IR & Politics

The Role of Woman and Institutions in Reproducing Patriarchy in the Turkish Society

Societies are based on inequalities since the men decided to live together. Unequal distribution of material and non-material resources among people caused domination based institutions to emerge. The economy, referring to the distribution of material assets, represents the field where the inequality is quite visible and persistent. Both capitalist and pre-capitalist societies are characterized by the fact that a small group within the society owns the means of production. Thus, the social classes appear: plebs and patricians, nobles and serfs, bourgeoisie and proletariat are the different social reflections of the inequality. More or less, the same structure reproduces itself upon different sets of relations and the society is roughly divided into two: laborers and tax payers vs. rentiers and less-payers/non-payers. In this structure, the dominant group needs to gain the “consent” of the rest in order to create a sustainable system.

There has been no social system which is merely based on physical violence. Although the violence has been an indispensable element, the rulers prevail as long as they gain the consent of the “subjects”. Thus, the social institutions which aim to promote the sense of consent come into existence. Even though the social institutions are complicated and multifunctional, gaining consent is a raison d’être for them. This leads to the notion of hegemony which makes the core social conflicts manageable. In this context, state, family and religion play major roles.

The society is vertically structured in terms of social classes. However, the inequality and hegemony do not only express themselves through social classes. The society is also horizontally structured in terms of man-woman relations; which is called patriarchy. This system is deeply implemented in the societies. Differing from the social classes,  patriarchal relations are not strictly determined by the material conditions. Instead, the cultural aspect is highly influential in their reproduction. In this context, the relationship between a man and a woman who enjoy the identical economic conditions can show a patriarchal character as well.

This paper intends to approach the role of woman and institutions in reproducing patriarchy in the Turkishsociety

Patriarchy in the Turkish Society

Considering most societies, institutionalization period of patriarchal structures was completed long ago. Generations of men and women have been raised with a certain mindset reinforcing the position of the man. Thus, the structure became highly resistant to time and changing conditions. A huge literature has already taken root in languages which represents the principal tool of communication.

In French grammar, “elles” – which means them(feminine) – is used as pronoun to address a group of women; however “ils” – which means them(masculine) – is used to address a group people consisting of thousands of women and a man. In Turkish, the expression of “God the father” is used while talking to children. Thus, a mighty male figure is created through all levels of communication.

Patriarchy refers to the system in which the male subjugates the female. In that sense, the female character defined by the male assumes a secondary role. However, once the system starts to express itself as a “state of nature” by gaining the consent of the female, she starts to play an essential role in reproducing the system. The institutions like family, religion and state, no doubt, play major roles in imposing this hegemony. What should be underlined is that the female has a crucial part in consolidating the patriarchal system.

Patriarchy inherited from the Ottoman Empire is a prominent character of the Turkish society. Although the Turkish modernization – particularly the early republican years – aimed to reform the role of women, this revolutionary mindset half failed to take root within the whole society. Double speed modernization left space for traditional structures to consolidate themselves.

Family is the first stage of socialization for a new member. The rudiments of the society and collective life are taught in the family where the patriarchy is introduced to children. Patriarchal codes are dominant in the family which represents a starting point where the children are indoctrinated. From the early ages, girls are taught that they represent the honor of the family which is embodied in the “vagina”. The first thing she knows is the necessity to restrain and close herself. Whereas, the boy is raised to “terrorize” the world. The more the girl gets withdrawn the more the boy gets aggressive and after a while the boy also starts toapply pressure on the girl and acts as an authority. This stance is appreciated by the family. In this case, the mother who passes almost her entire time with her children plays a crucial role and creates a small realm for her boy at home. In time, the boy quickly figures out that he is the king and the only heir to the family and the girl is just a visitor who should marry someone and leave the home. Patriarchy expresses itself through inheritance issues as well. In many regions of Turkey, the girls are somehow exempted from the family inheritance; the whole family property is whether owned by the male member or shared between the male members. The principles imposed in the family are completed with the religious education mostly offered in mosques or in private institutions with dormitories. There, the same patterns are introduced to children within a different socialization under the supervision of a “venerable” character. Thus, they interiorize the “sacred” messages.

Religion is as well an important reference in order to approach the patriarchy in a given society. In this context, two ways can be developed to figure out how a religion is able to reinforce patriarchal institutions. The first way refers to a theological approach which focus on textual details. The second way approaches the religion as a sociological phenomenon and it is rather interested in its functions. In the case of patriarchy, the second way is quite useful to interpret the nature of this mutually reinforcing relationship between religion and culture. Although Qur’an is a quasi civil code by its content, it rather serves as a legitimating source for cultural practices which are supposed to be in conflict with a modern civil code. In particular, the issues like child marriage and polygamy are legitimated in reference to principal Islamic resources by (pseudo) religious authorities. Besides, the same authorities spread the interpretations concerning the role of women in an “Islamic” society. According to which, preferably implicitly and occasionally explicitly, it is taught that the woman is created to satisfy the man in every sense. For this core message, textual depth of the Qur’an is competently exploited. In the second stage, the woman is taught how to protect her body; she has to cover her body starting from the hair in accordance with the detailed directives. The physical protection leads to isolation since the place of a woman is her home where she should take care of her children. The more she is isolated the easier the husband can subjugate her. A female raised in such an atmosphere interiorizes these cultural codes and develops a character which “comforts” her in the social “habitat”.

There is widespread discourse in Turkey that the “patrie” is the mother(female) and the state is the father(male). Such a discourse is not unique in Turkey; Frenchmen also call France “mere-patrie” which means Motherland. However, in the case of Turkey, these identifications can be exploited to address the roles of female and male characters in the society. The mother breeds and raises the children, according to the traditions, to deliver them – as citizen, soldier, bureaucrat – under the control of the state which is the ruling organization upon the country. The state is governed by males or “masculine females” who reinforce the hegemony of males over females.

The principle of separation of powers which is the backbone of parliamentary regime is not well established in Turkey. As a result, judicial decisions are taken under government pressure and they reflect the character of the governments. In this context, the judicial processes related to divorce and gender-based violence are exposed to a patriarchal mindset which does not protect women. Despite the protection demands of many women who are exposed to violence, no measures are taken and men continue to kill and hurt women. Archives are filled with the cases in which women cannot divorce their husband even though symbolic and physical violence captures their relationship. These practices are shaped by a patriarchal mindset which intends to tolerate any action committed by males. Violence against women is a deep social problem which requires time to vanish. What is important is the stance adopted by the state; which clearly encourages gender- based violence by not condemning it. According to a vulgar saying, “a husband both loves and beats”; it seems that the state approaches the problem with the same mindset in a more refined way decorated with laws and judges in robes.

Another state-related case took place in 2016. The ruling party prepared a draft law proposing that the punishment can be postponed if the victim and the perpetrator have a marriage in case of a sexual abuse crime. However, after large-scale protests, the draft was withdrawn. According to Turkish Civil Law, the legal age of marriage is 17. Especially in certain rural areas, child marriage is not seen as a taboo. In the political sphere, these people are represented by religious conservatism and it is currently the Justice and Development Party(AKP), the ruling party, which gains the political support of these people. Apparently, the law makers try to manipulate the system to legitimize and legalize such crimes.


As it is obvious, the patriarchal codes are well implemented in the principal institutions surrounding the society and in order to reproduce the patriarchal relations, indoctrinated women play a crucial role as she is responsible of the education of both male and female children. Above all, she is persuaded about a natural order in which the female is subjugated. When all the major institutions are in favor of such a system, the female identity is twofold pressured. The most challenging part is to make them decompose cultural and rational elements shaping their mindset. Since the cultural elements, that the children encounter before developing rational thinking patterns, are of a quasi a priori character, they tend to enjoy a more durable character.

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Berk Can Kozan

He achieved his BA Degree from the Eastern Mediterranean University in Cyprus and obtained his MA degree from University of Pécs in Hungary. His main research fields concern on nuclear deterrence, international security and foreign policy issues, international relations’ theories, and internal/external affairs of Turkey. Currently, he is a third year PhD student at the National University of Public Service in Hungary.
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