Are TV series responsible for violence against women in Turkey?
Emrah GülerWith less than a week away from Women’s Day, Turkey has been seeing a plethora of mass protests, rallies and campaigns to stop and raise awareness on violence against women in the last couple of weeks. The brutal death of 20-year-old Özgecan Aslan after a failed attempt at rape by a minibus driver on Feb. 11 has apparently served as a tipping point, with violence against women becoming the hot topic across the country.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has announced an extensive campaign against violence against women, with a parliamentary research commission investigating its causes. İsmet Uçma, a deputy from the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and a member of the research commission, seems to have found the ultimate cause of an increase in violence against women, Turkey’s TV series, popular across the country and abroad.
Uçma argued Turkish TV series were responsible for “degenerating the institution of the Turkish family” with the “inappropriate relationships they portray.” “You shoot series and you know no bounds in the relationship between the brother’s wife and uncle. You set no limits, and then you complain about the increase in rape. What were you expecting? Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind,” Uçma said in a panel meeting on Feb. 18.
Last year, 294 women were killed according to a tally. That’s only the number of murders. According to an academic paper by Hacettepe University’s Gender and Women Studies department, there are four categories where violence against women takes place: physical, sexual, emotional and economic. Whether the TV series are responsible for violence is up for debate, but they sure portray an abundance of any of these categorized types of violence.
In the latest episode of ATV’s “Kara Para Aşk” (Black Money Love), one of the male characters slaps his wife. The wife then becomes apprehensive, not disclosing how she got her black eye. But her mother-in-law second-guesses what happened, scolding her son. The scene made headlines as a token of sensitivity in the aftermath of Aslan’s death.
Verbal, psychological abuse take first place
Turkish audiences have watched a 15-year-old girl married off to a 70-year-old man against her will in one series. In another, a 16-year-old girl is married in a hurry after her family found out she had pre-marital sex. In “Öyle Bir Geçer Zaman Ki” (As Time Goes By), an international favorite, the leading male character rapes his ex-wife and kills her new husband.
In other examples, a brother beats his sister for dating a man; a man rapes his girlfriend, and when she gets pregnant, her father beats her senseless on the street. Another female character gets pregnant; her family marries her off to her boss. In one series, a woman sleeps with her boss and when her husband finds out he kills the boss and sells his wife to a brothel.
Perhaps, the most famous of the Turkish series that set its main arc around a rape story is “Fatmagül’ün Suçu Ne?” (What is Fatmagül’s Fault?), broadcast in 2011 and 2012 in Turkey, and in around 30 countries from India and Chile to Slovakia. Loosely adapted from Vedat Türkali’s novel and the 1986 feature film of the same name, the story follows the leading female character getting gang raped, married off to one of the perpetrators, and later falling for him.
In research carried out by four academics at Selçuk University on violence against women in TV series, Sezen Ünlü, Nazlı Bayram, Canan Uluyağcı and Sevil Uzoğlu Bayçu cite interesting statistics. In almost all of the series, at least one woman faces some sort of violence. Verbal and psychological abuse take precedence in TV series, with sexual abuse a close follow-up. Husbands and brothers exert the most violence along with, get ready for this, mothers-in-law.
When it comes to the reactions of other characters to violence, 52 percent approve of it. And 97 percent of the perpetrators of violence go unpunished. In an article run in Agos, the Armenian bilingual weekly newspaper, Esra Gedik argues that “harassment, rape and pregnancy are narrative devices to stir the story and create a hero from the leading male character.”
“These series recreate a patriarchy where women are in need of protecting, where women shouldn’t look for jobs, and go out. Women always have owners. If their virtue is intact, everything else is a detail.”