March 27, 2013
Aylin Nazlıaka, a deputy from the main opposition party (CHP), referring to this prevailing attitude, stated in her parliamentary speech that: “the Prime Minister should stop standing guard over women’s vaginas”. Her statement is very familiar to those who are accustomed to the activist genre of feminism in Turkey and elsewhere. She was calling upon the Prime Minister to show respect and sensitivity when it comes to issues involving women’s privacy and sexuality.
Deputy Prime Minister, Bülent Arınç, characterized her speech as ‘shameful’. After Nazlıaka’s speech, he stepped up to comment on her statement. He said that he felt ashamed and that he blushed when he heard a woman, and a mother, referring to “her own organ” in public. Arınç’s words were deliberately targeting Nazlıaka’s honour as a woman in the public eye and implying Nazlıaka was a woman of dubious morality. It was also as if Nazliaka had not been commenting on the social crisis triggered by debates on abortion, but literally speaking about her own body and referring to her own vagina.
Vagina in Turkish is a technical word that refers to women’s genitalia, and the term itself does not carry much historical baggage. It is neither an inappropriate term nor a swearword, nor is it one of those euphemisms taught to children in order not to have to mention private parts. When I read the statements by Arınç I thought about the concept of intimacy, mahremiyet and the ways in which women’s mahremiyet is crudely put on display and violated by male politicians. Nonetheless, women are still expected to keep silent about their much publicized sexuality even when they need to address such problems as the abortion issue. Apparently, from Arınç‘s standpoint, women’s mention of their sexuality using correct anatomical terms is shameful. Yet, he fails to realize that his male colleagues have been violating women’s sexual privacy far longer and in very problematic terms. They were not just violating privacy, but also turning everything about women’s sexuality into a public spectacle for the display of vulgar, random, devaluing comments. When a female politician refers to sexuality in order to address a pressing problem, she is perceived as someone shamelessly talking about ‘her own organ’. Yet it is male lawmakers who put women’s sexuality on display in the most vulgar terms. (1)
CHP European Bulletin: CHP Deputy Nazliaka: “The prime minister ought to quit doing politics over women’s bodies”
CHP European Bulletin: Turkish Abortion debate: The Council of Europe criticizes the proposed ban on abortion
1 Open Democracy: http://bit.ly/ZVHLhM
2 CNN International: http://edition.cnn.com/2012/06/17/world/europe/turkey-abortion-rally
3 Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/03/turkey-abortion-law-women-protest_n_1566007.html
4 Voice of America: www.voanews.com/content/turkish_women_protest_proposal_to_limit_abortion/114628.html
5 Reuters: www.reuters.com/article/2012/06/03/us-turkey-abortion-idUSBRE85207520120603
6 Bloomberg: http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-11-06/turkish-women-on-trial-for-protesting-plan-to-restrict-abortion