On the issue of women writer’s identity in contemporary Turkish Literature

There is a variety of opinions on defining the role and place of a woman in the society. Such important issues as: “the natural purpose of sexes’’, why and how does the condition of the woman differ from that of a man, what is thought under the concept “function of a woman”, what is needed for a woman to become a full member of society, what circumstances infringe the freedom of women, and how this limits should be overcome – holds an important place in Humanitarian and Social Sciences.

In the History of Literature, as well as in other historiography disciplines, neglecting the category of gender led to “male”, the male norms of Poetics, male writing style, the images created by male equalized with “common mankind”. The true feminine starting was left behind, out of vision. If writing, especially fiction, is a "male" phenomenon, the history of literature should be the history of male authors. But in the new era the process of “sorting of the World” began that included the “improved” relations between gender.

Feminist Literary criticism is a way to find out about the female beginning, decomposition of the inertial and depended philosophical stereotype, defining the role of female writers on Literature, the resaons for there expell from Literary life, analysing their work and revision.

Feminist Literary Criticism was established under the influence of the basic method of post-structuralism philosophy – Deconstruction. The scholars of this approach during the deconstruction of literary, philosophical, historical or judicial text, show it clearly that on an unconscious level of culture, woman is considered to be “different”, “of secondary importance”, “marginal” and so forth, once more underlining the patriarchal structure of life. Contemporary culture is based on the "indisputable" fact that there is a need to review the traditional feminist views.

The forward raising of female author’s works in the History of Literature produced the concept of “Feminine Literature” which means the study of themes, genres, literary structure created by women.  Among the items to be studied are included psychodynamics, linguistics and feminine language dynamics, individual and collective woman's career trajectory, literature, history and some of the writer's works.

It is noteworthy that the concept “Feminine Literature” has its supporters, as well as opponents. In the opponent’s opinion dividing literature as “feminine” and “masculine” is a wrong approach, because Literature is either good or bad. According to this thesis, in the evaluation of a work the personal traits of the author should not be taken into account. But if we take into account that Art is a creative act of an individual, involving her/his personal features, her/his psychological or spiritual condition that then has an effect on the form and content of the work, we cannot share the thesis outlined above. In addition, existing psychological studies provide the opportunity to discuss about the feminine and masculine archetypes and complexes that has a large effect on the formation of a person's mentality. As Russian feminist writers declared: "There is a feminine prose, since there is a woman's world, which is different from the masculine world" [ Рюткëнен, 2000:5]

The American Feminist Sandra Gilbert poses the question: “If the author is a woman, how can her sexual belonging distinguished from her literary energy?” [Шоуолтер, 2004: 321]

"Feminine" and "masculine" literatury dichotomy is caused by the existence of the realities , that is called thinking the analogy of sex. This position is most clearly manifested in Lacanian psychoanalysis, where Jacques Lacan describes the bifurcation process of female in the language. The Psycho-linguistic world is based on father and son relationship, on logic and masculinity, and women are associated with silence and emptiness. Woman is considered to be of an invisible gender.

In terms of Feminist literary criticism, critical judgments and analysis should be placed on the woman reader or female character, as well as a woman writer, the creator of the text. It is important for us, the identification of women, as the author, in modern Turkish literature. In order to determine what place is occupied by a woman in patriarchally dominant, saturated creative space called "high literature". Before moving on the material to be analysed, it is noteworthy to outline the importance of feminist thinking and its significant impact on the awareness and self-determination of Turkish women writers and poets.

In this article the feminist movement in Turkey is not going to be analysed. It should be said that, when the Ottoman Empire started to head towards the West in the 19th century it brought significant changes in political as well as mental and cultural sense. People interested in the issues of feminism and obtained information through women's magazines, newspapers and translated literature. The instillation of Feminist ideas did not mean the thorough sharing of the feminist movement and feminist ideas of Europe. On the contrary, we can say that the Turkish feminism, became an organic movement adapted to the needs and problems, it was not a mere  transmission of feminist ideas, but an attempt to fit in with Turkish Socio-cultural reality. Not only in the Ottoman Empire of the 19th century, even nowadays the debate about feminism and related issues are actual and important.[1]

For the Nation of Islam followers the cope with the idea of women's emancipation was not an easy ​​ process. One very important fact should be noted: In the Republic of Turkey "Islamic feminism" is just as important as a liberal, social and radical feminism. I think that "Islamic feminism" is a logical consequence of the existence of feminism in Turkey. It is a kind of defensive process of the "harmful" influence coming from European feminism.

Turkish literary history, as well as in the history of literature of other countries, is inspired by "masculine" ideology, values, logic, and rationalism. Female writers it was a difficult and slow process for obtaining a place in writing space. The reason should be sought in historical, religious, social, politically driven constructs, and thinking spheres. Masculine, patriarchal thinking, writing and creativity does not consider woman as a creator the, since she cannot be the author. To take pen in hand is not only an inappropriate behaviour for a woman, but also against nature.

In Turkish literature, this issue has not been studied adequately, but a negative view about women writer’s work is clearly demonstrated in the novel by Peyami Safa  “A reluctance Novel”. The main character, who is the author’s prototype, during a discussion with a woman writer, Wildan, who is occupied by Translating Pirandello,[2] states that: “Female literature is not in her mind, but in her womb, so woman herself mixed her place.” In the writer's opinion, the man should either be a father, or an artist. In other words, a man is able to create by both, his penis and his pen. But the primary role of women is to be a mother.[3]

In Turkish literature, the notion of "feminine literature" causes differences of opinions among women writers. Famous women writers Adalet Ağaoğlu, Sevinç Çokum, Buket Uzuner, Nazlı Eray, Feride Jalali, belong to the category of writers who protest against the concept of “female prose”, “female literature”. Adalet Ağaoğlu states that: “When they put “female” in front of the word “writer”, I feel as if I were a member of a party” [Karaca, 2006:34].

The opinions of Sevinç Çokum and other writers are similar to each other.

Feride Jalali:

“Whether the artist is a woman or a man does not matter for me, among the man writers some are as good as Yaşar Kemal  or Orhan Pamuk. I believe that just like Yakup Kadri, Sait Faik and other respectful authors we are on the right road and make the works that are valuable for the field of writing” [Karaca, 2006:225].

Sevinç Çokum:

“I do not devide writers as female or male, creative ability is vital and if a person is gifted, she/he will create something valuable’’ [Karaca, 2006:294].  

Pınar Kür, Erendiz Atasü,  İnci Aral, Leyla Erbil , Nezihe Araz, Latife Tekin belong to the category of writers, who believe that in the patriarchal culture, it is important to identify the place of women writers and emphasize the issues concerning this problem. Pınar Kür states:

"Writing is very hard in every country of the world, and in Turkey it is twice as difficult ... especially if the writer is a woman. Placed under the hegemony of patriarchal ideology it should be regarded as a miracle if a woman writer's manages to let the society hear her voice and find her place in society. However, in my belief, this miracle, despite its slow motion, will definitely happen. That is why I do not quit writing" [Karaca, 2006:264].

Nezihe Araz:

“The fact that you are a woman, means that you are guilty, and if you were to put women's issues on the agenda, and achieved a little success, then you are twice as guilty. I see realistically women's issues and my friends assessment that "I'm telling feminine fairytales ", I do not agree. I think that this issue is much deeper and should be appropriately researched” [Karaca, 2006:231].

Leyla Erbil:

 “At first I was against the dichotomy of Female and Male writers, but today my mind has altered.... My protest then was an attempt of saving myself....” [Karaca, 2006:202].

İnci Aral:

 “In our society women have more responsibility: Family, Children. Literature moves on the second place, housework is primary for us. Only after completing those do we go back to writing. The Man is not like this. In this issue he has more time and freedom, and he has less responsibility in everyday common issues’’ [Karaca, 2006:167]

Latife Tekin:

“I was raised in an environment where women regarded men as rivals and the other way round. If you are going to call me a writer, I would prefer to be called a woman writer, because I adore whispering about men’s weakness and the destruction of their hegemony gives me immense pleasure” [Çağdaş, 1993:25].

Erendiz Atasü:

“I look positively at the term “Feminine Literature”. I want to underline that this concept highlights and reflects how patriarchal the culture is. Also, I believe that the plot, language and symbols used by female writers are totally different from that of a male writer” [Karaca, 2006:343].  

I think the writers attitude towards the notion of "feminine literature" is largely determined by the society and the public mood. The word "woman" is associated with the marginalized status of women in the society. Speaking about women writers, the Turkish creativity Scholar Pakeri draws attention to the word "woman" in the singular form ("Woman's rights", "woman's issue"), and this linguistic phenomenon is related to the perception of femininity. In common language woman carries the meaning of “secondary” and “different”. In Turkish, the word" woman "is not only used to show the difference between them and men. It also has the meaning of defining virgin from a non-virgin. In Language status of the word "woman" is low, because the term is directly related to the sex. A clear example of it is using the word "woman", with the meaning of a "cleaner". In this case, the status of women is identified with the status of a cleaner. The head of the family calls his wife “HanımThus, "Hanım" covers the status of women under the social status because the usage of the word "woman" means of being of a low social status. Because the word "woman"  has sexual and reproductive values, and, in addition, determines the differences between  “virgin”  and “non-virgin” are different ( so they are related  to the moral issues), so in  Turkey, the establishment of the term "woman writer," is a rather complicated process. The writer Afet Ilgaz speaks about her dualist relation towards this concept:

“We are trying to adapt to the word “woman”. As Turkish society has given it negative attributes, we are ashamed for being feminine, and some of our compatriots even do not consider themselves as feminine. I once agreed will them. Does anybody call Orhan Kemal “male writer”? Then why is it right to call me a woman writer? But now I realize that because of this attitude we cannot cope with the concept of "woman writer", thus rejecting femininity and believe that being a woman means just a difference between sexes” [Durakbaşa, 2012:16].

Besides, it should be highlighted that women writers use as pennames the names of their fathers and husbands: For example, in the articles published in the magazines and journals of the Ottoman Empire, the women writers used the names of their husbands and fathers, or even indefinite names. First woman writer, Fatma Aliye,[4] published the translation of “Desire” by the French author Georges Ohnet, by the pseudonym of “one lady”. The male writers did not want to believe that the translator was a woman. Nancy Miller, the representative of Feminist Literary critic, explains this even likewise: "In traditional cultures, only the men author has "own name", which belongs only to him and his unique subjectivity, but the woman author's have to “borrow” them from her husband or father.”[Жеребкина, 2000:33].

Given that in the culture the notion of "feminine" exists and is defined as an opposition of masculine discourse model, the conceptualization of feminine subjectivity is understood in contrast with male models, woman's sexuality is understood by the "phallus" model, in the traditional discourse the women's position is defined as an “addition” to the man's position. I think that the women writer’s attitudes towards the concept of “feminine literature” are caused by the negative attitudes on the unconscious level and by the improper assessment of fear “syndrome” of their creative work.  

Female writers are trying to establish themselves in the patriarchal culture. I wonder how they managed to overcome the patriarchal discourse and to identify themselves as women writers. In order to determine this, our attention will be drawn toward two modern woman writers and we will analyze their two famous novels “Woman on Gallows” and “Woman Has No Name”.

Pınar Kür  and Duygu Asena belong to the category of woman, who pay attention to the understanding of the world from a woman perspective. In literature the establishment of the word “feminine” is connected with the name of Duygu Asena. The novels by both authors were banned for a period of time because of its “untrustworthy” nature. But this prohibition was seen as “hiding” existing problem from the side of the society.

The identification of women writers is possible by various methods, but we stopped our attention at the feminine hysteria that plays an important role in Freud’s, Lacans and other French feminist critics and psychoanalysts. Freud’s psychoanalysis of feminine subjectivity is defined by the feminine hysteria. The psychoanalytical interpretation of feminine hysteria tries to understand "feminine essence," "feminine soul". "Feminine spirit" is constantly changing, and hiding behind hysteria. It differentiates the masculine subjectivity from feminine subjectivity. Lacan connects feminine hysteria with sexuality and desire. By Lacan’s explanation, “Hysteria – this is the means by which feminine subjectivity opposes the interpretation of symbols or forms of bias” [Жеребкина, 2000:94].  

The French representatives of psychoanalysis and feminist criticism Hélène Cixous and Catharine Clemens make the normalization of female hysteria and believe it as a realized means of female subjectivity.  Hélène Cixous believes that due to its intensive and excessive nature of hysteria it can never be depressed. Luce Irigaray sees hysteria as a female structure to destruct patriarchal discourse.

Luce Irigaray believes that it is necessary to understand women as a deconstruction of "others" phallocentric construction, and at the same time finding a method by which it will be possible to detect feminine specificity. Women must be freed from phallocentric status, she has  in  the culture, since she is operating as an object o  men "property", or "exchange".[5] So we have to find the feminine erotic and sexuality in the culture, i.e autonomous feminine subjectivity "trace", which is not enclosed in a patriarchal cultural norms and exceeds it.

Given the fact that female is surrounded by a patriarchal culture, what can be a resource through which women can articulate their own experiences and sufferings? First of all, she must bear in mind the patriarchal discourse and have the ability to asses it critically. The usage of traditional patriarchal discourse allows her to "shatter" patriarchal values. The main road to this aim is the utilization of the technique of hysteria.[6]

Female hysteria is a specific form of feminine activity that questions the passive role of a woman in the culture. By means of hysteria woman manages to neglect themselves as castrated, and realizes herself by means of these symptoms (in symptom we mean different parts of the body). Hysterical woman makes to articulate extensive type of discourse. Instead of her, her symptoms talk. The essence of a woman's hysterical discourse lies in the fact that the symptoms of hysterical women Imitating the organic chaos, it is not entirely in harmony with the whole body, but with different parts of the body. Therefore Symptom is always excessive. Hysterical Woman while displaying her “sickness” denies fulfilling her functions in the society. Such as dependence is a kind of parody of patriarchal culture. The female justifies the expectation of the patriarchal culture in a way that does not comply with its demands, but her own. Through excessive mimesis hysterical woman becomes active from passive that is a kind of strategy of defining her subjectivity.

For the analysis of the chosen novels of Pınar Kür  and Duygu Asena noteworthy is the title itself. In the title of both novels the word “female” is mentioned. Apart from it the “gallows” itself causes a negative emotion in human conscious, and what has no name does not matter, it is not defined, it puts a question mark over the issue of trust. It is noteworthy that these negative constructs are mentioned in connection with women. This shows the attitude of women writers towards patriarchal culture. The protagonists of the novel differ from each other by their characteristics, actions and world outline.

The protagonist of the novel “Woman Has No Name” shows clear protest against the hegemonic culture that exists in the world. Her hysteria can be seen in all her actions and her decisions. The first chapter begins with the conflict between her and her father.[7]

"Our friends always coming to us, I love both girls and boys, but, my father - no. His Face was like that of an angry cat, or a dog or a donkey, his eyes are gazing at the window glass, and he is looking at us with fireballs in his eyes..." [Asena, 2008:7].

Father was against the friendship of the protagonist with the boys. He believes that giving children higher education is a waste of money and is against it. For the main protagonist thinking within the frameworks of gender stereotypes is unacceptable. Men think that her promotion at work is due to her beauty and not her talent. The most important part where the hysteria of the protagonist is depicted is her relation towards men and marriage. The procedures of marriage occur by defending tradition. The married life of the protagonist is in accordance with the norms of patriarchal culture. Caring for the husband and house is the main occupation of the protagonist: “I get up early in the morning, prepare breakfast, after he goes to work, I go shopping, then I prepare dishes according to my mother’s recipes, then I go to the bus station in the evening, I wait for him to return, we come back home together, we have supper together, then I clear the table, he helps....” [Asena, 2008:62].

In this scene the monotonous life of a woman is shown. Her functions is to care about the family. This type of women is idealized to "the type of angel". The main character's life soon changes, which is caused by her pregnancy. Her ​​husband coldly greets this happy information. The reason for this is the unstable financial situation of the family. The husband gives the main character money to make abortion. She also obeys the demand of the husband. However, after some time when the husband decides that now is the time to bare children, she categorically opposes.

“You want to become a father, but ask me whether I want to become a mother or not? If I bore you a child, I will fulfil my obligation of a woman, but then I have to neglect everything, friends, work, I must raise my children, their sickness and learning and caring for them is my duty, and during that time you will relax with your friends.... You refused to have the first child, and I agreed, I thought you were a man and you were right. I was raised by the idea, that I would get married, have children and be a happy woman.... the only and sacred obligation of a woman is to be a mother... When women cannot be mothers, they draw all their attention on career, because it is believe to be a defect, and women because of the fact that have no penis envy men. To satisfy their feeling of insufficiency, they think too much on their career.  If it is due the lack of penis that I am trying to progress and achieve success, then I am very happy. I wish more women thought like me" [Asena, 2008:103].

I think this episode clearly shows the process that is called excessive mimesis. On the one hand the main character justifies the awaiting of the patriarchal culture, but through the hysterical symptom can articulate her desire.

The name of the protagonist of Pınar Kür novel “Woman on gallows” is called Melek. The word Melek means “Angel”. We believe that the usage if this name by the writer is of a symbolic significance. The protagonist by her actions and characteristics is an “Angel” in the society, in which she lives.

The Novel starts by a trial, where Melek is being judged. She is accused of killing her husband. But she is totally innocent. Melek is a victim of her husband’s sick and voluptuous desires and intentions, which occur because she is a woman. The judge finds her guilty without the proper investigation of the case and without listening to the witnesses: “I saw that she was guilty at the first glance and no matter how many witnesses may speak I will not alter my decision” [Kür, 2008:10].

Melek does not try to defend herself; she remains silent. Pride sustained by silence is a weapon used against the tendencies of masculine culture.  Melek knows that nobody will listen to her. The world full of masculine violence is not a reality for her. Melech reality is her vivid recollections of her childhood. Therefore, Ialchin’s desire to save Melek from the dirty, masculine world, where men enjoy her body oblivion, remains unclear for her. In the end, it was Ialchin who committed the murder and not Melek.

“He says that he wants to save me, so that my slavery will end, that he loves me.... But je is no different from other men” [Kür, 2008:38].

Melek refuses the love of the man that in the end takes her to the gallows, and refuses him to save her life. We can conclude only one thing by this; the hysteria of the protagonist in Novel can be seen in her silence. But this silence is that results in the “shatter” of the patriarchal discourse. In this case the author has two options: She either adapts to the rational norms of the man, in which case she cannot be regarded as a “woman”, or she neglects these norms and she dies. As we see, the author chose the second option.   

In conclusion it could be said: In modern Turkish Literature, the amount of woman writers increases, but it is noteworthy to what extent do they identify themselves as women writers in the existing traditional culture. As of today, few writers have managed to reveal their feminine specificity in the patriarchal discourse. Such conceptual changes in the role of women authors, locations, and experience plays an important role in determining the case. This is due to the feminist ideas.

Despite the fact that women writers feel the hardness of social norms while fighting for equality with men, they still found a way to express their experience, aspirations, aims, identity.

[1] The writer Yakup Kadri suggested that Feminism did not exist in the Ottoman empire, because there was no such a word as Feminism, but on the contrary the women sharing feminist ideas: “Yakup -Bey believes that because there is no such a word in our language, the movement will not exists. However, if we consider that many words in our language, which are different from the local language and established without being translating (telegraph, car, etc.), so we believe that the word Feminism can be the used."[Çakır,2011:75]. The intelligence of Ottoman Empire was well aware of the importance of feminism. This can be seen in their attitude towards this phenomenon: “Feminist movement is a thorough and solid movement and the well-educated society of this country shares feminist ideas” [Çakır,2011:79].

    [2] Luigi Pirandello (1867–1936), Italian writer, poet, playwright.

[3] The importance of a woman as a mother is determined by Islam. The woman is perfect when she is a mother. Childless women are considered to be worthless human beings. She was either being returned to her father’s house, or the husband would bring a second wife. If a woman died a spinster, it was believed, that she did not fulfil her obligations.

[4] Fatma Aliye while talking to the founder of Tatar Literature Fatima Kerim admitted that she was working on a book, involving the rights and duties of a woman. However, she wants this book to be published in France. On the question, why the author does not want to publish the book in Turkey, she replies: "No, dear, if it were published in Turkey, I would undergo much pressure, our men’s attitudes towards women and families do not change, and  I received letters of numerous threats and insults due to my published articles" [Koloğlu,2002:12].

[5] The Professor of psychoanalysis and Gender Studies Juliet Mitchell based on the works of Levy-Strauss, suggests that the universal law is marriage that governs the relationship and its fundamental principle is to ban incest. The Exchange Act is to strengthen the community and no matter how as it should be - due to the mother's or father's family line connection - always men "exchange" women.

[6] About hysteria Freud believed that hysteria occurs when desire cannot be fulfilled. Freud draws attention on such features as frigid. But frigidity in Freud’s works is explained in the terms of patriarchal concepts.

[7] In the newspaper “Morning News” Duygu Asena talks about her relation with her father: “If father had showed more love and warmth for me, my personal features would develop in another way” [Pervin, 2004:5].


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