Almost all states today are patriarchal (and racist) as well as capitalist. But just as these states take different forms, the degree of gender inequality suggested by these forms is also different.

A photo from a protest. Slogan “Men shoot, the state protects.”

It’s been almost 30 years since Catharine A. MacKinnon said that feminism is deprived of a theory of the state. Feminist theory of the state has been also improved during this time. However, the fact that today’s attacks on the vested rights of women and LGBTI+ individuals are carried out by different kinds of states in different geographies, shows that feminist theory needs to go further in the analysis of the state. The following article*, which focuses on the patriarchal state structure in Turkey and the process of withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention, intends to be a step in this direction.

Genderless theories of the state

Widely accepted theories ignore the patriarchal character of the state. For example, according to those who accept the Weberian approach, the traditional and irrational characteristics of non-Western societies prevent the formation of modern institutions and lead to the formation of authoritarian patrimonial state forms (Moore 1966; Tilly 1990; Heper 1985; Mardin 2006 [1967]). While Marxist theorists focus on the capitalist character of the state (Poulantzas 1969; Wood 1981; Offe and Keane 1984; Jessop 2002, 1990), another movement called the commercialization model examines the effects of the global capitalist system on the state formation process in peripheral countries (Wallerstein 2004, 1974; Amin 1976; Alavi 1972; Keyder 1987; Boratav 2011). In my view, the Weberian approach presupposes the factors shaping state forms and their transformations in the historical process instead of explaining these factors. In this way, it leads us to a gradualist or essentialist analysis on the basis of modernization. [1] Marxist approaches, on the other hand, emphasize reductionist analyzes on the basis of either capitalism and class contradiction, or global capitalism by neglecting local dynamics. In summary, despite their differences, these theories ignore the role played by gender inequality in the state formation process. This neglect leads to a tendency to reduce the patriarchal character of the state to cultural religious values, conservative derivatives of modernization, neoliberalism or the combination of these factors.

How can we theorize the state?

It is possible to move away from both an essentialist or gradual understanding of modernization and reductionist approaches based on capitalism without making the mistake that genderless theories of state do. For this, I make use of multiple system theories that bridge between intersectionality method and dual system theories (Folbre 2021, 2020; Walby 2020a). According to the theoretical framework I have proposed, as long as systems and regimes (patriarchy, which is a system of oppression and exploitation on the basis of gender, capitalism as a system of oppression and exploitation on the basis of class, and racist oppression regimes on the basis of religion and ethnicity) that mutually shape each other are effective on the state, multiple agendas of the state occur. Thus, the main factor shaping the state is not capitalism (or neoliberalism). Rather, it is important to take into account the multiple character, function and agendas of the state. It is not only the groups which are oppressor and exploiter, and the conflict between them that determines patriarchal, capitalist and racist state agents in the historical process. The social struggle of the groups which have been oppressed and exploited on the basis of gender, class and race-ethnicity is also an important factor shaping the state.

It is important to consider the factors that determine the agenda of the state within its historical and geographical subjectivity. Theories that shed light on the uneven and combined development of capitalism draw attention to the importance of different social groups that remain outside the class contradiction. For example, peasants, merchants, landlords, religious leaders. I have written elsewhere that urban and rural small producers and tradesmen are influential in shaping the patriarchal character of the state in Turkey (Kocabıçak 2021, 2020). In this study, I would like to talk about a different group. When women are excluded from public decision-making processes more than men as a result of the blockage of democratic channels, a certain elite group of men gains a powerful position by increasing their influence over the leaders of the regime. This group, which I call the regime’s men (for example, religious leaders, columnists, journalists, academics, politicians from different parties and artists), increases its influence on the regime through non-democratic channels. Therefore, while fighting against the patriarchal character of the state, it is necessary not to ignore the conditions in which the channels of democracy are blocked.

Another issue that I think is useful at the analytical level is the necessity of separating different types of patriarchal states. Almost all states today are patriarchal (and racist) as well as capitalist. But just as these states take different forms, the degree of gender inequality suggested by these forms is also different. Drawing on theories that examine different types of gender regime (Moghadam 2020; Walby 2020b; Shire and Nemoto 2020), I think that there are two main patriarchal forms of the state that are conflicting and overlapping. The first is the patriarchal household-oriented state, which wants to keep the vast majority of women as unpaid family laborers. The other is the patriarchal gripper-oriented state, which encourages women to participate in the paid workforce in a way that they do not neglect their duties and responsibilities at home, including care, and therefore focuses on the continuity of women’s gripping between paid/unpaid labor. While the private patriarchal state, the best examples of which we can find in some oil/natural gas-rich authoritarian regimes, restricts women’s and LGBTI+ individuals’ access to education, paid labor, social decision-making mechanisms, political representation, leadership of cultural and religious institutions, and other public spaces, it tolerates the gender-based violence. The patriarchal gripper state, which we encounter in the countries ruled by neoliberal or social democratic regimes, targets gender inequality in the public sphere, while also fighting against gender-based violence relatively more seriously. On the one hand, it attaches importance to social policies based on either the market or the state or the combination of both, in order to provide the uninterrupted continuation of household free production activities.

The patriarchal character of the state in Turkey: change and continuity

A photo from a protest. Slogan “Men shoot, the state protects.”

Can we say that the patriarchal household-oriented state has left its place to the gripper-oriented state in Turkey? Within the scope of this work, which is still in progress, I have seen that there has been a constant clash between the patriarchal household-oriented character and the gripper-oriented character of the state since the foundation of the republic. It can be said that there is a tension between the two main characters of almost every patriarchal state, that I mentioned above. However, in Turkey, the transition from a household-oriented patriarchal state to a gripper-oriented patriarchal state seems to have been limited. My review of the period between 2000 and 2019 shows that the household-oriented character of the patriarchal state still predominates:

  1. While the state implements social policies that will condemn relatively less educated urban women to unpaid care work (including childcare) at home, it also encourages rural women to work as unpaid family workers on small-medium farms. Therefore, instead of the gripper of paid/unpaid labor, the majority of women, especially women of working-class origin, are imprisoned in unpaid household labor. According to my calculations, only 25 percent of working-age women (15-64 years) in 2019 have access to any form of paid labor in the formal or informal sector (ILOSTAT 2020). [2]
  2. In recent years, while women’s access to public decision-making mechanisms and their political representation have been limited as a result of the blockage of democratic channels, the feminist and LGBTI+ movements have also taken their share from the increasing oppression on social movements. Women’s control over their own sexuality (including their ability to reproduce) is severely constrained by natalist, homophobic, and transphobic politics and rhetoric that promotes state-sponsored childbirth.
  3. Social policies and legal regulations implemented by the state to prevent gender-based violence, on the other hand, while restricting women’s access to alternatives outside the heterosexual non-trans family structure where they are subjected to violence, they also tolerate violence against single, separated or divorced women and LGBTI+ individuals. Women are imprisoned in the family structure where they are subjected to violence by the state.

What is the reason why the transition from the household-oriented patriarchal state to the gripper-oriented patriarchal state has been rather limited? In fact, the patriarchal gripper state appears even in the early republican era (1923-1940s). However, in this period, (non-trans, heterosexual) men, who are a group that oppresses and exploits on the basis of gender, manage to increase their bargaining power and influence on the state by relying on the state’s capitalist agenda and the racist agenda built on the basis of Turkishness and Sunni Islam. This period, in which women cannot maintain their influence on the state, ends with the re-strengthening of the household-oriented patriarchal state. In the continuation of this article, I will focus on the process of Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention, and examine how men (1) use the Turkish Muslim racist agenda of the state for their own demands and (2) preserve the patriarchal household-oriented state character with the support of the regime’s men.

Revelations of the withdrawal process from the Convention

According to the preliminary results of my research, between 2015 and 2018, men’s rights groups have organized against laws that restrict child marriage, sanctions for the payment of alimony, and giving custody of children to the mother. Although the law no. 6284, which enables the Istanbul Convention to be partially implemented, is criticized by these groups, the Convention is not directly targeted. Men’s rights groups, especially those organized through social media, claim to be victims of these laws by organizing disinformation campaigns and street protests regarding the above legal regulations. In this period, we also see that these demands and campaigns are supported by the regime’s men.

However, as of 2019, men’s rights groups have been making a strategic change in their discourse. While the Istanbul Convention was not at the center of their demands and campaigns in the previous period, they are targeting the Convention when expressing their demands as of this year. They show homosexual relationships and the independence of women from men as the biggest threat to the Turkish Muslim family structure. As a part of this strategy, while claiming that the family structure, which they define in line with their own interests, is the prerequisite for the material and social existence of the Turkish Muslim community, they bring up the “West wants to destroy Turkey” paranoia, which we always hear, in line with the Istanbul Convention. Homophobia and transphobia are defined as domestic and national values, since the non-trans heterosexual family plays a key role in ensuring the domination of men over women.

This new tactic, which was adopted in accordance with the Turkish Muslim racist agenda of the state, this time carries the pre-existing relationship of solidarity between men’s rights groups and the regime’s men to success. These demands are supported not only by the government and the main coalition party, but also by the oppositional Saadet Partisi (Felicity Party). The next is known. Despite the unanimous objection of the women, the government has withdrawn from the Convention, referring to its incompatibility with Turkish Muslim family values and the threat posed by homosexuality. Although the opposition party leaders openly stand behind the Convention, I also understand from my personal conversations that some of the male members and voter base support these patriarchal demands.

In summary, the influence of men’s rights groups is broken in the first phase as a result of women’s struggle, despite the support they receive from the regime’s men. However, since 2019, when the state established a new strategy based on the Turkish Muslim racist agenda, men, who are the subjects of patriarchy, have succeeded in increasing their bargaining power and influence on the state, while women’s struggle is divided against this strategy and their influence on the state is weakened. Thus, the household-oriented patriarchal state character is preserved, and the transition to the gripper-oriented state is blocked.

While shaping our feminist strategies, we have to transcend the boundaries of existing state institutions. Because gradualist or essentialist approaches on the basis of modernization and reductionist explanations based on capitalism deny the will of men and their ability to act collectively. While this prevents us from giving due attention to men’s rights movements, it also prevents us from seeing the ways in which they have become stronger under anti-democratic conditions. However, we understand from the discussion on the right to alimony that the patriarchal subject, which increases its bargaining power, will continue its attacks. [3] We know the importance of the struggle for democracy for all the oppressed, especially women and LGBTI+ individuals. However, the restoration of democracy does not depend solely on the feminist movement. In a country where at least six women are killed a week, it is not possible to expect different social movements to solve their own unique problems and become stronger. How is it possible for the feminist movement to form broad alliances in order to increase the influence of women on the regime in times when the channels of democracy are blocked? In this way, is it possible to defend a different concept of family that emphasizes gender equality by interfering in the multiple agendas of the state? I hope to discuss these questions together for which I cannot find an answer.

*I would like to thank Yoğurtçu Women’s Forum for giving me the opportunity to discuss the ideas that form the basis of this article.


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[1] I recommend the article “Debating ‘uneven and combined development’: beyond Ottoman patrimonialism” by Eren Düzgün, who added originalist critique to gradualist and essentialist critique on the basis of modernism:

[2] 76% of women employed in agriculture in 2019 are working as unpaid family workers.

[3] For Yelda Koçak’s article on the issue, see

For the original in Turkish / Yazının Türkçesi için:

Translator: Gülcan Ergün

Proof-reader: Müge Karahan


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