‘‘Everyone talks about sex in Turkey! To me there’s a constant sexual projection on everything in Turkey.’’

Deniz Gamze Ergüven, Turkish filmmaker.


‘‘Selma: Everything changed in a blink of an eye.’’

Mustang, 2015.

Turkey as a country has undergone major political, social and economical changes just like any other nation. However, in the case of Turkey there were some implications which are vastly different from the rest of the world. Today it is the largest democracy in West Asia, and the same time it bridges two continents of Asia and Europe. Turkey’s rich historical background had to undergo various changes in the name of development. In 1923, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk led the foundation of modern Turkey, which gave birth to religious, social, cultural, political, economical and ideological transformation. He envisioned that all the traditional Turkish practices must be replaced by western values, culture and lifestyle. During this time, Ataturk made sure that women could exercise their right to vote and higher involvement in political and social space.

In a traditional Turkish society, a woman’s role was very much limited and did not enjoy equal status and power as men. Hence, he endeavoured women participation in all fields such as music, cinema, literature. Till 1980’s, referring to the ground realities, status of Turkish women in social life was not transformed due the rigid presence of patriarchy and male domination in all walks of life. When one looks at Turkish cinema in terms of representation of women, even this segment has always been under patriarchal discourse which somehow is a reflection of the Turkish society.

Deniz Gamze Ergüven is a Turkish-French filmmaker and her feature debut is Mustang (2015). Ergüven in the film uncovers how girls come a cross their sexuality and how do they explore and express it by escaping from the conservative structure. She gives the audience a very close and clear picture of young girl’s situation and the unjust society we live in. Further the film also highlights how being a rebel only becomes an option and not a choice for those girls who are forced to fit in the male dominant society in the name of womanhood. Through this Ergüven brings major attention to these issues and as well as challenges the Turkish society which claims to be modern. This is the first time the audience encounters the perspective of the older, traditional women and the way in which they demonise and malign female sexuality. After this event, the sisters are locked up and subjected to virginity tests. They experience a series of events where they are oppressed, locked in their rooms – caged into the big house they all live in – sexually and verbally abused by their uncle and are finally married off one by one to men they have no special interest in.

Ergüven feels that its important to highlight issues faced by women in their social and private life. She also reveals that how the nature of patriarchy is not influenced by dominant of male only rather the grandmother or mother-in law has somehow sustained this entire structure of patriarchy in Turkish homes. Ergüven has put this in the film very directly, as one of the scene narrates how after girls were locked in the house, the first thing the grandmother started to do is give them cooking lessons in order to make them eligible for marriage. She is also aware of her son secretly going into the girls’ room every night to abuse them but maintains her silence on the matter.

Mustang as a film can be considered an interpretation of women’s issues in Turkey in general Ergüven has stated that the movie was not intended to represent the reality of everyday Turkish life but, like a fairy tale, was a representation of the things Ergüven experienced as a young woman (Weston 2015). However, when we compare and analyse the situation of women in Turkey along with the movie, one can find a number of similarities.

Ergüven said that in interview: ‘‘We (women) have a tendency to internalize very sexist values and “macho” behaviours towards women. Somehow, feminism is not glamorous and not every woman feels concerned or questions the model in which they live. So it’s not just a generational issue, I think it goes deeper than this. We are so moulded by certain codes, raised as either little boys or little girls, which even in our generation there are things we will never overcome. I, for example, could never stop putting on makeup or wearing heels! That’s what I mean when I say the roots of the problem go deep”.

Looking from all different perspectives and narratives, gender inequality prevails in Turkish society, as rape, honour killing, honour keeping and childhood marriages are still a major concern. This is where Cinema has a very crucial role to play in order to make this change possible and sustainable as well. Filmmaker like Ergüven’s approach is essential as it is based on provocative, feminist and critical elements in conveying the struggles of women in Turkey to the larger audience. This attempt by her is not only a form of cinematic story telling but a challenge and protest to the oppressive structures women across Turkey have to deal and live with.


Afanaseiza, D. and Hogg, J. 2015.“The fight is still on for women’s rights in Turkey.”

Reuters. January 20. lTurkish Constitution, Part 1, Article 10

Bozarslan, H. 2018. History of Turkey, İletişim Publisher, September, İstanbul.

Fuller, B. 2019. ‘The Mustang’ Director Wanted To ShowThat Convicts Deserve A 2nd Chance’ Holywood Life, March 15.

Weston, H. 2015. “Kitchen Conversations: Deniz Gamze Ergüven.” Criterion, 30 December.

Abdulkadir AKSÖZ

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Abdulkadir AKSÖZ

Political Science Indian Subcontinent Studies [email protected]


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