Society presents marriage and motherhood to women not as personal choices but as goals to achieve, and this sometimes causes women to give up on their own desires, ambitions, and interests.   

Illustration: Sally Nixon

I guess we’re all familiar with the image of a newlywed bride proudly holding the marriage certificate up high. While it is quite natural to be happy about marrying someone you love, these trivial looking cultural and symbolic moves demonstrate that most of the women in this country still consider marriage as a victory and an accomplishment.

Marriage and motherhood which are culturally framed as building blocks of womanhood today, are social impositions rather than personal choices. There is a “time” for getting married, as well as for becoming a mother. One has to find a husband in a timely manner, then give birth afterwards. That’s why everyone asks single women “When will you get married?”, and married women “When will you have a child?”. Once these two requirements are fulfilled, the married woman/mother has to sustain the happy family portrait and maintain the illusion of the household she has “laboriously” built over the years, even at the cost of pretending. Women who end up living their husbands’ lives after getting married, and their children’s lives after giving birth in order to fit into male stereotypes, eventually turn into miserable women upon losing their own identities. What’s even worse is that this misery is often legitimized for the sake of being perceived as a good wife/mother by others.

The starting point of this phenomenon is rooted in the fact that women’s bodies have been treated like properties belonging initially to their fathers and then  to their husbands throughout history. The bride price, a tradition practiced in Turkey, is actually an illustrative example in this respect, the one that we’re the most familiar with. Unfortunately, women are considered either as potential brides or somebody’s wife/mother. In other words, they are passive beings who are not allowed to discover their individualities, not envisioned to be physically and mentally independent. We can almost –gawkishly– define them as tools allocated to men. Women get used to not making their own decisions from an early age on, and this situation gets normalized by being engraved into their subconscious. Similarly, major religions such as Christianity and Islam also surveil women and render them dependent on men’s physical and moral protection in guise of glorifying them. To that end, an image of an “ideal” woman is created, whose contours are drawn by men[1].

The ideal woman portrayed by patriarchal society is always compassionate, forbearing and maternal, and her main duty is to bear children. A mother is primarily expected to give up on her desires for the sake of pleasing her loved ones or the society. A lot of women who are mothers feel guilty when they set aside time for themselves, do things that make themselves happy. Because they feel as though they are not fulfilling the expectations, disappointing others by departing from the “ideal” giving mother figure. Furthermore, they’re often condemned for being bad mothers, as if their self-doubt is not enough. This is precisely what patriarchy desires: the difference between the ideal and nonideal woman/wife/mother only reinforces the existing system and causes some women to feel superior and others to feel inadequate. On the other hand, women start feeling anxious over fitting into the ideal woman portrait created by men and being approved by them.

According to an extensive research project[2] conducted through interviews with Turkish men, sons in Turkey consider their mothers as good mothers to the extent that they’ve made sacrifices for them (obviously, they’re referring to emotional sacrifices here.) For example, women’s decision to give up on their careers after childbirth is held in high regard. They consider providing the emotional support children need, even occasionally establishing a neutral ground between fathers and children and acting as mediators between the two parties as the primary duties of mothers. What is interesting is that nobody demands similar emotional bonds from fathers. In that respect, we can say that expectations from women are imbued with elements of emotional abuse that are internalized by society at large.

We can say that patriarchy which started with the surveillance of women’s bodies is on decline today –at least in certain countries. Unfortunately, it has been replaced by cultural and emotional surveillance and new stereotypes have emerged, which also confine women to certain templates and hinder their emancipation. Even women we would consider to be bodily/sexually, financially, or politically independent come across such emotional forms of male dominance. In short, patriarchy is not being dismantled, it’s solely shapeshifting.

Society presents marriage and motherhood to women not as personal choices but as goals to achieve, and this sometimes causes women to give up on their own desires, ambitions, and interests. In fact, women having multifaceted personalities that can’t fit into one template, threatens men who benefit from the present order above all. Thus, we should remind ourselves and other women that there is no checklist with goals for us to accomplish, and that we should be wary of losing our identities within the social expectations; it may not be enough to dismantle the patriarchal order at once, but it is sufficient to create an awareness.

For the original in Turkish / Yazının Türkçesi için

Translator: Gülşah Mursaloğlu

Proof-reader: Müge Karahan

[1] Fatmagül Berktay, Tek Tanrılı Dinler Karşısında Kadın [Women in the Monotheistic Religions] (Metis Yay., 1996)

[2] Hale Bolak Boratav, Güler Okman Fişek, Hande Eslen Ziya, Erkekliğin Türkiye Halleri [Unpacking Masculinities in the Context of Social Change: Internal Complexities of the Identities of Married Men in Turkey] (İstanbul Bilgi Üniversitesi Yay., 2017)



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