Dressing up Ahlak: A reading of sexual morality in Turkey

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This dissertation analyzes sexual morality discourse through a reading of dressed female bodies in Turkey. It explores how sexual morality (ahlak) is shaped by Islamist and secularist discourses in Turkey and the ways in which ahlak (morality) imposes control mechanisms over women’s bodies in Turkey. The thesis argues that even though secularist and Islamist discourses are seen in a dualistic framework, the patriarchal sexual moralities they impose on the bodies of women are not binary oppositions. Both utilize dress as a technology of the body to conceal female sexual bodies and regulate the visibility of women in public space. However, as a result of the different ways in which sexual moral norms are inhabited, these two discourses are perceived as oppositional. Thirty-one interviews were conducted with women involved in women’s movements in Istanbul and Ankara (Turkey) in 2010. The data analysis suggests that the sexual morality that aims at hiding the female sexual body through dress constrains the mobility and freedom of women in public spaces in Turkey. The study also shows that sexual morality has been maintained through state surveillance (such as laws and regulations on public morality and on dress) and through the public gaze (such as the judging gaze, sexual harassment and violence). Yet, the analysis of the sexual violence cases in regards to sexual morality and dress point out that sexual morality has become more conservative as a result of the increased conservatism in politics in the last decade. While this analysis shows sexual morality to be a disciplinary discourse and a practice producing ‘docile bodies’, it also reveals that women are not passively subjected to this morality. Women fashion different modalities of agencies that reveal various ways of living, embodying, as well as subverting and challenging the norms of sexual morality in Turkey.

Document type: 
This thesis may be printed or downloaded for non-commercial research and scholarly purposes. Copyright remains with the author.
Senior supervisor: 
Dany Lacombe
Arts & Social Sciences: Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) Ph.D.