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Honour, shame and the sexuality of women in modern Turkish literature: 1960-1980.


This article is concerned with the position of women in Turkish society since 1960, and the portrayal of these women in selected novels, short stories and plays by Turkish authors from 1960 until 1980. It examines whether the subordination of women in society is ascribed in literary works to their supposed innate inferiority as women, or is shown to be a consequence of women's circumscribed position and limited possibilities. It investigates literary interpretations of the concept of honour and shame and the nature of female sexuality, as well as analysing the portrayals of women in their different roles: from familial and domestic to independent and revolutionary. This study illustrates the extent to which literature appears to reinforce old ideas and expectations about women, and how much it tends towards a deeper analysis of character and behaviour.

Key words: Turkish novel, Turkish short story, Turkish plays, women, woman's identity.


A strong tradition surrounds these notions (the concept of honour and shame and the nature of female sexuality) in Turkey. According to this tradition women are expected to remain virgins until married, and to remain chaste after marriage, but the duty of defending the sexual purity of women is delegated to men. A woman's responsibility in the matter is thus diminished, and her consequent vulnerability means that any situation which may expose her to danger is to be avoided. This is the logic which demands either the exclusion of women from public places, or protective male support when in public, or both. Once a woman's sexual purity has been violated there is no way she can redeem her honour, even if she is an innocent victim of sexual assault. The concern for women's chastity is a social concern, involving convention, rather than a private concern involving moral conscience. Violation of a woman's honour therefore demands public vengeance against the violator, and against the woman if she is in any way seen to have actively or voluntarily participated. The shame attached even to an innocent victim will often force the woman to remove herself from her family in order not to be a constant reminder of the disgrace she has innocently brought upon them. The fact that more women than men, and in particular young girls and young women, commit suicide may well be connected with questions of 'dishonour'. (1) The traditionally early age at which girls are given in marriage, as well as the customs of seclusion, segregation and veiling, and the upholding of 'feminine' virtues such as modesty, submission and docility in the socialisation of girls are all safeguards for maintaining the purity of girls before marriage and for the chastity of all women.

A correlate of the system which requires male control of female sexuality is the concept of unrestrained female sexuality as a dangerous, destructive force. Sexually 'free' women are, however, also subject to male control, in that they are dependent on male clients or patrons, and they are not acknowledged as full members of society either by men or by women. As an extension of the negative values attached to female sexuality, within the family all outward signs of intimacy or affection between husband and wife are traditionally prohibited, especially in front of older members of the family, particularly males, to whom respect must always be shown.

A survey of attitudes among girls at university in Istanbul and their mothers, carried out in the 1970s, shows a sharp decline in the importance attached to premarital chastity from one generation to the next. (2) However, this tendency among the urban, educated female population has not yet filtered through to the villages, where the findings of several researchers suggest that fear of promiscuity through contact with unrelated males is a factor severely inhibiting the recruitment of women into paid employment. (3) On the other hand, in view of the relatively high number of women among Turkish workers in Germany (4) compared with the number of women paid employees in Turkey in 1965 (5) it seems that financial considerations can overcome moral drawbacks where the rewards are seen to be great enough. However, the suspicion with which men regard male-female relationships outside marriage indicates the persistence of their belief that women's sexuality is dangerous and must be carefully controlled. (6) It has been suggested that male attitudes stressing female weakness, dependence and vulnerability stem from men's fear of their own inner impulse, (7) but whether or not this is the case it is evident that the notion of the disruptive power of female sexuality is still given credence.

The somewhat contrary notion that it is the duty of a wife to satisfy her husband's sexual desires is also widely accepted. In a research carried out in 1969-1970 Paul Magnarella investigated attitudes in response to a newspaper report concerning a 42 year-old mother of six who had found a younger wife for her husband because she herself could no longer engage in sexual union with him. The responses fell into two popular categories: those who thought she had done the right thing, or that she should have left him--so that he could marry again legally; and those who thought that a man whose wife had given him several children and many years of sexual companionship had no right to divorce and to be disputed by a second wife. (8)

While traditional attitudes are bound to die hard, the spread of industrialisation with concomitant urbanisation, and continuing economic problems in the country, as well as changing ideological and political currents of thought are all combining to push more and more women into contact with men in all spheres of life. It is inevitable, in these circumstances, that strict rules concerning female chastity and extra-marital male-female relationships are becoming more and more difficult to enforce, especially in urban areas. Furthermore, as society becomes more and more fragmented, and the conjugal unit becomes isolated from the patriarchal extended family it may be easier for the guilty party of an illicit relationship, and more convenient for the partner who has been 'wronged' to 'cover up' incidents of aberrant behaviour. Certainly in the light of the above discussion one could expect to find a wide divergence in the implications of female sexuality and in the degree of adherence to the code of honour between rural and urban communities by this stage in the process of the industrialisation of Turkey and her integration into world capitalism.

Women in Literary Works

Orhan Asena's play Yalan(1962) deals with the deceit which characterises an urban family in which the male as 'head' of the family is too weak even to admit about the knowledge of his wife's unfaithfulness. Vicdan, their daughter who commits suicide, bitterly condemns both her parents. She accuses her mother of succumbing to her sexual desires:
 Pushing you into the arms of that man was the masculine strength
 which you couldn't find in my father's aging arms. (p. 30)
 You couldn't do any longer without that breath of masculine power
 which made you feel your feminine sexuality from head to toe.

She condemns her mother for not being honest enough to admit to her weakness and blames her father for conniving with her mother to keep the affair secret. In fact, the play shows how the father actually followed his wife to her rendezvous and caught her with her lover but could not bring himself to blame her, since he himself had been unable to fulfil his role as a husband for many years past. The disappointment of Vicdan in her father's spineless behaviour is an important factor in her committing suicide. The author's view appears to be that although it is to be expected that a woman will seek satisfaction of her sexual desires outside marriage if she cannot do so within it, extra-marital relations for women are nevertheless not to be condoned as the happiness of the whole family is put at risk, even if the husband himself turns a blind eye. It is therefore the husband's failure to fulfil his marital duty of fulfilling his wife's sexual needs which lies at the root of the problem.

Fakir Baykurt's novel has a rural setting for a very interesting example of an adulterous relationship, which is initiated by the mother of the man involved as a means to a secret personal revenge against the woman's husband. This case of adultery in Yilanlarin Ocu (1959) quite clearly reflects more upon the honour of the husband of the woman involved, Fatma, than on herself. Once again there is the notion that women are ruled by their sexual desires, and since control of women's sexuality lies within the responsibility of their husbands, the women cannot be held responsible themselves. The old woman Irazca quite openly uses the threat of her son Bayram committing adultery with Haceli's wife Fatma to coerce Haceli into abandoning his plans to encroach on what she sees as her household's rights. She explains to Haceli why it is she who is confronting him on this issue and not her son Bayram:
 I shall die, but he will live. If he dies you will go to prison,
 but your wife will be left unattached. I can't take your wife.
 But if you kill me and go to prison, my son Bayram will take your
 wife. Do you see now why my son doesn't come out and confront
 you? (p. 51)

Irazca knows of Fatma's infatuation with Bayram, and as the girl is pretty she has no difficulty in persuading her son to take her:
 ... That woman has been burning with desire for you for a long
 time, my boy. She's caught in a blaze and burning for you. You
 must quench her fire Bayram. Anyway, her husband has been
 digging the foundations again! Do you understand what I mean, my
 son, you'll earn God's blessing! ...
 "I'll have God's blessing" repeated Bayram, inwardly ... (p. 112)

The strength of Bayram and Fatma's mutual physical desire is depicted as the natural outcome of the union of a strong healthy male with a similarly healthy young female. Unable to find satisfaction in her husband's bed Fatma welcomes Bayram's embrace:
 How her (Fatma's) arms had longed for the embrace of a man as
 strong and supple as a young apple tree. Why wasn't Haceli like
 that? (p. 114)

And for Bayram, it was as if he had never slept with a woman before; the reader is reminded of an earlier conversation between Bayram and his wife, when Hacca has just told Bayram she is expecting their fourth child:
 If it weren't for this problem of having babies, Bayram, I would
 be so loving, so loving. I mean if we were in our own room, with
 a light and plenty of water, hot water, and with new sheets. Then
 we would embrace each other and lie down. And lie and lie. And
 no-one to wake us up. And nothing to get up for.... Without water
 (to wash afterwards) I can't enjoy making love with you ...
 (pp. 28-29)

When she miscarries and is left seriously ill and unable to fulfil her conjugal duties, Hacca realises her husband's need to satisfy his sexual desires, and suggests he should take another wife; Bayram is outwardly affronted, but inwardly attracted by the idea:
 (Hacca:) ... "Fatma is neither my friend nor my enemy. If you
 like bring her and set her up in the house here. It would even be
 good for me. Look at the state I'm in. There's not a healthy part
 of me left. And I shan't easily be able to get myself well and
 give you the pleasure you need. Anyway, I've been thinking 'I'll
 tell your mother to find you another wife'. There's no other way."
 Bayram: ... "I'm not a dealer in women. There's no need for me to
 marry again. But ..." (he thinks).
 Hacca: "There's no need for you to marry again, but I'm of no use
 to you any more." (pp. 214-215)

Fatma is quite prepared to accept the role of Hacca's servant, and Bayram's slave, in order to be able to continue her liaison with Bayram. The village headman even becomes involved in the affair when he threatens Haceli that if Hacca dies (it was Haceli who caused her miscarry) he will go to prison and the headman will personally deliver Fatma over to Bayram. The author thus creates a situation in which Fatma's labour and sexual services are treated as commodities by both men and women (the headman, Bayram's mother and his wife) and the woman in question herself. She uses her labour and sexual services to improve her bargaining power in an attempt to satisfy her emotional desires. Bayram finally settles for a convenient arrangement whereby he can continue to enjoy Fatma's sexual services illicitly without jeopardising the harmony in his home. In contrast to Fatma, Bayram is not prepared to let his sexual desires sway his reason, nor interfere with the deep, loving relationship he enjoys with his wife. Fatma does not care what happens to her as long as she can continue her sexual relationship with Bayram, while Hacca, concerned for her husband's happiness more than her own, is prepared to countenance his taking another wife simply because she feels herself sexually inadequate.

Gungor Dilmen's treatment of a very similar situation takes a very different form and resolution in the play Kurban (1967). Zehra has been a loving wife to her husband, and has borne him two children. She is still young but she is ill and is unable to satisfy the sexual needs of her husband because of her illness. Realising the purely sexual nature of Mahmut's desire for the young girl Gulsum, Zehra follows the advice of the old women of the village to use her sexuality as well as her mind in trying to persuade her husband to give up Gulsum. She dresses herself up in her bright, gay wedding clothes to welcome Mahmut when he returns from seeing off Mirza, Gulsum's brother. Mahmut has at this point decided not to give in to Mirza's greedy desires for the sake of possessing his sister, and he is pleased to see that Zehra seems to be feeling better. They start to reminisce about their wedding night, and then Zehra tries to get Mahmut to embrace, but this merely triggers off his desire for Gulsum once again. Zehra is outraged that he expects her to accept the idea of him and Gulsum in bed together while she will be lying awake listening to the sounds of their love making. However, although she is not prepared to accept any encroachment on her rights as a wife, she does not consider a monopoly of the gratification of her husband's sexual desires as one of these rights, and is prepared to countenance Mahmut for satisfying his sexual desires elsewhere if necessary.

Zehra pleads with Mahmut to satisfy his desire without bringing Gulsum into the home as his wife:
 I'll close my eyes if you go and satisfy your desire with another
 woman for a while. I shan't reproach you. Then you will come back
 to me as my husband. But don't bring that girl Gulsum here.
 (p. 50)

Zehra, too, treats female sexual services as a commodity, at least with regard to the young girl who has aroused such passion in her husband. She taunts the girl's brother Mirza by talking about his sister as one whose sole value is as a sex-object:
 My Mahmut has gone to so much expense, let him have his pleasure
 with your sister Gulsum. Let him quench the blaze that is burning
 in his loins, then go. Of course, I won't let the girl into my
 house. Just there, in the sheep-fold there is some soft straw. On
 top of the straw--there is no shame in that. I'll turn a blind
 eye to that much, Mahmut, then you can send the hussy packing,
 back to where she came from. (pp. 113-114)

In fact, earlier in the play, when Mirza and Mahmut are still trying to come to an agreement over the brideprice for Gulsum, Mirza quite blatantly draws on images of his sister's sexuality to increase his bargaing power. In reply to Mahmut's refusal to hand over fields which really belong to Zehra and should pass to their children, Mirza tempts him with references to his sister's virginal allure:
 The girl's eyes will be opened to the world with your touch.

 Above her knees her body hasn't seen the light of day....
 Only to her lawful husband will she expose her secret gardens.
 (pp. 28-29)

Mirza even tells a story to arouse Mahmut's sexual desire, describing a beautiful fifteen year old virgin with her lover, and then he reminds Mahmut that his sister is also fifteen. His tactics work, for even after Mahmut reaches a point when he gives up the idea of marrying the girl at such cost, both materially and with regard to domestic harmony, he still cannot free himself of his physical desire for her. He knows he has not the strength to deny himself and he cries aloud, blaming his infatuation on the power of Gulsum's sexuality:
 My God, don't make me a slave to that vile Mirza. Don't let me go
 to him. Don't make me eat my words.... I can't get her out of my
 mind. (pp. 47-48)

and again
 That heartless girl has taken hold of me like a ball of fire. I
 drive her out of my heart and she flows into my loins. (p. 49)

Zehra, too, feels the inevitability of Mahmut's desire, and condemns the irregular customs of Mirza and Gulsum's village which allowed the young girl to enter the company of a strange man:
 Zebra: What attracted your attention to her? She's still a child.
 Mahmut: She offered me cigarettes and a cool drink, and while I
 sipped it she waited by the door with her tray.
 Zehra: Is it the custom of those people to send young girls to
 wait on married men? (p. 47)

Gulsum and Zehra are both innocent victims of society's values regarding female sexuality. On the one hand it is seen as a saleable commodity, and on the other hand it is a commodity to which access is the exclusive right of the husband, while its provision is the duty of the wife.

There is some reciprocity in these rights and duties in marriage, in that if a husband cannot satisfy his wife's desires it is considered normal for his wife to try to seek satisfaction elsewhere, but only men have the option of imposing restraints on women to confine their sexual activity to the marriage. In Bekir Yildiz's stories there are violent examples of the retribution taken on women for not confining their sexual activity to their marriage, however unsatisfactory the marriage may be. For example, the story Kesik El(1968) ends with Fadime being killed for taking as a lover the man whom she would have married had she been given the choice. Her cuckolded husband first kills his rival, but before he can carry out the execution of his unfaithful wife her brother intervenes in order to regain for himself and his family the honour which Fadime's adultery has damaged. He kills his sister then cuts off the hand which she had used to open the door to her lover. This should not be taken as an indication that Fadime is supposed to have made any conscious decision as to whether or not to open the door to her lover; neither a woman's conscience, nor her own physical strength is to be expected to withstand the powerful force of sexuality. The action of removing her hand symbolises the belief that physically imposed restraint is the only effective means of maintaining control of female sexuality. By killing Fadime the visible evidence of the dishonour brought upon her family is not only removed, but honour is gained:
 And so Fadime's death brought greater honour and glory to her
 family than her birth had done. (p. 20)

In the story Davud ile Sedef (1969) there is a similar theme, but in this case the compliance of the wife is attributed to the fact that her husband is a rather weak and unmanly figure. On a long journey Davud and Sedef are forced to spend the night in the open, and they join the company of a shepherd they happen to come across. Unknown to Davud the shepherd was an admirer of Sedef before they were married, and taken unawares he is knocked out by the shepherd who then proceeds to seduce Sedef. Although Sedef at first resists the shepherd's embrace, the nature of female sexuality is once again depicted as being incapable of resisting arousal by an attractive male; Sedef soon succumbs:
 The shepherd suddenly pressed his lips to hers. And her lips, at
 first frozen with fear, were soon burning and swollen.... As
 Sedef's resistance grew weaker (the shepherd) threw her to the
 ground. Sedef wanted to resist. She dug her fingers into the
 ground that was covered in darkness. But she couldn't break free
 and throw off the young body that was on top of her. And there
 came a moment when Sedef forgot her puny husband a short distance
 away. (p. 20)

In this case the husband is prepared to believe his wife innocent, accepting that she was simply raped and unable to resist; but when he kills the shepherd her involuntary expression of dismay reveals the truth to him:
 Davud realised then that along with the lower part of her body
 which had been befouled a short time before, his wife's soul had
 also become soiled. (p. 21)

So he kills her too, and takes her body back to her parents.

A third story of Bekir Yildiz which deals with retribution for female misconduct is Bir Nazli Vardi(1975). In this story the girl is entirely innocent. She has only been married for several months, but her reputation has been ruined by unfounded gossip to the effect that she is a 'loose' woman. Her father sees no alternative but death for her. The girl, Nazli, accepts the inevitability of her fate, but she wonders how the gossip about her started. She recalls a conversations with her husband:
 "How did this idea that I'm a whore start? I don't care about
 your sterility, but who has turned against me?"
 "My mother and father want grandchildren. This must be their
 doing. They want to get the brideprice back. Whatever happens
 to you, you wouldn't give away my secret would you Nazli?"....
 How could I tell? How could I ever find another man who would
 kiss my hand, among the men in these parts, hey sisters ...?
 (p. 38)

Nazli gives her life for the sake of the honour of her husband, in return for the true affection he has shown her. She considers her life unimportant in comparison with the shame and dishonour which would fall on her husband in the event of his impotency being revealed, but in any case her father is not prepared to listen to any excuses: honour is founded on and lost by reputation, not reasoning. Sultan, in Cahit Atay's play Sultan Gelin (1965) displays a similar willingness to attempt to conceal her husband's impotency, and her altruistic behaviour is rewarded with a lifetime of unremitting hard work and celibacy.

Another of Bekir Yildiz's short stories deals with a woman's duty to satisfy her husband's sexual desires. In Yorulmayan Adam (1968) the wife of the 'never-tiring man' of the title is worn out by her domestic chores each day, and too tired to welcome, or even accept passively the amorous advances of her husband at night. He goes off to a brothel to satisfy his needs, but is shocked and repulsed to find that the girl whose services he has paid for is a nursing mother. His return to the marital bed happens to coincide with a change of heart in his wife: she has at last decided to turn over a new leaf and save some energy for her husband's pleasure at night. The timeliness of her reform, coupled with his bad experience at the brothel will supposedly ensure future harmony, but the story clearly illustrates the wife's responsibility to match her husband's desires, and that it is also much to be preferred by the man that he should be able to find satisfaction of his needs with his wife, and not be forced to engage the services of a prostitute.

Fakir Baykurt's story Ham Meyvayi Kopardilar Dalindan (1959) tells of a young girl of twelve years old who is married, against her own wishes and the wishes of her mother. Her mother is a poor widow who is dependent on the good will of others and has no protection against the coercive insistence of her neighbours that her daughter Keziban should marry their son. On the wedding night Keziban escapes from the bridal chamber, but is taken back by force. She escapes again in the morning and runs to her mother's house. Her clothes have been torn, she is covered in blood from scratches and is bruised from being beaten: she would not submit to her husband's demands. The groom's parents are angry about the expense they have gone to, and blame the girl. Her mother complains that they took her for their son too young. They take no notice of her and take the girl back again. The next time she escapes they let her stay with her mother for a few days, hoping that her terror will abate, but to no avail. Her mother finally tries magical remedies to bring Keziban round to accepting her husband. There is no other choice for her. Her value as a prospective bride for another man has been too reduced because she has been taken once already.

Loss of a girl's virginity is a powerful factor in encouraging a girl to stay with her husband, even if she has initially been taken by force or against her wishes. This is illustrated in Fakir Baykurt's story Bugday Ekme Zamani (1964). Elif was abducted by her husband, and has been married now for five years. As a result of her marriage Elif's father has disowned her, and Elif blames her father for condemning her:
 What would have happened if I had said I wanted my father and not
 my husband? Your brother's son came like an eagle and snatched me
 away, my virginity went and with it my value. What was I supposed
 to say in court? It's too late now, you should have taken care of
 me when it mattered. You should have given me to one of those
 three poor fellows who asked for me before I was brought down and
 despoiled. These things shouldn't have happened. But once they
 have happened, what is the point of putting the blame on me?
 (p. 118)

In the same collection of stories Bir Alim Satim Senedi(1964) shows the low value attached to girl who has lost her virginity outside marriage. The author does not relate how the girl Dudu came to be in her present situation, and no explanation is offered as to the nature of her relationship to the two men who have taken charge of her. These two men bring her with them to the school house, and they offer the girl's services to the schoolteacher. The teacher gets angry at the men's attitude, so one of them tries to placate him:
 What is there to be cross about? We are here with you for the
 night anyway. There's a stove in the classroom. We'll go and
 sleep there. And if you like you can sleep with Dudu and see how
 you like her ... Once you've tried her out, if she suits you,
 you can have her, if she doesn't you don't have to have her.
 She's been used before, has Dudu, but not much ... (p. 143)

The teacher is furious, and starts to worry in case the two men just leave the girl with her. However, a third man arrives, and the reason for the men's visit becomes plain: Dudu is to be sold and the teacher's job is to write the receipt. He is horrified, and even wishes he had taken up the man's proposition himself:
 If I had only used my head and taken Dudu, instead of her being
 sold with a written receipt like this! (p. 146)

In the works of the 1960s and 1970s that I have considered so for the concept of honour as applied to women has been interpreted mostly according to physical adherence to the norm. In Evlilik Sirketi(1972) Bekir Yildiz portrays a woman who kept her virginity until marriage but not her spiritual purity. The truth emerges on the night when she and her husband are celebrating their ninth wedding anniversary, and they embark on a 'truth session'. All goes well initially, as they relate their early sexual experience to one another, but when the wife admits to having indulged in a certain amount of lovemaking before her marriage, although keeping her virginity intact, her husband becomes jealous and scornful of her understanding of meaning of honour:
 You didn't keep yourself for me because you were honourable but
 because you were forced to be honourable. Without doubt, if you
 hadn't been sealed from birth just like all the rest, who knows
 how many men you would have slept with? Is that a virtue? (p. 42)

Recalling girls he once knew who were just like his wife, he observes:
 They all used to hang on to that unbroken seal as an investment
 for marriage.... Is honour then the hypocrisy of gritting your
 teeth while forever calculating your future investment?
 (pp. 42-43)

The reverse side of the coin is the object of humorous treatment by Aziz Nesin in Tatli Betus (1973). Here the idea of spiritual purity maintained despite physical violation is satirised. Society women, swept off their feet by an adept ladykiller, absolve themselves of blame by claiming to be spiritually unblemished. One such woman writes to her husband:
 Even though my body may be guilty, my soul, which is always
 yours, is innocent and without sin. Even if you cannot forgive
 my blemished body, forgive my soul, which is still spotless. I
 have never deceived you with my soul. My soul is with you always.
 (p. 42)

The husband receiving this letter duly confirms to his wife that it is her soul that is important to him, for after all the body is only transitory, while the soul is everlasting. Throughout Tatli Betus the depiction of women having an insatiable sexual appetite is repeated and reinforced. A. Gall points out in his study of Nesin's work that even the prostitutes in his stories positively enjoy their work, and that women of all classes seem to share one characteristic in his works, that is, a voracious sexual appetite. (9) Gall goes so far as to say that women generally in Nesin's stories are preoccupied with sex, and that it is hard to find any strong female characterisations which do not prove to be those of prostitutes or domineering and unfaithful wives. (10) An exception is Mela in Tut Elimden Rovni(1970). She is not shown to be sexually active; she has not been unfaithful to her husband, nor does she dominate him. However, her history of miscarriages, her demanding physical career, and her drinking problem, plus the fact that she is past child-bearing age, are all significant factors in precluding her portrayal as any kind of siren or harpy.

For the female characters in Kemal Tahir's book Karilar Kogusu(1974) sexuality is the driving force in their lives. In prison, two of the women speak of the plight of men and women deprived of the company of the opposite sex:
 "So many men, what can they do, the poor things, without women?
 They'll all die." "Sister, you look out for yourself. They at
 least manage somehow. We just burn up with passion." (p. 77)

The women's frustration disturbs their mental balance and they fancy themselves in love with one of the men in other ward. Sefika, the wardress, is the major female character in the novel and she is endowed with an insatiable sexual appetite. She is married, but her husband is a poor figure of a man and so, having tried to seduce one of the prisoners without success, she persuades one of the warders to run away with her. After a short stay in an hotel together they return to the prison and the man gives an account of his experiences with Sefika:
 I've never seen such a whore in all the world. We took a room,
 and settled in. She got undressed, and if you don't mind me
 telling you, she never got dressed again.... In bed all the
 time! ... Good God! ... Just take a look at my face! ... She
 almost killed me! (pp. 347-349)

However, there are serious contradictions in the characterisation of Sefika, especially with regard to her sexuality, for in the early years of her marriage, her husband used to bring home prostitutes: was he then able to satisfy her and still not be satisfied himself once? Or has Sefika become insatiable only in recent years, perhaps as a result of her increased independence gained by going out to work, as her husband suggests? Or is it simply that now that her husband has become a worn out shadow of his former self he is no longer able to control Sefika's behaviour? One cannot help but draw the conclusion that the characterisation of Sefika was developed in order to try to demonstrate the danger of taking into employment women who are sexually active, for not only do they expose themselves to promiscuity, which they have not the moral conscience nor the desire to resist; but also the nature of female sexuality is such that it will rule a woman's life, to the detriment of her family and her career, if controls are removed, as they must be when a woman takes outside employment which brings her into contact with men.

In Attila Ilhan's novel Bicagin Ucu(1973) the central female character, Suat, is undergoing an internal struggle, in which her sexuality is threatening to take control of her life. Suat's mother is a lesbian who has adopted a totally male appearance. She has indulged in sexual relations with women since Suat was a young girl, and was once caught in flagrante delicto by her daughter, who has never been able to call her 'mother' since. Suat is now faced with the realisation of her own increasing tendency towards lesbianism. If her sexuality gains control of her it will take expression in lesbianism; if she manages to retain rational control of herself then her lesbianism will be suppressed. In the struggle that goes on inside Suat, between succumbing to her lesbianism or maintaining 'normality' the author leads his readers to infer that to opt for lesbianism will absolve Suat from the need to conform to normal requirements from women for chastity and constancy, and will free her for a more promiscuous, flamboyant lifestyle, much like that of her mother. To maintain normality, however, means that she will have to control her sexual impulses and channel them into 'proper' expression. Her husband is not insistent in his demands on her sexuality at this time of her inner conflict, and so she is not pressured either way: the choice is her own, it is not the outcome of a battle of conscience that makes Suat finally opt for 'normality'. The scale is tipped by a sudden insight into her own character: she becomes aware of her need to conform because of her weakness and frailty in the face of life's vicissitudes, so she accepts the love and protection of her husband in a new understanding of his worthiness. The book ends on this note of hope for the future, without demonstrating how Suat resolves the problem of now denying her homosexual impulses. And yet, since the author has shown that Suat is able to control her sexuality rather than allow it to control her, one can assume that her life will in the future follow a more even course.

Although Suat's struggle to control her sexuality involves the added complication of a tendency towards lesbianism, the analysis of inner conflict and social implications of women's sexual freedom represents a new trend towards dealing with the question of a woman's control of her own sexuality as a personal dilemma to be resolved by the woman herself in accordance with her own knowledge of herself.

The women authors of this period have dealt with this problem extensively; for their female characters who have raised their level of consciousness to a degree where they are confident in their knowledge of themselves and their actions, sexuality becomes simply a force to be harnessed according to their own conscious desires and needs. One such woman is Meli in Nezihe Meric's novel Korsan Cikmazi (1961). When asked if she slept with her boyfriend because she had already decided to marry him, Meli replies:
 "No, I slept with him simply because I love him. I am not
 thinking of getting married."
 "Do you know what this conduct of yours is called, according to
 the conditions in this country that you are living in?"
 "So what! Instead of performing a marriage ritual for defloration
 I found it more honest to do it like this. In other words, the
 long and the short of it is, in some societies there are names
 and labels, as you said, for those who lose their virginity by
 sleeping with someone they love, though according to the laws of
 nature this is quite correct. Yes, instead of doing it like that
 they go and do it with the signature of the marriage clerk. Since
 I didn't like that way I slept with someone I love. As I said, I
 am not intending to get married." (pp. 181-182)

In Adalet Agaoglu's novel Olmeye Yatmak(1973) too, the heroine Aysel is in firm control of her sexuality, and is guided in her behaviour by her own conscious decisions, not by society's expectations. She is only just arriving at real knowledge of herself in the 'present' of the book, and her brief affair with one of her young students is an important factor in helping her to come to terms with her sexuality, while losing none of her identity as an educated, professional person. As she lies down in the hotel room awaiting her own rebirth through release from all her past ignorance and misconceptions she reminisces about the night she spent with her student:
 The reason for my excitement is quite clear: at a time when my
 being an intellectual--why should I belittle it?--and my being a
 woman were both gradually being forced into the shade, I suddenly
 saw myself once again out in front, on my feet and full of life.
 "Perhaps this was my last chance. I clutched at it wildly." As if
 I had had an injection of new life into the force that gives new
 vigour to my progressivism, I was really fresh. For a whole night
 I didn't regard anything as beyond my deserts. Well, not quite
 anything. I cheated a little; I realised how he was looking at me.
 But I pretended I hadn't noticed. Not because of my female
 conditioning. Because I still hadn't got rid of my conditioning
 from being a university lecturer. (p. 179)

Aysel's new awareness of her physical body helps her to accept her femininity as an integral part of her identity. She wonders at her past rejection of her own physical existence:
 Starting from that morning, for the first time I understood that
 my body was a concrete thing which could be touched, seen, looked
 at. (p. 182)

Aysel wonders why her body has been so estranged from her for so many years. Actually, Adalet Agaoglu does not intend to suggest in this novel that women's liberation is dependent on sexual freedom, nor vice versa. Aysel's sleeping with her student is not a predetermined act, deliberately directed against her husband, nor is it a temporary aberration. In fact, the question of a woman not gaining sexual satisfaction from her husband, and the consequences of this for the marriage, is given full considerations in Olmeye Yatmak and it is quite clear that Aysel is not pushed into her student's arms merely by the force of her frustrated sexual desires, though naturally this is a factor. The act of sleeping with her student is the culmination of the combined effects on Aysel's mind and body of the revolutionary excitement of the time (the story is set in 1968), (11) plus a growing need for physical involvement and action arising from this and her mounting frustration with her husband's coldness and detachment. Her state of mind is such that after years of trying to resolve her identity as a university lecturer and an intellectual with her identity as a woman with physical needs, she initiates union with her young student in a bid ro reaffirm belief in herself in both roles. The attempt is successful and Aysel gains the ability to examine herself thoroughly in the light of her new-found confidence as an integrated being. The act of sleeping with her student is therefore crucial not only in its sexual aspect, but in its catalytic effect in Aysel's initiation and termination of the affair with her student. Here is a woman not only in total control of her own sexuality, behaving with complete assurance in a way that is nonetheless quite unacceptable in social terms, but she also takes control, temporarily, of her student through his sexuality. When he comes to her house for the first time following the night when they slept together, he asks her not to turn him away. She recalls:
 He was very embarassed. I knew what he wanted again. For me it was
 something already forgotten. What was to be said had been said,
 what was to be given had been given, what was to be paid had been
 paid, what was to be seen had been seen. How could I explain this
 to him? How could I show him that I was not so rich that I could
 continually pay out, pay for everything, that I had long ago spent
 on him everything I knew, everything I had gathered, all my wealth?
 (p. 356)

She makes him take off his clothes and walk around naked in front of her, not in order to humiliate but in an attempt to make him understand that she had nothing more to give him. He remains confused. Has Aysel exploited his sexuality? Is male sexuality to become a commodity in the hands of self-assured but unscrupulous women in the way that female sexuality has been a commodity? These questions are not answered for the reader, and go beyond the scope of this paper, so I shall return to the question of Aysel's experience of her sexuality, and specifically her virginity and its treatment as a commodity. As a young girl Aysel is asked for in marriage, but when the boy's family learns that she has entertained a friendship with another boy they break off the engagement. Aysel gets a beating from her father, and is subjected to scrutiny in the public baths from her mother. She sums up the situation:
 Aysel now knew she had nothing left to lose. In the eyes of the
 grown-ups she had lost everything there was for her to lose.
 Realising that there was nothing left for her to lose she took
 heart. (p. 305)

In the end, her patents' firm conviction that she has now lost all chance of marriage works to her advantage. Her father decides that as Aysel will now undoubtedly remain a spinster, she might as well go to school and so be able to earn her own living. Nevertheless, Aysel's brother is charged with keeping her under close observation when she goes to university--she is not going to be allowed a second lapse. From social conditioning which denies her control of her own sexuality and places pre-marital virginity on the level of an exchange value for marriage, Aysel emerges as a mature women in total control of her sexuality and finally able to reconcile her sexuality with her social and individual identity.

The two main female characters in Emine Isinsu's Tutsak (1975) are in contrasting situations. Ceren has lost her love for her husband, and rejects his advances, while Selma who is divorced longs to feel a man's embrace, although she is determined to make a life for herself alone. Because she is a young divorcee Selma is the subject of gossip and suspicion; other women see her in a predatory role, fearing that she will steal their husbands away. Even her best friend Ceren is led to suspect her of entering a sexual relationship with her husband. When Ceren's husband does call on Selma, with the obvious intention of seducing her, Selma has difficulty in resisting his advances. She is rather drunk, and therefore less able to suppress her initial emotional response which is to succumb to her physical desire. So she throws herself into his arms, but then she manages to suppress her emotional and sexual desire and rejects him outright, forcing him to leave her in humiliation for his presumption and arrogance. Selma, then, succeeds in establishing herself in an independent role, and demonstrates her ability to resist the temptation to allow male encroachment on her autonomy. She is no longer vulnerable through her need for sexual satisfaction. Ceren, on the other hand, is just starting out on life without a man as the novel ends. As a married woman she seems to have found sexual union with her husband more a duty than a pleasure. She rejects his advances and then feels guilty and worried that he will be forced to go looking for another woman. Despite her loss of interest in her husband Ceren shows no inclination to seek stimulation or gratification elsewhere. Ultimately both women in this novel can be seen to be seeking independence and self-fulfilment at the expense of any sexual relationship with men, but there is no indication of the success or failure of this strategy for the women.

Ambivalence in attitudes relating to female sexuality in urban society in recent years is briefly illustrated in Sevgi Soysal's Yenisehir'de Bir Ogle Vakti(1973). In a conversation between a young boy and his girlfriend the girl tries to appeal to the boy's notion of honour regarding his sister to cool his advances, but her tactics serve only to annoy him:
 "Why should I give myself? Let your sister give herself" ...

 "You leave my sister out of this."

 "Why should I leave her out of it? As if I haven't got a big
 brother. If you are so clever at looking after your sister's
 honour, you had better remember that I've got two big strong
 brothers myself."

 "I know."

 "Huh! So your sister is mother's little darling and I'm a whore,
 is that it? What if you saw your sister here like this?"

 "Look here my girl, someone is going to get hurt here in a minute.
 I told you not to speak of my sister." (pp. 28-29)

Later in the book, in the portrayal of the relationship between Ali and Olcay, the couple's sexual union is presented as the logical consummation of their sincere and well-established friendship.


Among the works of the period that deal with characterisations of rural women there is still a strong emphasis on the destructive power of female sexuality, and the need for externally imposed constraints, as well as continuing expression of the fear of disorder inherent in taking sexually active women into employment outside the home and their husbands' or fathers' domain. But there is also a very marked tendency, especially in works which have an urban setting, towards recognising the ability of women to control their own sexuality. It is also significant that this trend has received strong endorsement from women authors of the period. For these female characterisation their sexuality is an integral and essential part of their whole personality and identity, but not the driving force of their lives, as appears to be the case in some of the works by male authors.

In the works of this period there are still examples of female sexuality being treated as a commodity, and virginity being used as an exchange value in marriage, but the exploitative and damaging nature of these misconceptions is exposed and censured. The prohibition against women seeking sexual gratification outside an unsuccessful marriage is also slowly coming under fire, although dramatic examples still abound of the penalties likely to be imposed for such behaviour. Overall there is a clear movement towards depicting greater equality in the rights and duties applied to men and women with regard to sexual behaviour, as well as towards consideration of the phychological and personal aspects of sexuality, rather than just the physical and social, as was the case in earlier years. This latter is a development concomitant with the acknowledgement that control of a woman's sexuality is a personal matter, to be resolved in accordance with her own conscience by the woman herself.


(1) Pervin Esenkova (1951). "La Femme Turque Contemporaine: Education et Role Sociale", Revue de l'Institut des Belles Letters Arabes XIV, p. 274.

(2) Deniz Kandiyoti (1978). Intergenerational Change Among Turkish Women, Paper presented to the 9th World Congress of Sociology, Upsala, Sweden, Table 9. Her survey shows that 84 per cent of the mothers thought that virginity must be preserved until marriage, while only 38 per cent of their daughters agreed.

(3) See for example Deniz Kandiyoti (1977). Sex Roles and Social Change: A Comparative Appraisal of Turkey's Women", Signs (Journal of Women in Culture And Society) III, No. 1, p. 60; and Nadia Haggag Youssef (1974). Women and Work in Developing Societies, University of California, Berkeley, p. 101.

(4) In 1965 the figure was 29,5 per cent; Nermin Abadan-Unat (1974). Turkish External Migration and Social Mobility, in Turkey: Geographic and Social Perspectives, Peter Benedict et al (eds.), Leiden: E. J. Brill, p. 376.

(5) In Turkey only 10 per cent of paid employees were women in 1965; Ester Boserup (1970). Women's Role in Economic Development, London: George Allen and Unwin, p. 232.

(6) Nermin Abadan-Unat (1974) records that 44,5 per cent of male Turkish workers interviewed in Germany considered friendship between a man and a woman "incompatible with moral and religious rules", while 61,2 per cent of female Turkish workers in her survey considered such a relationship "a completely normal manifestation of daily life", in Turkish External Migration and Social Mobility, p. 377.

(7) Lloyd A. and Margaret C. Fallers (1976) offer as an illustration the statement that "women are ten times as passionate as men--like gunpowder which the presence of a man might ignite", in Sex Roles in Edremit, in Mediterranean Family Structures, J. G. Peristiany (ed.), London: Cambridge University Press. p. 258.

(8) Paul J. Magnarella (1974). Tradition and Change in a Turkish Town, Bridge, Mass.: Schenkman Publishing Co. pp. 126-127.

(9) A. Gall (1974). Aziz Nesin: Contemporary Turkish Humorist, Ann Arbor, Michigan, pp. 223-224.

(10) Gall (1974). Aziz Nesin: Contemporary Turkish Humorist, pp. 219-220.

(11) See Tansu Bele (2001), Olmeye Yatmak: Bir Aykinigin Romani, in Kadin Yazin Siyasa (Denemeler), Istanbul: Pencere Yayinlari, pp. 43-57; Ramazan Gulendam (June-2001). The Development of the Feminist Discourse and Feminist Writing in Turkey: 1970-1990, Kadin/Woman 2000--Journal for Woman Studies, 2 (1), p. 108.


Abadan Unat, Nermin (1974). Turkish External Migration and Social Mobility, in Turkey: Geographic and Social Perspectives, Peter Benedict et al (eds.), E. J. Brill, Leiden, pp. 362-402.

Agaoglu, Adalet (1976). Olmeye Yatmak, Istanbul: Remzi Kitabevi, (First edition 1973).

Asena, Orhan (1962). Yalan, Ankara: Dernek Yayinlari.

Atay, Cahit (1965). Sultan Gelin, Ankara:, Bilgi Yayinevi.

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Baykurt, Fakir (1964). Bugday Ekme Zamani, in Cuce Muhammet, Ankara: Ceviri Yayinevi.

Baykurt, Fakir (1974). Ham Meyvayi Kopardilar Dalindan, in Efendilik Savasi, Ankara: Bilgi Yayinevi, (First edition 1959).

Baykurt, Fakir (1968). Yilanlarin Ocu, Istanbul: Remzi Kitabevi, (First edition 1959).

Bele, Tansu (2001). Olmeye Yatmak: Bir Aykiriligin Romani, in Kadin Yazin Siyasa (Denemeler), Istanbul: Pencere Yayinlari.

Boserup, Ester (1970). Woman's Role in Economic Development, London: George Allen and Unwin.

Dilmen, Gungor (1979). Kurban, Istanbul: Cem Yayinevi, (First edition 1967).

Esenkova, Pervin (1951). La Femme Turque Contemporaine: Education et Role Sociale, Revue de l'Institut des Belles letters Arabes XIV, pp. 255-277.

Fallers, Lloyd A. and Margaret C. (1976). Sex Roles in Edremit, in Mediterranean Family, Structures, J. G. Peristiany (ed.), London: Cambridge University Press, pp. 243-260.

Gall, A. (1974). Aziz Nesin: Contemporary Turkish Humorist, Michigan: Ann Arbor.

Gulendam, Ramazan (June-2001). The Development of the Feminist Discourse and Feminist Writing in Turkey: 1970-1990, Kadin/Woman 2000--Journal for Woman Studies, 2 (1), pp. 93-116.

Isinsu, Emine (1978). Tulsak, Istanbul: Tore-Devlet Yayinevi (First edition 1975).

Ilhan, Attila (1973). Bicagin Ucu, Ankara: Bilgi Yayinevi

Kandiyoti, Deniz (1978). Intergenerational Change Among Turkish Women, Paper presented to the 9th World Congress of Sociology, Upsala, Sweden, 14-19 August 1978.

Kandiyoti, Deniz (1977). Sex Roles and Social Change: A Comparative Appraisal of Turkey's Women, Signs (Journal of Women in Culture and Society) III, No. 1, (Autumn 1977), pp. 57-73.

Kemal Tahir (1976). Karilar Kogusu, Ankara: Bilgi Yayinevi, (First edition 1974).

Magnarella, Paul J. (1974). Tradition and Change in a Turkish Town, Bridge, Mass: Schenkman Publishing Co.

Meric, Nezihe (1961). Korsan Cikmazi, Ankara: Dost Yayinlari.

Nesin, Aziz (1977). Tatli Betus, Istanbul: Tekin Yayinevi, (First published in Baris Gazetesi in 1973).

Nesin, Aziz (1970). Tut Elimden Rovni, Istanbul: Istanbul Matbaasi.

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Yildiz, Bekir (1975). Bir Nazli Vardi, in Dunyadan Bir Atli Gecti, Istanbul: Cem Yayinevi.

Yildiz, Bekir (1977). Davud ile Sedef, in Kara Vagon, Istanbul: Cem Yayinevi (First edition 1969).

Yildiz, Bekir (1977). Evlilik Sirketi, Istanbul: Cem Yayinevi, (First edition 1972).

Yildiz, Bekir (1977). Kesik El, in Reso Aga, Istanbul: Cem Yayinevi, (First edition 1968).

Yildiz, Bekir (1977). Yorulmayan Adam, in Reso Aga, Istanbul: Cem Yayinevi, (First edition 1968).


Bu calismada, Turk kadininin 1960'tan 1980'e kadar Turk toplumundaki ve yazarlarin kaleminden cikan edebi eserlerdeki (roman, hikaye ve oyunlardaki) yeri ele alinmistir. Calismamiz, bahsedilen yillar arasinda kadinin Turk toplumunda ikinci planda kalip kalmadigini, ve kendisine sunulan imkanlari yeterince kullanip kullanamadigini hem toplumsal hem de edebi boyutuyla incelemeyi hedefler. Calisma, namus ve cinsellik kavramlarina kadinlar acisindan ve edebi bir yorumla yaklasilarak ve kadinlarin ailedeki ve ev-icindeki rolleri ile bagimsiz yasamlarindaki rollerine edebi eserlerde ne kadar yer verildigine ve nasil yaklasildigina deginir. Bunu yaparken de edebi eserlerde ele alinan kadin karakterlerin analizleri yapilmistir.

Anahtar Kelimeler. Turk romani, Turk hikayesi, Turk tiyatrosu, kadin, kadin kimligi.

Ramazan Gulendam *

Canakkale Onsekiz Mart University

Yard. Doc. Dr. Ramazan Gulendam, Department of Turkish Language and Literature, Faculty of Science and Literature, Canakkale Onsekiz Mart University, Terzioglu Kampusu, 17020 Canakkale -Turkey. e-mail:
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Author:Gulendam, Ramazan
Publication:Kadin/Woman 2000
Geographic Code:7TURK
Date:Jun 1, 2002
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