Contrary to popular belief, justice is not just an ideal, but a social necessity. Humans are simply the ones to fulfill this need. This is exactly what the legal struggle which brought feminism into being has taught us. 

I admit that I’ve thought about writing a similar piece before too. I was tempted by the words of the “Famous Great Turk” Alev Alatlı targeting Themis, the Goddess of Justice. But I immediately gave up on the idea when Ms. Alev appeared in my mind with her mischievous eyes, in her Ancient Greek costume. If I were to contemplate this idea, it might have been difficult to erase that image from my mind. 

But once it gets inside your head, it keeps coming back even if it is hiding in the back of your mind. As I realized there’s no other way of putting all of this together, I decided to sprinkle all of them over Çatlak Zemin. Maybe some of them will sprout through the cracks, come to life …

As you know, we are all suffering from amnesia; our society’s incurable trouble. Let us start by remembering Alev Alatlı’s words. Perhaps, mentioning Themis, the Goddess of Justice’s name might make it easier for us to ponder the relationship between women and law. 

“Blindfolded Goddess of the Roman law is not for us. Our eyes must be wide open. We need judges whose eyes are wide open, who are protecting, watching over the law and trying to make sense of things, both in Turkey and abroad.” 

You might also be somewhat thrown off by these words. The first thing that comes to mind is that these words put forward an argument that supports the subjectivity of law. In other words, this is a perspective that disapproves of the law being implemented in an objective and impartial manner. It is possible to expand this discussion to include issues such as the antagonistic penal code and even Hitler’s Germany. Considering the current circumstances, we’re right to be afraid. Nevertheless, I want to follow a different trajectory. As you know, Ms. Alev is quite knowledgeable about fallacies. She knows how to include trace amounts of truth into the discussion well to twist the subject. Thus, it is useful to approach the law that has vanished into thin air, has been instrumentalized by all sort of heroisms through a perspective that goes beyond the abstract binaries of liberal thought such as subjectivity/objectivity, freedom/security. 

I guess we can start by asking ourselves these questions: Is the law objective? Or is it impartial? Does the modern law choosing a Goddess from Greek mythology as a symbol and blindfolding her render the law objective and impartial? Every one of us knows the answer to this question very well. Just as the lack of buttons in a cape doesn’t hinder lawyers/academics from obeying the authorities, the Goddess being blindfolded doesn’t render the law either objective or impartial. The law is not a factual notion establishing the order and equality on its own as promised by the liberal thought, it is the thing that needs to be a unity. It is the thing that needs to be established. A goddess symbolizing the divine order points at the ideal rather than the fact, meaning at the justice. Themis is not the Goddess of law but of justice. It is essential to give more information about Themis and expand upon this point.

Themis the gloomy Goddess of the Ancient Greece is the second wife of Zeus the God of Gods, who is the symbol of power and holds the power to punish. This order, which is polygamist as well as polytheistic, precisely reflects the Greek society’s patriarchal structure that has built it. In fact, not only Greek mythology, but also Roman and Egyptian mythologies associate the notion of justice with a Goddess and represent it through the bodies of women each one more gorgeous than the next by drawing analogies between ethics and aesthetics. But almost all of the Goddesses are fragile, hysterical and in need of protection. In other words, they are “women”.

Perhaps putting the blindfold on Themis during the Renaissance, long considered a divine and aesthetic guide for law, is the expression of the sensitivity, the emotion and the subjectivity attributed to women . Or they might have thought that women need to be blindfolded to be impartial and objective and provide justice, even if it’s just in a representative form. If justice were represented by a God, I really don’t think that he would be blindfolded. In an era in which the class and gender differences that are inherited from the traditional society is being completely revealed with the introduction of public space; it is important to keep in mind that we can talk about justice as an ideal notion only if we were to overlook the differences. Especially considering that human rationality has increasingly become the sole determinant of truth with the introduction of modern society. At this point, experts on the issue might immediately raise an objection: Contemporary jurisprudence scholar Dworkin has also put on stage his own mythological hero while trying to draw the law toward justice; he blindfolded this judge that he named Hercules so that he can make nonarbitrary decisions. Yes, Hercules is a male judge with a superhuman knowledge and comprehension ability, and Dworkin blindfolded him too. I guess Dworkin was obliged to do that, considering the incredible overgrowth of global economy and the ever increasing and deepening inequalities despite the liberal law’s impartiality and objectivity discourse that has been going on for centuries. As a scholar of legal philosophy, the problem he was seeking a solution to is nothing but the problem of uncertainty which rendered the liberal law’s promises unfounded. Yet, even Dworkin has chosen Hercules as his hero, not Themis or Xena. 

In fact, although there is a Themis sculpture in every courthouse, on every lawyer’s desk, women and especially people of different sexual orientations are not imprinted even on the mind of a scholar engaged in law implementation. Aside from the fact that law is a professional field women were able to enter quite late in modern countries, the number of women studying and working in the legal field is always much lower than men. On the other hand, women who find work opportunities in the legal field have to refrain from any behavior or attitude that might be considered “feminine” and adopt a masculine even more masculine than men perspective or at least pretend to adopt it. No matter how strong their transformative abilities are or how good they are at pretending, nothing changes either in education or in practice: men’s legal assessments are always more valuable. 

When I participated in a workshop that was part of one of the rare critical symposiums organized in Turkey, four or five male colleagues were excluding us the women, fobbing off our words, talking at length about their ideas which they thought were more abstract and deeper than ours. Personally, I will never be able to forget that. Obviously, all of them were notably egalitarian and intellectual. I don’t even think they would discuss this issue. But thankfully us the feminists are notorious. Even though it may take some, it is often enough to remind them who we are.


But when it comes to being a feminist working in the legal field, the case is a bit different. Many people even some women lawyers, law-makers consider being a feminist in the legal field as a paradox. A lot of women state that they only defend the rights that they believe are bestowed on them, and persistently avoid these questions: “Isn’t law supposed to establish equality? Then why shall we defend social equality?”; “The law requires being impartial. Then, why should we side with women or LGBTQI individuals?”; “How can the woman’s testimony be fundamental? Don’t women lie?” These are words we often hear, even though they are uttered without consideration. The answers are simple: No, the law is not egalitarian or impartial. It is uncertain and, in many cases discriminatory.  But if you side with those that are subjected to discrimination, it might restore the balance of the blindfolded Themis’ scale. Saying woman’s account is essential, doesn’t necessarily mean that women are right. Themis’ ears are also covered, she can’t even hear her fellow women, but that means that we have to make our voices heard.

So, what does this mean? Are the problems in the legal field caused by Themis not seeing or hearing us? Shall we get rid of this Roman Goddess and replace her with judges whose eyes are wide open, who are protecting and watching over the law, like Alev Alatlı recommends? The answer to this question actually depends on which judges we’re referring to. The people who can realize this are those who know that impartiality and objectivity are not attained by overlooking and turning a deaf ear to what’s going around, but by getting rid of social stereotypes and prejudices; who think that law’s legitimacy is constituted by human history’s common values; who value humanity above all the heroistic discourses; who never take sides with those in power. Do you think this definition resembles a God or a Goddess? I think that anyone who values the struggle for rights and freedom can be included in this definition. After all, contrary to popular belief, justice is not just an ideal, but a social necessity. Humans are the ones to fulfill this need. This is exactly what the legal struggle which brought feminism into being has taught us. Thus, we don’t need unproductive legal visions that are built around abstract binaries and unattainable ideas or lawyers who “defend” women’s rights; we need feminist law and feminist lawmakers. But apparently, we first need to unmask the “great thinkers” who utilize the discussion around law and justice in the service of heroistic discourses, prioritizing their personal interests. 

For the original in English / Yazının Türkçesi için:

Translator: Gülşah Mursaloğlu

Proof-reader: Müge Karahan


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