Mellanöstern och Nordafrika Tidningen
Published On: Tue, Mar 1st, 2016

Mustang – Violence against women in the name of family honor

The Oscar nominated movie “Mustang” 2015, directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven Turkish-French film director has its premier in Sweden on March fourth. Mustang narrates a very important story, one of the representations of the patriarchal culture in our world which has affected the lives of millions of women over the world, especially in the Middle East: Namus, Violence against women in the name of family honor.


The plot:

The plot begins in a remote village, Inebolu on the Turkish coast close to the Black Sea.

Five orphan sisters  with their grandmother and uncle in a village, the last day of school semester before the start of summer vacation, one sister decides to instead of taking the school bus to walk home, enjoying the sun.

The water, play and joking around with the boys provokes a bold reaction in the village. The neighbours gave warnings  to the youngsters and as soon as they arrive home, the grandmother and uncle beat and punish them for their inappropriate behaviour.

Next day the uncle takes his niece to the gynecologist for a virginity test while he is planning more controlling actions.  With new Iron Gate and bars, he turns the house into a prison and the girls are not allowed to leave the home even for school! The free and sporty clothes are replaced by long, covering and traditional cloths and instead of attending the school, they have to household duties like cooking, sewing and cleaning. After a while, bored girls flee the home to watch a football match, where they freely express their emotions. This action rings a bell for the grandmother: Girls went too far, they must be controlled and leashed on! She should marry them off!

As grandmother showing the girls, thee suitors coming one after another. Sonay the eldest sister is the first one to get married off but she escapes marring her suitor provided that her lover would come and ask for her hand. Selma, the second sister, though had to marry this man. At the joint wedding Sonay who married her lover is obviously happy and Selma who married a stranger is depressed and trying to get drunk. Ece, the third sister who is also another victim of her uncles’ sexual abuse next to her sisters, throws herself off the window and kills herself. But the story for North fourth and Laleh, the fifth sisters are different. Laleh the youngest, the little rebellious spirit, plans for escape and on the night of wedding they flee to Istanbul.

In the movie very important issues such as women’s freedom in a conservative and religious society, virginity, sexual relations before marriage, forced marriages including child marriage, and controls of male member of the family over women. Though the behavior of two women in the movies proves that patriarchy and violence against women is a system and even women can diligently reinforce the orders of patriarchy: A grandmother who puts all her effort to leash and control the young girls, a woman who plans to marry her grandchildren off and when she learns about the disturbing fact that the uncle to the orphan girls, sexually abuses girls, she remains silent and do nothing to stop him. And another woman, Selma’s mother in law who takes the bride to the virginity test on the down of her wedding because she did not bleed on the first intercourse.

One step backward

The passage from a relative freedom girls had to a period of strict controls and pressure to live up to the conservative and religious values can be seen as a representation a passage that women in Turkey had experienced during the Endogen presidency and his plans for islamization of the society. His effort to turn the Turkish society into a religiously closed and conservative one, had its first impacts on women and changed limited their freedoms. Like the family in the movie, all these patriarchal and anti-women ideas and values did exist inside the family and just waiting for the right moment to pop up, in the society also during the so called “Secular” period of  Kemalism[i], all these patriarchal ideas did exist and as soon as they had the chance they showed up and affect women’s lives.

Final word

Though a strict critic could find signs of an orientalist view on women in the movie, in repeating scenes of half-naked young girls with long dark hair and slim bodies which could remind one of the Ottoman’s Harems, in overall Mustang is a well-made movie with astonishing pictures of Turkish landscapes,  emotionally powerful sound tracks which hands in hands of the touching story, created moments of joy, fears, hopes,  resistance and victory for the audience.

The ideas and principles of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder and first president of the Turkish Republic, are termed Kemalism. These six principles are republicanism, statism (in economic policy), populism, laicism, nationalism, and reformism.

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