Erdogan’s Masculine Impenetrability

Zeynep Kurtulus Korkman and Salih Can Aciksoz have written a wonderful analysis of the role of masculinity and gender in PM Erdogan’s over-the-top aggressive response to the Gezi uprising. Korkman and Aciksoz answer the question of why this works.

For those of you who have read my book, this article will come as an “Aha!” confirmation of my discussion of how the national image is founded upon a militant masculinity and fears about penetration by outsiders (that in national discourse is discussed as honor in much the same way as penetration of female bodies affects family ‘honor’). National and state discourse, I argued, is a mirror image of widely accepted relations within the conservative, patriarchal, authoritarian family. Nation, state and family thus continually reinforce one another.

 …With an aggressive, uncompromising, and domineering “personality,” he aspires to act as every citizen’s father, brother, and husband. (Indeed, one of the inventive feminist graffiti of the Gezi Park “divorces” Erdoğan through talaq: “Talaq Tayyip, talaq!”) So far, this patriarchal authoritarian masculinity has been seen as one source of the charismatic popularity that has propelled Erdoğan’ successful political career. It may also be the reason why he cannot compromise and is currently being crushed under the weight of his own power.  …

… Precisely because Erdoğan plays the role of the father, brother, and husband, the language of the protestors targets Erdoğan’s masculinity though swearwords that question his penis size, heterosexuality, and impenetrability…. This masculine language of the resistance threatens to feminize Erdoğan through swear words derived from penis- and penetration-centered sexual acts… In other words, the resistance is speaking the language of power….

The authors argue, perhaps too optimistically, that feminist and LGBT activists were in the forefront of the Gezi uprisings, for instance, in helping ‘reinvent’ swear words that will help working-class soccer club members and mainstream society to envision change. I would argue that any intervention that makes the gendered aspects of power visible is good, but change requires a plan, a second step. It needs to reach that part of the population that finds this all perfectly normal.

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