Erdoğan targets feminists to prevent unity of conservative and liberal women

Erdoğan targets feminists to prevent unity of conservative and liberal women

“Women are entrusted to men.”

“It’s not over until I say it is over.”

The first sentence belongs to Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. He said it while talking about the brutal murder of Özgecan Aslan.

The second belongs to an ordinary male citizen in Turkey, uttered when his female partner asks to part ways.

Let me explain how the mentality in the first sentence leads to the brutality in the second.

“I say that women are consigned by God to men [or we can translate it as “God entrusted women to the hands of men”] and those feminists … they say, ‘what do you mean women are consigned, this is an insult.’ You [feminists] have no link to our religion and our civilization. We look to the address of the ever-loved one. He says ‘Women are consigned by God to men; endorse [protect] that which is consigned.’ He says ‘Don’t hurt her.’”

Erdoğan is notorious for having said many times that “women are not equal to men.” So the answer to the question “if they are not equal, are they superior or inferior?” comes with his statement that women are fragile. So add this to the above statement, and obviously the answer is that they are inferior to men. 

Erdoğan’s admirers say this is the wrong conclusion; that he is on record as saying many times how he respected his (deceased) mother and holds motherhood (therefore womanhood) above all other values. Indeed, they might be right; this might not be the conclusion he arrives at.

But the mentality reflected in his old and recent statements translates itself in Turkey into a mentality not of respecting women, but of ownership of them.

If you look to news stories about murders of women, you see that in most cases they come as a result of a man who cannot tolerate his wife’s (or his partner’s) wish to separate.

That’s when the sentence “you cannot say it is over until I say so” comes. This could have been said in another way as well: “You are consigned to me. I do as I wish to ‘protect you,’ since you are ‘fragile’ if you separate from me,  you will end up ‘unprotected.’”

Again, Erdoğan’s supporters say, his religious references cannot be interpreted this way. But here is the problem: There is no single interpretation of Islam. Look at the brutal interpretation of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL); ironically, Turkish women could feel relatively lucky as we still live in a secular country, although this secular characteristic is being eroded by what is called moderate Islamism.

Erdoğan surely knows that, as one author put it, his messages are not implemented with a romantic interpretation. So why is he using Islamic references and targeting “the feminists”?

His statement targeting feminists took place the second time he talked about Aslan’s case. In his first statement, he targeted a Republican People’s Party (CHP) female deputy, who - a day after Aslan’s body was found - participated in an event known as onebillionrising: The biggest mass action in which women rise up and dance against violence against women. Erdoğan advised this female deputy to pray instead of dancing. So his statements are politicalyş motivated.

It is obvious that he, again, resorted to the best tool -polarization-against a looming danger on the horizon: the unity of conservative women with liberal ones.

It is no secret that women with secular lifestyles hate Erdoğan, while women with conservative lifestyles adore him.

It is also well known that more women than men have voted in the past for Erdoğan. There are two reasons for that affection. For years, some conservative women (especially those wearing headscarves) felt excluded and looked down upon by secularists. Erdoğan made them feel respected.

Second, millions were taken out of poverty during Erdoğan’s years; while women benefited from the general improvement in the economy, especially those who stayed home appreciated direct payments for taking care of the elderly and the handicapped members of the family.

But domestic violence does not differentiate between conservative or liberal. Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if an increasing number of conservative women rise against the choices of their husbands and unfortunately become the victim of domestic violence. So this is one area in which all women can unite. Seeing that, it is only natural for Erdoğan to use this polarizing rhetoric and target liberal/secular women.

The question is this: While polarizing rhetoric can work in the short term, I am not sure whether, especially the women with headscarves who were deprived of going to school in the past, will accept being consigned to men once they graduate from universities and start taking their own lives into their own hands.