Gender and Identity Construction: Women of Central Asia, the Caucasus, and Turkey

By Feride Acar; Ayşe Günes-Ayata | Go to book overview

GENDER CONSTRUCTION AND NATIONALIST
DISCOURSE: DETHRONING THE FATHER IN THE EARLY
TURKISH NOVEL1

NÜKHET SİRMAN

Ever since the publication of Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities, nationalism has been the object of renewed interest in the social sciences. Anderson’s insistence that nationalism should be considered a cultural rather than a political phenomenon inaugurated a series of studies that attempted to decipher how a national community was “invented, imagined, reconstructed”.2 Anderson argued that nationalism was imagined as “a community” and “a fraternity” and proceeded to show some of the ways in which equality between men as comrades became a social and cultural ideal in the emerging nation-states. Feminists, by contrast, drew attention to the other side of the coin of the said fraternity, that is, to the ways in which imagining a community necessarily involved the production of discourses of gender difference (Pateman 1992; Jayawardena 1986; Yuval-Davis and Anthias 1989; Kandiyoti 1991). As aptly summarized by Kandiyoti, the integration of women into nationalist projects as icons of modernity in the guise of “mothers of the nation” and/or bearers of tradition and authentic culture, seems to have set the stage for the ambiguous position of women in nation-states, an ambiguity that feminists have had to grapple with ever since.

The aim of this paper is to look at the early novels written in the Ottoman Empire in order to search for the terms under which new models of femininity and masculinity were constructed. I shall argue that the concerns raised in the early novels expressed a desire to transform the family and especially relations between men, rather than between men and women. The critical relation under scrutiny was the position of power held by men as heads of

1 I would like to thank Halide Velioğlu for helping me think through some of the points made in this paper.

2 The phrase is taken from Smith 1991.

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