The Issue of the Determination of the Feminine Sexuality in the Oeuvres of Turkish Women-Authors (Pınar Kür and Duygu Asena)

The issue of a woman’s body and sexuality occupies an important position in the feminist criticism. The theory of marginal practices of Michael Foucault  played a great role in the study of the mentioned issue. In Michael Foucault’s philosophical concept, a body is related to the mechanism of power and violence. The philosopher considers that “the power is a chain of forceful relationships. In the sphere of cognition, the sexuality is constructed only against the background of the dominative relationships. Therefore, the sexuality is a social construct, not the biological one. According to the historical epochs, it changes its form of representation, for example, the concept of sexuality was not related to the sin for the ancient Greeks and Romans. In the Middle Ages, the representation of sexuality did not know the markings of common and personal character. That is why a bathhouse functioned as a place of meetings and gatherings. The perception of the sexuality as a sin is based on the power discourse of the 19th century, which has divided all fields of reality into normative and non-normative spheres. Therefore, in various historical periods the formation of sexuality and relations between the sexes as well as the gender asymmetry is connected to the transformation of a social construction of power. Exactly this is the paradoxicality and non-uniformity of sexuality, for instance, in the traditional culture the phenomenon of “virginity”, which is the most important way of determining of "female spirituality”, has not a physiological, but a moral-psychological character.

  We have to appreciate speaking about the female sexuality in Turkish society[1] as a great courage of the women writers. Prof. Necla Arat, a researcher of the women’s issue, writes in her book “Woman and Sexuality”: “In Turkey, while speaking about sexuality, it is important to pay attention to which layer of the society belong the youngsters. If one layer comes from the family, which has democratic values, there is another layer, which is under the pressure of the religion and traditions.  An early marriage among the youngsters of this layer is a common event. All the relations before the marriage are confined” [Arat, 1993:26]. According to the fact that in the Turkish society the sexuality is related with morality and ethics, the mechanism of controlling a woman’s body and sexuality is in the hands of the men. The issue of the virginity of a young girl is related to the self-respect of family, namely, to fathers’ conscience. Deniz Kandiyoti, a sociologist, calls this fact “a classical patriarchate”, which in Turkish society strongly gained ground: “Suppression of a woman’s sexuality and control of women by the men is based on the “patriarchal morals” [Kandiyotı, 1988:275]. In addition, it can be said that the issue of a feminine sexuality is directly related to the status of a man in the society.

I believe that the family[2] is a social institution, in which the suppression of  a feminine sexuality is rooted. The hierarchy and gender stereotypes that exist in the family stipulate a woman’s integration into the society and the issue of the realization of her possibilities. Mothers’ passive position is adapted by their daughters.  

  During the analysis of the issue of the feminine sexuality in the works by Pinar Kür and Duygu Asena, it is significant to distinguish the conceptual issues preventing the manifestation of women’s sexuality. We imply the traditions, family, where the authority of a father is significant. The hierarchy in the family, of course, is directly related to the formation of gender stereotypes.

Initially, the attention should be paid to the “discovery” of her body by a woman and the issue of the identification of sexuality. “Discovering” one’s body begins during maturity. It is expressed by breasts and ovulation. This is the first emotion making women feel their marginality. It is not only the sign of a physiological difference between men and women, but it is an apparent manifestation of the hierarchy. In the novel “A Woman Has Not a Name” Duygu Asena depicts this process with the dialogue of the mother and the daughter:

- Mother, will I have breasts?

- Yes, you will. You are a big girl…

- Why will I have breasts? Why do I need them?

- When you have a child, you will feed him/her with milk.

- Well, the father has breasts too. Why is his milk undrinkable?

- Because fathers have other duties.

- Which duty?

- They are obliged to rear children well. They earn money and bring home. They dress children, teach and rear them.

- Do they do this because of having no breasts?

- No, their duty is working as well as earning money.

- Why don’t you work and earn money? Because you have breasts?

- No, if we wish, we will work, but who will take care of you?

- I do not want breasts. I want to earn money. If I have money, all my dreams will come true [Asena, 2008:12].

It should be noted that a female body is characterized either as “dirty and impure” or as elevated and spiritual. It takes either a central or a peripheral position. For example, a girl’s ovulation and the process of circumcision of boys are expressed  quite differently. In the former case, it is associated with “dirt” and it should be covered, while in the latter case, a ceremony should be public.

  On the initial stage, the women-protagonists of  Pinar Kür’s and Duygu Asena’s novels chosen by us feel their sexuality unconsciously (during contacting with coevals or from the  read novels). Afterwards, they feel it during contacting with a beloved man or via the violence.

  “As a rule, young girls get acquainted with the first emotion related to love and sexuality from novels, movies and songs. The dreams created via literature, radio and theater are far away from the reality. The expectations of 17-18 age girls regarding the love described in the novels  are rarely met while contacting with coevals. In the novels read by me the people lost themselves during  physical contacts. Why it did not happen in my case? During Sinan’s caress, I felt only pain. I only thought about standing naked before the man. Was I an exception or “losing oneself” depicted in the novel was an exaggeration?” [Kür, 2003b:88]

  “During playing hide-and-seek, I must hide only with Mehmet. We hide under the small fur-tree. We hug each other. Once we hid in the bunker. Mehmet closed the door. “- It is very dark here. I am frightened” – said I. However, nothing was frightening. Mehmet is small, but very strong.  He put the hand on my arm and squeezed.  I thought my heart would run out. I wanted to put  my head on his arm and stay for a long time in such a way, but I could not put the head on his arm. I pretended as if I wanted nothing except hiding” [Asena, 2008:17].

The protagonists consider sexuality obscurely. They know that intimacy with a man is not a platonic relation. Men do not agree on a mere “spiritual love”. Nilgun assesses the relation with Sinan sanely and knows that their hidden meetings will not last long.

“One more important part of our relation is the issue of sexuality. A person, who is 30 years old, cannot be satiated only with platonic relations. In the evening, she asked Semra: “When will he truly kiss me?” She shuddered when Semra replied: “Very soon”. However, Nilgun’s opinion about sexuality greatly differed from Sinan’s viewpoint. She theoretically knew that men’s and women’s desires greatly differed. Besides, her school-friends always cautioned her after getting experience during parties and via relying on the read books” [Kür, 2003:90].

 Duygu Asena’s protagonist considers her friends’ experience and tries to avoid an undesirable result caused by the relation with a man.

“Erhan’s parents went for the vacation. “Let’s go to my house”, he says… I do not refuse. We go… I have known Erhan for a long time. He is so good and so kind that I want to be with him all my life. As soon as we entered the house, he caressed my neck. He offers the beverage… he tells me that I will slacken... I am bored… Let’s play cards, I suggest… We play… Soon afterwards, he sits beside me. Caresses, kisses me. We kiss each other. “I am tired”, he says. You are a big girl and you know that there exist other things besides kissing.  He starts undressing me and undresses himself. I shiver like a wet cat, thousand ideas are in my mind. I think about my friend Fugen. She suffers from pain for satisfying the man’s desire. She is pregnant and unhappy. I put on my dress quickly and run out of the house as a mad” [Asena, 2008:17].

  The significant issue, stressed by both authors, is the issue of the marriage - the gaining of a sexual freedom. In the paper “A Woman’s Freedom”, Duygu Asena wrote: “The majority of us get married, because of the desire to be free. In the society, which forbids a woman’s and a man’s friendship, more freedom than coming home with a sweetheart does not exist. Despite your age, you cannot walk freely in the street, you cannot go for the vacation with a sweetheart. There are a lot of things you cannot do. For this reason, you get married. A young girl manages to freely contact a beloved man only in this way. However, when you have a status of a married woman, other things are forbidden. A woman, who works, may avoid dining with coworkers. Dining is a mere thing, but someone may see and condemn such behavior” [Asena, 2005:11].

  Pinar Kür’s protagonist Nilgun was raised with the cognition that a woman must get married. For this reason, she agreed on the intimacy with Sinan. She believes that he will be her husband. The virginity of a woman is related to the conscious of the family. For this reason, the protagonists agree on a physical closeness with a beloved man with difficulty.

“I decided to be free. I stood before the door and could not decide to ring the bell. I thought: “If my father  hears what I am doing. If his heart breaks. No, I cannot do this to him” [Kür, 2003:112].

Sinan blames rearing in women’s discouragement. He believes that  the fear of a future sexual life is instilled in girls in their childhood. This is an attempt of the limitation of their “early freedom” and placement within borders of traditions.

“An unreal fear is instilled in you for the suppression of  the desire of an early freedom. If one day you fight against the pressure of the society, this fear will be an obstacle for you” [Kür, 2003:119].

  Despite Sinan’s progressive thinking, he is even ready to kill his daughter.

“I feel well with Erhan. We kiss and caress each other. However, I want to study. I do not want to get married, but if I do not marry how I will feel real emotions… but I do not know, a woman must be a virgin during the marriage. This is the only way to prove a man that no one has touched her conscience. They enjoy, we do not”  [Asena, 2008:47].

Women do not feel sexuality only according to their desire. It can be done in a forced way as it happened in Malik’s case. Malik always felt a strong pain during the intimacy with the men brought by Husrev Bay. If other characters have a theoretical knowledge about their body and sexuality, Malik is a victim of the physiological and physical violence.

  “I wished the sky to fall and take me down, I am dying… as if the skin is peeled. This pain reaches my heart. It seems that it has no end, but even the pain has the end. I bled for two days. Afterwards, the pain disappeared”  [Kür, 2003:45].

  During the discussion of the issues of body and sexuality in the novels of two writers, the attention should be paid to an ambivalent nature of the patriarchal discourse in respect of this issue. A woman’s body is rejected and “used” at the same time i.e. they either take pleasure of her or reject as “impure”. A woman is forced to make the society see her feelings and recognize her existence only through indirect actions. During representation, a woman should be very strong to withstand all kinds of repressions against her body.

  The women-protagonists depicted by the writers feel freer after the “determination” of their sexuality. The pain of their body enables them to become more “feminine”. In “femininity” we consider an ecstatic relation of a woman’s body towards the world. Women’s libido is as important as men’s one. However, it is not the feeling of the so-called “lacking” depicted by Freud. According to representative of French feminist, critic Lusi Irigare: “In a traditional culture the suppression of a woman’s libido forces us to forget about  its diversity and heterogeneity” [Жеребкина, 2000:167]. A woman’s libido is autoerotic and plural. A man’s sexuality is focused on one object of desire – a penis, while a woman’s sexuality is realized via different organs. The patriarchal logic considers the feminine sexuality as a tabooed topic in order to manipulate it easily. 

For Pınar Kür and Duygu Asena a woman’s subjectivity is directly related to the feminine sexuality. The female characters created by them, try to regain their “taken” identity (while being aware of their marginality) and this greatly conditions their sexual freedom. Fear, shame, a public pressure are the factors, overcoming of which allows the representation of a woman’s sexuality. Cognition of subjectivity and sexuality gives a woman an internal freedom. She makes a decision to leave her husband, break social norms and be free.

[1] According to the historical context, the Turks passed three phases of civilization. Therefore, their viewpoint was determined by the system of values of three different phases. Prof. Mehmet Kaplan makes interesting conclusions regarding women’s types during these phases: “Taking into consideration those periods in which we had to live, three types of women were formed in literature. The first is the pre-Islam epoch and we meet a type of a “woman-heroine”. The second is the period of the adoption of Islam and a woman’s fighting character loses importance. She becomes the object of desire and love. The third is the period, when the western civilization plays a great role in a woman’s and a man’s equality [Kaplan, 2009:52]. 


[2] Civilization, human rights, democracy and feminism are not unfamiliar to the Turkish culture. “The Turks were democrats and feminists.  A democratic society is a feminist one. Shamanism is a vivid example of the Turks’ feminism. According to old Turks’ viewpoint, Shamanism saw goodness in women. From the viewpoint of purity and law, the equality of Toinism and Shamanism was the basis of women’s and men’s equality”, a  “traditional family” would not be a copy of the modern family. When some nations are forced to forget their past, Turkey must return to the “past time”  [Gökalp , 2018:158].


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