Female leadership becomes material in hit new comedy

Female leadership becomes material in hit new comedy

Emrah Güler - Hürriyet Daily News
Female leadership becomes material in hit new comedy

Demet Akbağ stars as the mayor of a small town in southeastern Turkey, whose people have never had to deal with a female authority figure in their lives.

For many in Turkey, Demet Akbağ is the single greatest and funniest comedienne. She is definitely the most prolific one. She began to win over her devoted audience in the 1980s with her TV shows, going on to star in critically acclaimed box office hits like “Vizontele,” “Eyvah Eyvah” and their sequels, never veering away from her original passion, theater, throughout.

Demet Akbağ is a one-woman show, single-handedly carrying the movies she stars in. “Hükümet Kadın” (The State Lady), seems right for the title of her recent release. In director and writer Sermiyan Midyat’s movie, Akbağ stars as Xate, the mayor of a small town in southeastern Turkey whose people have never had to deal with a female authority figure in their lives.

Mother of seven sons and one daughter, Akbağ’s Xate happens to find herself the mayor of the remote town of Midyat. Inexperienced as any illiterate woman would be, Xate tries to run the town as she would run her own household. The film plays on the absurdities and awkwardness of the town’s people as they come to accept a woman as the mayor.

Midyat positions Xate’s children as symbols of Turkey’s diverse yet troubled population, with a devout Muslim, a communist and one presumably gay son. Akbağ portrays Xate as a strong woman, who can be ruthless and maternal toward both her children and her people, which is the inherent backbone of the comedy. Setting aside what works (and what doesn’t) cinematically, there is something wrong with the idea of making this film, that a woman in a high position can still work as material for comedy in the 21st century.

There is little wonder when you take a look at more than one United Nations report highlighting how the rule of law in many countries excludes women. Turkey is among the worst when it comes to female representation in politics. The 2011 general elections saw a 5 percent increase in the number of female deputies, bumping it to a mere 14 percent, with Prime Minister Erdoğan’s cabinet including only one woman.

Women’s exclusion continues to be the norm
Coincidentally, this week we celebrate the anniversary of the establishment of Turkey’s very first women’s NGO, Türk Kadınlar Birliği (The Turkish Women’s Association), in 1924. Supported by Atatürk’s wife, Latife, the association was established to increase awareness for women about their political rights, develop responsibilities to assert these rights and help impoverished women, children and families.

“We, the Turkish women, need to assert our rightful places in social and political life. First, we need to raise awareness, then we need to educate. We need to teach women to want more and how to reach what they want. Our goal is establishing social, economic and political equality among women and men,” Nezihe Muhiddin, the association’s first chair, had said in a speech directed at the members of the association.

When, in 1927, Muhiddin made sure that the association’s statute included an article on “working towards women’s inclusion in politics, and gaining them their political rights,” she was removed from the administration for infraction of rules. In the fifth general elections of the newly founded Turkish Republic that were held in 1935, 18 women were elected to Parliament. That was more than what the association had bargained for, eventually leading to its demise.

Since then, women have accounted for an average of 5 percent in Parliament, the number dropping to 1 percent for four decades after the 1940s. The Turkish Women’s Association was re-established in 1949 and continues its activities to date; evidently the initial goals having been discarded or held to not very effective results. So it should really be a small wonder that a woman taking a leading position in local government is guaranteed laughing material.