Gender and authoritarian populism in Turkey: the two phases of AKP rule

AKP discourse has combined multiple logics such as Islamism, populism, nationalism, and authoritarianism to produce a highly gendered divide between “us” and “them”. In Islamist discourse, we see that the divide is between the “veiled, modest, chaste, virtuous, obedient sisters and mothers” and “the sexually assertive, the unchaste, the rebellious” – as in the words of a top government official, “women shamelessly laughing in public. The epitome is the feminists who are sexually immoral and fighting against the policy of promoting early marriage,thus seen as defending adultery and destroying the family. The nationalist narrative, on the other hand, works on several sub-texts all of which are intermixed to produce a neat dichotomy of “the native-national” vs “alien-traitors”, “internal enemies linked with external powers”.

Foremost, here comes the pitting of the figure of the Anatolian mother, “the mother of a martyr” against women who are deemed to be terrorists or affiliated with terrorism, i.e. Kurdish women guerrillas, female members of HDP in the parliament, the Kurdish women`s movement, mothers of disappeared people asking for justice, (“Saturday Mothers”) and the feminist activists who are fighting for peace.

Secondly there is the image of the family mother figure who is willing to sacrifice everything for her family and nation, basically by giving birth to at least 3 children as dictated by Erdogan, constructed against the image of feminist women who are fighting for reproductive rights and gender equality. While the “family woman” is seen as a native-national, the feminist is being coded as foreign-guided and alien.

All these dichotomies are further intermeshed with a populist divide between the people and the elite. Thus, the modest and pious mother-sister is prototypically portrayed as an uneducated and poor woman from a small Anatolian town or from an urban poor family, pitted against an educated, middle-upper class secular woman, who “despises native people`s values” in her manners and outfit. She is typically caricatured as a woman from Izmir (the most westernized city with a much-secularized culture deemed as “infidel”) who is also an ardent supporter of CHP – the main opposition party.

Lastly, the figure of an LGBT person is increasingly constructed as someone whose existence is deemed not only alien or non-native, but a threat to humanity, civilization, and the order of God.

The crisis symptoms of patriarchal authoritarianism

youngsters are not getting married anymore”

A masculine show of power epitomized in a one-man regime has never been without its serious tensions, and it rapidly started to display symptoms of crisis that have surfaced especially after 2019 local elections when the AKP-MHP alliance lost the municipal and province level elections in major cities, foremost in Istanbul.

Nowadays, the AKP regime is facing strife and trouble on many fronts, including its gender politics among others. Even in the darkest moments during the State of Emergency (2016-2018) on many occasions, the womens movement showed resilience and said “No to the Presidency and Patriarchy”. Women thereby managed to prevent further setbacks regarding issues such as violence against women, early marriages and divorce regulations. The governments attempt to reverse the growing secular dynamics of Turkish society (including within the conservative urban classes), and particularly the assertion of women’s and young peoples desires to live their own lives were doomed to failure. But, as the persistent assertion of womens rights both in the domestic and public realms becomes more and more intractable, it triggers more violent and misogynist reaction on the part of men.

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Alev Ozkazanc | Radio Free (2021-06-16T02:26:26+00:00) » Gender and authoritarian populism in Turkey: the two phases of AKP rule. Retrieved from https://www.radiofree.org/2020/02/03/gender-and-authoritarian-populism-in-turkey-the-two-phases-of-akp-rule/.
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" » Gender and authoritarian populism in Turkey: the two phases of AKP rule." Alev Ozkazanc | Radio Free - Monday February 3, 2020, https://www.radiofree.org/2020/02/03/gender-and-authoritarian-populism-in-turkey-the-two-phases-of-akp-rule/
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" » Gender and authoritarian populism in Turkey: the two phases of AKP rule." Alev Ozkazanc | Radio Free [Online]. Available: https://www.radiofree.org/2020/02/03/gender-and-authoritarian-populism-in-turkey-the-two-phases-of-akp-rule/. [Accessed: 2021-06-16T02:26:26+00:00]
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» Gender and authoritarian populism in Turkey: the two phases of AKP rule | Alev Ozkazanc | Radio Free | https://www.radiofree.org/2020/02/03/gender-and-authoritarian-populism-in-turkey-the-two-phases-of-akp-rule/ | 2021-06-16T02:26:26+00:00
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