Mansplaining to veiled women once again

Mansplaining to veiled women once again

What women wear or likewise what they don’t wear is a typical political issue in Turkey. It has been common to hear “complaints” from secularists about how veiled women choose to dress themselves. At the end of the day, the veil was the symbol of the so-called “postmodern coup” of 1997, also known as the Feb. 28 process.

The Islamist Welfare Party (RP) was a coalition partner at the time, and the conservative policies of the time ended as the tanks of the Turkish army rolled through the streets of Sincan in Ankara. One of the upshots of the incident was that the veil was banned from universities and government offices. 

It had been common to hear criticisms, especially from secularist women, about how the veiled women dress.

“They cover their heads but they wear tight jeans; what sort of Islamism is this? They cover themselves but they kiss their boyfriends out on the streets; is this piety!” One could hear such sentences from more mature secularists. Such criticisms were quite popular right after the Feb. 28 process. Thus in time, looking down on veiled women from the secular enclave became lame and unpopular. Societies change, as everything does.

Younger generations do not care that much about the veil. It was not common in the 1990s, but now you can see women with the veil and without the veil becoming really good friends and spending time together in similar social settings. 

However, these days harsh criticisms about the veil do not come from the secular part of Turkish society; on the contrary, conservatives are engaging in arguments about the way veiled women dress and behave. As the secularists retreat from this field, it is filled with the pious. 

The Istanbul Modest Fashion Week took place on the 13th of May. Seventy designers took part in a two-day event hosted by Modanisa, an online retailer of Muslim fashion, at the historic Haydarpaşa railway station.

Fashion bloggers from Turkey and abroad were invited. Even one secular fashion blogger confessed she was sent gifts and flowers from the organizers asking her to join the event.  Hijab in every version was on the catwalk, combined with glamour and allure. The audience of women in designer sunglasses, jewels and headscarves snapped photos on their mobile phones.

However, the event was a direct target of criticism. The hashtag #tesettureihanet (betrayal of the veil) became a trending topic on Twitter and harsh criticisms began raining down on social media. A writer from the pro-government Yeni Şafak newspaper, Yusuf Kaplan, tweeted, “We won the struggle for the veil but we’ve lost the veil itself.” Prominent Islamist sociologist and writer Hülya Şekerci tweeted “the struggle during the Feb. 28 process was not for fashion or a nondescript freedom to veil.” Another prominent Islamist, Nureddin Yıldız, was quoted on Twitter as saying: “As we were winning the struggle for the veil, we’ve lost the heads/minds covered by the veil.”

It is significant that the parade of the modest haute couture was not perceived as a triumph but as a debacle. Apparently, the veil is not the symbol of the oppressed or modesty, but rather, with all the “avant-garde” versions, the new veil symbolizes in a sense the recklessness of power itself. 

Whatever it symbolizes, women in modern Turkish history are once again under attack because of the way they choose to dress. Mansplaining is on the stage again this time…