not accepted for who they are. When the focus is not on the soul but on the body through controlling and objectifying the female body and disregarding psychological needs, women tend to develop psychological difficulties. In Turkey, women appear to receive unequal treatment in education and jobs, partner selection, clothing selection, and freedom to manage their own time. Moreover, they are expected to meet unrealistic beauty standards, be the superwomen who excel at home, work, and taking care of the children. (O'Neill & Guler, 2009). After being subjected to unrealistic expectations and unfair treatments, their voices go down. They begin to disconnect from who they really are.

Winnicott (1965) described false self as a mask of the personality that constantly seeks to anticipate demands of other in order to maintain the relationship. False self develops as a result of early repeated maladaptive interactions with the caretaker when the caretaker fails to meet the needs of the infant. Thus, the infant develops a false self that is based on compliance to the inadequate caretaker and hides his or her true self. In this sense, Turkish women seem to hide their true selves as their needs are not met by the society. Winnicott (1953) coined the term good enough mother to describe a holding experience mothers provide to their infants. When mothers are good enough, they meet the needs of the infants and gradually facilitate transition from being dependent to the mother to being autonomous in a less structured world. Through good enough mothering, infant comes into existence as a person and the true self of the infant emerges (Winnicott, 1960). On the contrary, when the society functions as a "not good enough mother", it cannot meet the needs of the women. Instead, the women are expected to meet the needs of the oppressive males in order to survive in a patriarchal society or attain unobtainable beauty standards. One can only wonder, whether women can reach their full potential when they are expected to hide their creativity and suppress their core needs.

The Impact of Gender Disparity on Men

The discrimination against women has its own indirect implications on the rest of the society. In a patriarchal society, we fail to notice that abuse from one gender to the other does not go unpunished. Even though women may appear to be the victims of oppression, they punish their men in their own ways. In a group therapy session, a female participant stated "men might abuse us with their penises but we mess up with the men using our emotional power". She implied that men were abusing women using their physical and social powers, and that men appeared to be more powerful than women. However, women had psychological power on men and this was a way of getting back at them. In this sense, the discrimination against females in Turkey is comparable to child abuse. In clinical life, clinicians treat many patients who were abused or neglected as children. Then, they treat their own children similarly. The abuse is intergenerational and it transmits from one generation to the other either in the same form or in a different form (Capaldi & Clark, 1998; Chappell & Heiner, 1990; Engel, 2005; Kwong, Bartholomew, Henderson, & Trinke, 2003; Straus, Gelles and Steinmetz, 1980). For example, we notice that physically abused children may grow up to physically and psychologically abuse their own children or neglect them. Children of physically or verbally aggressive parents also grow up to engage in aggressive relationships with their romantic partners (Cui, Durtschi, Donnellan, Lorenz, & Conger, 2010). Children develop antisocial behaviors such as fighting with other children when they are abused sexually and physically (Jaffee, Caspi, Moffitt, and Taylor, & 2004; Nelson et al., 2002). Similarly, women who are abused by men respond to abuse by some sort of retaliation. It appears that when women are oppressed, they withhold emotional nurturance from men. Levy (2005) explains the rise of raunch culture in the United States, where women act like mates. They have casual relationships similar to their male counterparts, they go to female strip clubs where female bodies are objectified, and female Olympics athletes pose for Playboy, proudly objectifying their own bodies. In other words, westernized women act like males in order to survive in a male dominant world. This way, women began treating men the same way they were treated before: once they were treated as objects, now they treat men and the world as objects. When women internalize objectification, they move away from expressing their true selves. This would tend to take away from the flow of an ingenuous relationship and decrease the joy that men could experience in the relationship. In other words, oppression and discrimination towards women ultimately harms the men. Considering the fact that middle-class urban Turkish females are strongly influenced by the Western culture through the mass media, one cannot help but wonder whether Turkish women will begin treating Turkish men as objects in the near future.

In summary, Turkish women appear to be torn between two dramatic lives. They are either oppressed by their man and families through controlling behaviors on various aspects of life and limited education and job opportunities; or if they were born to urban families, after gaining the right to be "equal" as demonstrated by their education levels, they are objectified by the media which imposes impossible beauty standards on women, tough working conditions, and inadequate laws which do not protect women's jobs and rights at the work place and out in the world. If women stay home they are oppressed by the husbands and family, especially if they are unhappy in the marriage as they cannot leave the marriage without adequate finances to support themselves. If they work, they have to be superwomen because they have to look perfect, work perfect, and be perfect mothers even though they have limited options in child-care. Being subjected to male abuse in all forms and shapes created a new generation of women in the West, some of whom call, female chauvinists, who identified with men and treated themselves accordingly. This is also preventing women from fulfilling themselves as it moves women away from connecting to their true selves.

Future Directions

What we need to advocate is to have more rights for working women at work, home, and childcare. We need less hours of work for equal pay with men, longer paid and unpaid pregnancy leaves, job security once the women are pregnant, and baby-sitter organizations which employ professional employees that passed through strong security investigations, which can offer the families part-time support in baby-sitting while the mothers took care of their personal business. We need the support of the media to expose women to normal female figures who eat and age.

In order to prevent perpetuation of patriarchal values among the society, parents need to raise their boys as egalitarian human beings rather than passing on gender roles that encourage gender inequality. A change in child-rearing attitudes might be promoted through providing trainings to the parents in areas with strong patriarchal values. Since males are the primary gatekeepers of patriarchy in the society, young fathers would especially benefit from receiving trainings on raising their sons. Since receiving spousal support increases marital satisfaction and psychological wellbeing for women (Aycan & Eskin, 2005), men would also highly benefit from receiving trainings on delivering spousal support. We also, desperately, need mandatory education on gender roles and women's studies at schools and universities. Considering the fact that internalization of patriarchal values is pervasive in the society, classrooms might be used to offer a systematic investigation of gender discrimination, differences, and alternative solutions to the gender discrimination. Women and men together need to analyze not only the tendency to control and oppress the women, but also the need to be superwomen and its implications on the women and whole society. This can be studied in classes by reading and discussing books and articles written on this subject and by preparing projects. Internalization of gender equality will come only after we discuss the problems on the subject freely in safe areas, where free speech is encouraged, such as universities, different ideas are discussed by both genders, and new thinking patterns are developed through the lens of scientific knowledge.


Turkish women appear to be stuck in between two difficult roles. On the one hand, they are denied equal rights in terms of education, jobs, human rights, and validation for who they are. Their choices in friends and mates are controlled by their families. In other words, they are not allowed an opportunity to explore the world and develop a personality of their own. On the other hand, Turkish women are allowed to have receive education and work, but they have the extra burden of having to be perfect in multitasking at various tasks, such as being an employee, taking care of children and house chores, and keeping up with impossible beauty standards. It seems Turkish women are either denied their rights or expected to fulfill unattainable goals. This creates a pressure on the women that perpetuates across generations through internalization of oppression. Even though the laws have been revised in order to protect the rights of the women, practical applications do not seem to measure up to the legal changes. This article proposed that gender inequality is still a crucial issue in Turkey and thus needs to be paid attention to at a governmental level. Mandatory courses at primary, secondary, high school, and even at university levels could be a good start to discuss the differences and help the public internalize equality in male-female relationships along with offering trainings on child-rearing practices to the parents. Through these interventions males and females would have an opportunity to internalize gender equality and thus end perpetuation of female oppression in Turkey.


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F. Isil Bilican *

Cukurova University

F. Isil Bilican *

Cukurova Universitesi

* Assist. Prof. Dr. F. Isil Bilican, Department of Psychology, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Cukurova University. Adana-Turkey. E-mail:,
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Author:Bilican, F. Isil
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Date:Jun 1, 2011
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