Turkish Women Must Behave! Istanbul 1913 and 2017

paper doll with many outfits

Attacks on women in Turkey who do not dress conservatively are on the rise, as the country experiences a steady decline of secularism under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Some attacks are verbal, some physical, and some both. It reminds me of the rise of Turkish nationalism in the last years of the Ottoman Empire and the push to reject European and Christian influences in favour of Muslim traditions. The pressure on Turkish women to “behave” crept into society in 1913, just as it’s doing now in 2017.

Constantinople [Istanbul] 1913

In January 1913, The Orient, an English-language newspaper, published the following notice under the headline, Turkish Women Must Behave:

The daily papers last week were ordered to publish the following communication from the Commandant of Constantinople: “Whereas Moslem women are forbidden to go in public places in costumes unbecoming with reference to Moslem morals and national custom, those who infringe this regulation will be arrested by the detective agents and will be severely punished according to the law.”

The wording is interesting. Though there is reference to “Muslim morals” and “national custom” and “regulation”, there is no definition of “costumes unbecoming.” According to True Islam, which derives practices from the Quran, and not from the traditions or cultures of Muslim people, “many Muslim scholars have invented extreme rules for women’s dress which are not found in the Quran.” Nevertheless, as the Ottoman Empire grew more publicly conservative, the lives of Turkish women became more controlled and more narrow. And, as we know from history, society suffered terribly from religious polarization and intolerance.

Istanbul 2017

Thousand of people in Turkey are angry and worried over the ever-increasing trend away from secularism, and the growing attacks on women who do not dress conservatively. Some are pushing back. At a recent protest in the Kadiköy district of Istanbul, hundreds of women gathered to wave placards and chant, “Don’t mess with my outfit!

man slapping woman on bus in IstanbulThe June attack on Asena Melisa Sağlam, a university student dressed in shorts and a white shirt, went viral on social media. She was verbally and physically abused by a man while riding a city bus. “You dress like this during Ramadan?” he said to her. “You should feel ashamed to be dressed like that.” Then he slapped her with the back of his hand and began to walk down the aisle to leave. She came after him, but he grabbed her by the neck and threw her back as he disembarked. The man was later identified as Ercan Kızılateş. Sağlam filed a complaint against him, and he was detained by police for a short time, then released. Kızılateş supposedly said that she provoked him, adding that “women dressing this way affects one’s sensuality.”

It’s the Men Who Must Behave!

Qasim Rashid wrote in the Independent (UK) in March that, according to the Quran 24:31, it is the men who must behave, not the women. “This verse rebukes forced laws on women that claim ‘women must cover otherwise men are distracted.’ It destroys rape culture because it commands men to reform themselves first and exclusively. It demolishes complaints that what a woman is wearing is ‘too provocative’, whatever that means, because it flat out forbids men from gawking at women.” Kızılateş, take note!

How many devout Muslim men in Turkey today read and understand the Quran and the instruction of the Prophet Muhammad, and how many blindly follow ancient traditions and the direction of a few men with a nefarious agenda?

Thanks to paperdollreview.com for the free paper doll I used as the basis of my main image (above).

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