Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Woman and Space in Turkey

by Gönül Bakay (Volume editor)
©2020 Edited Collection 400 Pages


While social structures and relations effect how we give meaning to spaces, our comprehension of spaces effects how we give meaning to what is social. We wanted to look into how women stroll through spaces, what roles and functions they undertake, how they give meaning to their engagement with spaces, and how, with their existence, they become one with spaces. We started this journey looking for clues as to how women, as they played their parts, re-interpreted those scripts written by sovereign powers, how they became stars, how they transformed limitations into the limitless, and how they created rich lives out of deprivation. We aimed to take up what kind of an intermediary role ‘space’ serves, while women stretched their limits – without objection, screaming, or revolting; how, in various forms, they have positioned themselves in spaces and re-defined their being, and how spaces in this journey served as an interface be-tween society’s perception of women versus their self-perception and their lives.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editor
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Gönül Bakay
  • Contents
  • Foreword
  • Introduction
  • Preface
  • I. Women Who Make Out of Nothing
  • Journey into Women’s Realms of Existence (Ayşen Akpınar)
  • A Feminine Touch (Lale Aytaman)
  • The Difference Made by Women in the Formation and Usage of Physical Space: Cumalıkızık Village Case (Neslihan Türkün Dostoğlu)
  • How Women Relate to Space in Rural Anatolia (Füsun Ertuğ)
  • Feminine Expressions of Spaces (Hale Gezer)
  • The Role of Women in Turning a Space into a “House” (Dr. M. Sinan Genim)
  • Women and “Hammam” Culture in the Ottoman Empire (Sühendan Kumcu İlal)
  • II. Women Confined by Space
  • Looking at Spaces Designed for Women: Theoretical and Historic Perspective (Serpil Çakır)
  • Woman in the Low-Income Bracket and the Spaces They Live in (Aliye Pekin Çelik)
  • A Day in the Lives of Two Urban Women (Nihal Ekin Erkan)
  • Super Women, Super Homes: New Labels for Old Homes, and New Roles for Modern Women in Decoration Magazines1 (Özlem Erdoğdu Erkarslan)
  • Women’s Role in Housing Preferences, Choices, and Decisions (Ebru Ergöz Karahan)
  • Tales of Power in Tight Spaces (Türkel Minibaş)
  • New Identity of Women: The ‘Subject’ and the ‘Object’ in the House (Yekta Özgüven)
  • Life in the Harem of the Topkapı Palace: İffet-Saray-ı Şahane1 (Necdet Sakaoğlu)
  • III. Reflections – The State of Women
  • Migration, Space, and Changes in Cultural Tastes (Dr. Nermin Abadan-Unat)
  • Political Parties and Women’s Place1 (Zehra F. Kabasakal Arat)
  • Women in Artistic Spaces (Prof. Tomur Atagök)
  • Turkish Women’s Life in Miniatures (Nurhan Atasoy)
  • The Harem in Western Literature (Dr. Gönül Bakay)
  • Women and Spaces: What Do Women Want? (Can Elgiz)
  • Women and Space from a Legal Perspective (Nazan Moroğlu)
  • Hair Salons as Women’s Spaces of Communication (Mine Özaşçılar Öztürk)
  • From the Rural to the Urban – and Literacy Courses (Nurten Özmelek)
  • Domestic Spaces and Women in the Turkish Cinema, during the Process of Cultural Transformation (Halit Refiğ)
  • Women Who Live and Keep a Culture Alive: Turkish Footprints in Albania (Adalet Yavuzer)
  • Space and Women in Literature (Buket Uzuner)
  • List of Figures
  • List of Table
  • Biographies


About Ladies

Short descriptions also known as “aphorisms” seem to summarize their subjects accurately… It may even be assumed that they encapsulate the whole of reality regarding the subject at hand. One should not be misguided however… Although most aphorisms are rather “cute” and engaging statements, there is ultimately no way of explaining an important issue in a single sentence or a few sentences.

Still, one cannot do without aphorisms either. The way to correctly grasp important issues, in particular, is through allowing aphorisms regarding a specific subject clash in one’s mind even though they might be contradictory. Aphorisms greatly help to open up one’s mind. What’s more, all aphorisms create small explosions that wake the powers of thought. It is through these small explosions that the mind gets closer to understanding the object of inquiry. Still, one should also add that no subject of significance can be wholly comprehended correctly through aphorisms. To be precise, aphorisms help us understand the subject and should be used as such.

Proverbs, which we regard as a kind of aphorism, occasionally shed light on realities. They are called proverbs because either they are anonymous or whoever first articulated them has been long gone. This is perhaps the reason why proverbs can come across as very blunt in their expression of realities. All nations of the world have a rich repertoire of proverbs.

In a country like Japan, which is home to different lifestyles, what we sometimes observe can seem downright surprising. For instance, married Japanese women walk two steps behind their husbands. Various other social practices in this country also reflect the power of patriarchy in relation to the performance of gender roles. Yet one cannot help but admire some of their proverbs which articulate a very graceful attitude towards women. This short, eloquent expression, for instance, is one that cannot be overlooked:

“If women did not exist, there could be no night or day.” Given the refined attitude towards women expressed in this proverb, it is hard to understand how the culture of “geishas” developed in the same country – even though geishas were mainly regarded as “artistic personalities” whose company visitors would enjoy without any physical contact.

According to a Russian proverb, “Women would not be transparent even if they were made of glass.” The Swedes, on the other hand, are a bit more refrained when they speak of women: “Ladies are like shadows. Those who want to catch ←11 | 12→them, cannot. Yet those shadows chase the ones who want to get away.” According to the Chinese: “The one who believes in women, fools himself. The one who does not, cannot avoid being fooled.” The most mischievous take on the subject comes from our Mediterranean neighbors, the Spanish: “Men rule the world, but women rule the men who rule that world.”

The question of whether men or women have stronger personalities is occasionally debated. Trying to come up with a meaningful answer to a question such as this is an exercise in futility. A. Maurois, a truly smart man, offers the following insightful response: “Even a woman of little intelligence can wrap a man round her finger, yet managing a crazy man requires an exceptionally clever woman.”

The family unit is still an important pillar of society in the USA. Ties among relatives are strong and closeness is maintained without interruption. Birthdays are not forgotten. Families get together around Christmas. Our old Turkish “bayram” (Eid) traditions, however, have almost entirely disappeared in our day and age. In the past, all family members, including children, would always visit their elders during bayram. These “bayram” visits used to be taken so seriously that if the three- or four-day “bayrams” were not long enough for all planned visits, the following few days would also be devoted to visiting those that were not visited during bayram. Teachers and business relations, regardless of their social rank, were definitely visited.

In some marriages, the marriage certificate is a doorway to a new life together, be it a result of falling in love or as an arranged marriage. After 60 years of marriage, I can now dare say without fear or reservation that “falling in love” is not a prerequisite for a good marriage. However, this was not the way I thought 60 years ago… Closeness, including falling in love, may lead to two things eventually: The first is separation or falling out, and the second is marriage. There is a Mongolian proverb that suggests that long marriages need not be boring in a witty way: “Even if couples sleep on the same pillow, they can have different dreams.”

Although marriage is a tiny unit that involves only two people, it constitutes “a union.” It is up to the talents of husband and wife to raise this union to the level of a real theatrical play that will include only them as the actors. The endless duties or tasks of many long years of service can only be undertaken willingly, with pleasure, not by being forced to perform them. “The root cause of unhappy marriages is the disappearance of friendship, not the disappearance of love.” – Nietzsche

Whether there is love or not at the onset, one of the prerequisites for staying together for life is the will and capacity to maintain a friendly coexistence. ←12 | 13→Tolerating the small and boring events one will inevitably have to endure in a marriage necessitates that both parties have strong characters. Even if some minor issues accumulate and end up creating difficulties in the long term, strong characters are able to discard them as unimportant problems.

The smartest opinions about men are likely to come from women. Jeanne Moreau, one of the most intelligent French actresses of my youth, describes men in the following way: “Many men who don’t refrain from talking about women’s intellect are ignorant people who could not learn how to love. Successful practitioners don’t talk much, they go ahead and do things.” Another muse uses different words to express a similar opinion: “Men’s fantasies are not at all adequate to grasp the reality of women… ” (Anna Magnani) Coco Chanel, a French woman with a poisonous tongue, makes a becoming remark: “We women have to be beautiful in order for men to love us… but for us to be able to love them, we need to be fools.”

The fact that women appear to pay more attention to their looks than to learning or becoming wiser leads to some misinterpretations. The rather mistaken assumption is that a man’s appreciation of a woman’s physical appearance is more important than his assessment of her intellect. This perspective is not entirely unfounded. A cognitive evaluation requires patience and care, whereas the eye makes its assessment the moment it beholds an object. On the other hand, ladies’ evaluations of men are not based on instant judgments based on quick glances. As a result, women’s evaluations are informed by deeper reasons than those of men.

The world-famous writer Mark Twain was an interesting person and more importantly a truly great family man. He was an extraordinarily good husband, who had great respect for his wife. As one of the most famous masters of satire, he never feared or got tired of attacking and ridiculing various social ills he observed in humanity as well as in society. Yet, when speaking of family affairs, he unwittingly disclosed how much he feared his wife: “Many women could have definitely become better wives had they only given up on their wish to make their husbands better family men.”

Generally, men tend to avoid speaking frankly about women (or about what really goes through their minds). The number of men who are frank is probably one in a thousand… If I am told I am exaggerating, I would then say, a “few” in a thousand. Perhaps an exception to the general rule is Malraux who asked “How can a woman be described? In order to give an accurate description, one needs to know her really well. If one starts studying women starting today, no conclusion can be reached before doomsday.”

←13 |

It is customary to conclude an article by wrapping up and offering a brief recap of all thoughts expressed thus far. Yet it is not possible to conclude a piece with a summary when the subject in question is women. There is no way of expressing thoughts about women in just a few pages, a few hours, or even in just a few books.

Ultimately, these lines are all that I have to offer for now.

Aydın Boysan


Why Women and Space?

(or Women’s Traces in Spaces)

(or on the Trail of Women in Spaces)

For more than 50 years now, we know that space is not a void nor is it exempt from social interactions. Since Heidegger, Lefebvre, Foucault, Jameson, Harvey, and Soja began questioning the relationship between space and society; the consensus is that space is not an absolute entity, but that it is formed by social interactions (Massey,1994:5). While the staggering pace of technological development is transforming our world into a “global village,” we observe fundamental changes in the concepts of time and space with a specific emphasis on virtual space too.

Massey defines different types of space, not as independent entities, but as products that social structures define: “Compared to domains, spaces are filled with feelings of nostalgic authenticity and stability, and appear mostly independent from one another. However, spaces are related to other spaces,” he posits and continues, “Thus individuals are never parts of a single society. They are positioned by multiple and fluid spatial environments and experiences” (1994:120). An important philosopher of our times, Lefebvre, says the following about space: “With the development of modernity, time has been erased from space, but not from social realm. Aside from life at work, time has also lost its importance in life. Economic space makes time secondary and political space sees it as a threat to the power mechanism, and therefore excludes it. Economic and political priorities emphasize the superiority of space over time. Hence, public spaces are results of past social movements” (1991:73). After pointing out that public spaces are not constant or unchanging, but are constantly recreated, Lefebvre continues to say, “Social space is neither subject or object, but it emerges as intangible results of history, society, and culture” (1991: 92).

Conceptualization of space in this context has led, over time, to very different disciplines to take interest in space. Through evolution and new meanings, it has also made space become more multidimensional and more complex in nature. Such an understanding of space seems to have gone beyond, widened, or even transformed the domain of architecture – the primary owner of space. Regarding space, architects too are observed to be interacting more dynamically with human-oriented disciplines such as philosophy, sociology, politics, psychology, and others.

←15 | 16→

The evolution of space and the new meanings it assumed over time have led us to think that it would prove to be an exciting adventure to take up “space from a feminine perspective.” While women and space relationships are predominantly explored in feminist literature of the West, in the Turkish context the idea has developed into taking a wider, multidisciplinary approach.

The starting point of this book is the existence of a series of complex and multifaceted relations in our comprehension of social structures, social relations, and spaces. In other words, while social structures and relations affect how we give meaning to spaces, our comprehension of spaces affects how we give meaning to what is social. We wanted to look into how women stroll through spaces, what roles and functions they undertake, how they give meaning to their engagement with spaces, and how, with their existence, they become one with spaces. We started this journey by looking for the clues as to how women, as they played their parts, reinterpreted those scripts written by sovereign powers, how they became stars, how they transformed limitations into the limitless, and how they created rich lives out of deprivation. We aimed to take up what kind of an intermediary role “space” serves, while women stretched their limits – without objection, screaming, or revolting; how, in various forms, they have positioned themselves in spaces and redefined their being, and how spaces in this journey served as an interface between society’s perception of women versus their self-perception and their lives.

As we try to understand the interaction between “space and women,” it would not be an exaggeration to say that there is an enormous amount of material that we can draw on and benefit from – from all walks of life, domains of expertise, artistic creation, or even from experiences. In that respect, isn’t space a multitier reality that assumes more tiers as we dig deeper, and the more we relate it to pieces of life that initially appear unrelated, the more it exposes new meanings? Much like the bricoleur or the hardware dealer of Claude Lévi-Strauss (1966), can’t we try and solve the relationship between women and space by bringing together different pieces in order to reproduce it and solve it? Can’t each different viewpoint move forward by borrowing from one another, violating each other’s realms a little, sometimes going a little too far, but each time enriching “space” with a new synthesis? As Harvey points out, the symbolic arrangement of space and time creates a frame within which we find out who or what we are in the societies we live in (Harvey, 1999: 242). In Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity (1979) anthropologist Gregory Bateson, too, points out that bringing together knowledge of different disciplines results in producing knowledge that is very different in nature than the simple sum of the parts. He also points out that such a mix adds a different understanding and depth to the topic.

←16 | 17→

In the year 2007; we, myself, Dr. Ayşen Akpınar, and Handan Dedehayır as joint editors made a call to prominent individuals from different fields in Turkey, who we believed could evaluate the various dimensions of the relationship between women and space within the context of Turkish culture. Almost all of our writers’ first reaction was that the subject is very interesting and exciting. They also added that in all the work they had carried out until then, they had never evaluated the subject from that perspective – they said such a topic would be totally new for them. This made the project even more exciting. As a result, the book you have in your hands evolved as a product of a rich variety, with extraordinary contributions from a group of writers composed of an anthropologist, an archeologist, a linguist and literary expert, a lawyer, an economist, a public administrator, an architect, a painter, an art historian, a historian, a cinematographer, a political scientist, and a sociologist. During their very busy schedules, each one of the writers with their wide expertise devoted his/her limited and very valuable time to reevaluating the relationship between women and space. They provided a widened horizon and added rich variety and depth to the book. We would like to extend our gratitude to each one of them. The Turkish version of the book was published in 2009 in Turkey and welcomed with a wide interest. Ten years later, I was compelled to have the book translated into English and present it to a wider audience of readers, who would be interested in getting familiar with the interaction between women and space within the context of the Turkish culture. I hereby extend my sincere gratitude to Mrs. Nigar Alemdar for her time and effort in translating a work of this magnitude.

When we had started receiving the articles, we noted that they came together under three parts: The first part talks about women who left their mark on the space they found themselves in, out of nothing. The second part studies women confined by various spaces assigned to them. Thus, the titles of the first two parts of the book emerge: “Women Who Make Out of Nothing” and “Women Confined by Spaces.” Chapters outside these two topics display a rich variety, reflecting the relationship of women and space. Then there are the spatial traces of migrant women workers’ status in Germany, women in Turkish cinema, in miniatures, in the works of foreign travelers, in the Turkish Civil Code, at the hairdressers, in the former Ottoman lands, at events, cultural spaces, and at the literacy courses in urban shanty towns. We compiled these chapters under the third part “Reflections on the State of Women.”

In the first part entitled Women Who Make Out of Nothing we have Ayşen Akpınar, Lale Aytaman, Neslihan Dostoğlu, Füsun Ertuğ, Hale Gezer, Sinan Genim, and Sühendan Kumcu İlal’s chapters. In her traveler-like account of the lives of women in traditional settlements, Ayşen Akpınar tells from an architect’s ←17 | 18→perspective about women’s relations with houses. As the first lady governor of Turkey, Lale Aytaman, on the one hand, gives an account of the difference a woman public official has made and, on the other, shares how the warmth of the region’s women is reflected on lives and spaces. Neslihan Dostoğlu looks into the role of women who, despite all existing limitations, fight to protect Cumalıkızık, one of the oldest remaining Ottoman villages in Turkey. In a narrative full of lively imagery, archeologist and ethno-botanist Füsun Ertuğ takes the reader to mountain villages and presents a cross-section of rural life, in particular, the life of women there. She makes the invisible power of women visible in her statement “women in rural areas are the social and economic actors, as well as, the memory of the spaces they occupy.” Hale Gezer tells us about women, who from the times of nomad tents to present domestic spaces have put their marks on homes through a special language developed with motifs in kilims, socks, textiles, embroideries, amulets, perfumes, and mirrors, to express what they could not verbalize. Sinan Genim studies the historic development of houses and the role of women in this development. He adds that together with the increased economic value of housing, women’s role, too, has increased in shaping housing. Sühendan Kumcu Ilal, on the other hand, takes up Turkish baths and their function in women’s lives.

Part two entitled Women Confined by Spaces contains chapters by Serpil Çakır, Aliye Çelik, Nihal Ekin Erkan, Özlem Erdoğdu Erkaslan, Türkel Minibaş, Yekta Özgüven, and Necdet Sakaoğlu. Serpil Çakır’s premise is that in physical spaces “one does not only see the shaping of the experiences of the two genders in their daily lives, but one also observes how relations between individuals and the state are set up.” She then takes up the transformation of classical Ottoman patriarchalism during the modernization period. She studies the state decrees shaping women’s behavior during this process. As she discusses women’s relationship with space, Aliye Çelik dwells upon the importance of gender equality and women’s rights. With examples from around the world, she evaluates patterns of women’s property ownership and their part in the construction sector. Nihal Ekin Erkan’s story-telling style follows two urban women for two days – one is a career woman, the other a housewife – and the meanings they each attribute to domestic spaces. While one can spend very little time at home, the other can display her energy only there. Özlem Erdoğdu Erskarslan touches upon the consumption society that developed after the 1990s in Turkey and how housing has turned into a consumption item. She then focuses on the new expectations urban middle class or upper-middle class women have developed. She gives examples of the discourse of decoration magazines that have assumed the function of forming new consumption channels. Türkel Minibaş, whose ←18 | 19→memory we cherish with love and respect, told us the story of how women are persuaded and besieged at home with fairy tales. In her view, from childhood on, women are kept busy with tales of sovereignty. Through their roles as wives and mothers, they voluntarily turn into subjects. After leaving their paternal homes, they dream of becoming liberated at their husbands’ homes, but end up living a second phase of imprisonment. Yekta Özgüven, on the other hand, studies the developmental process of gender identities during the early Republican modernization project in Turkey. She looks into how women are designed to be educated wives, mothers, and home builders. She also studies how women have become designers and arrangers of new model houses. Necdet Sakaoğlu takes up the daily lives of odalisques who constituted the major population of the Harem quarters of the Topkapı Palace. Those were women who, with the dream of one day becoming the favorite of the Sultan, lived their whole lives behind high walls.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2020 (March)
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2020. 400 pp., 64 fig. b/w, 1 tables.

Biographical notes

Gönül Bakay (Volume editor)

Gönül Bakay is a graduate of American College for Girls in İstanbul, Turkey. She has continued her education in English Language and Literature department of London University. She concluded her doctorate studies in the English Philology Department of I ̇stanbul University and started working in the M.A. program of Women’s Studies, department of the same University. Later she taught English Literature in Beykent University. Currently, she is a full professor and is a member of the Faculty of Bahçes ̧ehir University. Her teaching expertise covers Women’s Studies, Gothic Novel, and English Literature from the 18th century to the present. She is a member of the Women’s Studies Center of I ̇stanbul University, of M.S.E.A,.BSECS and a member of the board of directors of K.A.D. (Cultural Studies club). She has published several books in Turkish: Virginia Woolf ve I ̇letis ̧im (Virginia Woolf and Communication), Günümüz Türk Kadını Bas ̧arı Öyküleri (Success Stories by Contemporary Turkish Women) from Remzi publishers, Kadın ve Mekan (Women and Space), and Atatürk'ü Yas ̧ayanlar (They Had Known Atatürk) edts. with Leyla Pekcan from Kırmızı Kedi publishers, Simone de Beauvoir, her life, philosophy and her Works (2014) from Turkuaz Publishers, William Godwin, Mary Wollstonecaft, Mary Shelley and Their offspring Franken-stein from Mellen Press, Memorable Encounters With Atatürk, 2017, and Trading Women, Traded Women with prof.Mihaela Mudure (edts), 2017, from Peter Lang publishers.


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402 pages