Turkey is a Muslim country that has deep cultural, historical, and religious roots. Still, an official prohibition to wear a headscarf in public places and universities seems unreasonable and barbaric. It is, in fact, because of this very cultural, rather than biological, formation and marginalization of, female practices that one can even hope for a future society where the oppressive sexual division of labor would dissolve. The transformed “female” perspectives could be socially taken up rather than assumed to be the result of one’s sex, perhaps, for example, by parents sharing equally in-home and childcare or through some kind of radical reorganization of the public and the private lives. It is only because development attitudes, empathy, receptivity, and so forth can be learned and discovered in other ways than through female personal experience and because they are historically and culturally informed that critics and political leaders perceive them in the first place as having the potential to transform the social order. The current situation in Turkey is a crisis of identity caused by the increased modernization and westernization of the Muslim world.
It should also be pointed to the universal structure of male dominance as a singular oppressor and stable subject. Leila Ahmed rightly points out that there is little agreement about what constitutes the category of women among feminists because of the complex way it intersects with one’s race, class, culture, and age. Given the poststructuralist critique of foundations and the problems of essentialism, feminists, says Ahmed should no longer feel the need to assert a female specificity, to construct a stable subject, woman, and a singular oppressor, the patriarchy (Ahmed, p. 76). Instead, the political goal should be to get rid of these stable gender categories and construct variable gender identities, paying attention to concrete cultural and historical contexts.
Still, women should have a right to choose their way of life and dress as a part of religious and cultural values. Given that dressing always involves more than cultural determinants, critics see that the veiling of women is not a matter of a conflict as a subject accounting for a woman as an object by supplying an underlying fixed ground or identity. It is also not the result of a cultural play of social order, where the subject, though dispersed in institutional and social power centers, is nonetheless a cultural authoritative synthesis that grounds all meaning. “A 1998 end-run via the European Court of Human Rights failed when, the court endorsed the ban. What the court actually said, however, was that since the ban “pursued the legitimate aims of protecting the rights and freedoms of others” it did not per se contravene the European Convention on Human Rights. Declining to second-guess the local authorities on the ban’s necessity, the court refused to strike it down—a very qualified endorsement” (Byford 2008). The reality is that the working life for Turkish women continues to be marred by choices that we have grown weary of making, choices we would have liked to put behind us long since. Without a clear identity to center Muslim women’s lives, their individual choices imprison rather than liberate them because Muslim women still yearn for what they do not have, rather than finding harmony in what we’ve chosen. One of the reasons the identity challenge is so difficult to manage cultural, religious, and political issues is because it influences every choice a woman makes in daily life.
- Ahmed, Leila. Women and Gender in Islam. Yale University Press, 2002.
- Byford, G. Fighting the Veil. Newsweek. 2008.