If disclosure is a feminist method, then sometimes it can ooze from the cracks, and sometimes it can shatter the embankments. I find it a bit unfair to assess disclosures which do not always carry with them the tranquility that observers expect from them without taking into account the conditions of impunity in which we live.
A lot has been said and many comments have been made about the disclosures that occupied our agenda one after another in recent months. This period and climate in which acts of disclosure took place is one where women have to kill in order to defend their lives and not be killed. For this reason, I consider each disclosure as a scream. Women are simultaneously addressing the patriarchal society. Patriarchy is one of the constitutive dynamics of the society in which we live. Just like capitalism, racism, nationalism, and heterosexism… It is possible to say that the founding ideology of patriarchy is sexism. Women in patriarchal societies are oppressed and exploited in the family, in the work life, in the labor market because of the gender hierarchy. Politics, law, judiciary, and culture are all regulated in accordance with sexist and discriminatory hierarchical definitions and presuppositions. Laws and courts are institutions of patriarchy. Women are forced to choose the prejudiced law at the expense of their desire to stay alive; they have a hard time in making the legal mechanisms –which women need to address the forms of exploitation, oppression, and exclusion that they encounter in their lives– function. The same exclusionary and discriminatory cultural and judiciary mechanisms work in favor of men. So much so that even women who are exposed to extreme forms of violence and live with the constant risk of being killed are left helpless when it comes to making their voices be heard and seeking justice. Each and every day we hear news of women who resort to self-defense in order to stay alive and protect their lives which have turned into torture. Under these conditions, women become guilty even for being forced to kill in order not to be killed. The law does not treat the women justly and fairly even though the lives of women have turned into a hell. This is because the ideology and the cultural codes of the society and of course the judiciary is wrought with an understanding of male-superiority and domination which forces women into subordination.
General demands of the disclosures can be listed as follows: the efforts of women –who have been prevented from doing this in any other way– to make their voices heard and to find a way out of entrapment, the desire for solidarity, to create public pressure, to warn other women, seeing others who are going through similar things and thus making those women know that they are neither alone nor wrong, and demanding justice. Past experiences show that there is not always a direct and satisfactory relationship between punishment and justice, but we also see that the empowerment and internal justice expectations of the person who has been abused cannot be met by legal mechanisms and that it is necessary not to think empowerment solely in terms of justice served in the legal domain. Of course, it is important to leave legal framework within the boundaries of the law and to operationalize law in cases of extreme violence and aggravated sexual assault. Considering that disclosure may not always be empowering, it is important to make sure that the incidents are discussed with the relevant and informed public via empowering justice mechanisms and that restorative justice mechanisms are demanded and operationalized in judicial matters. For sure, the relationship between disclosure and justice is a multifaceted issue that should be evaluated carefully. The lack of mechanisms –other than the sexist law– which would meet the demands for justice also makes social media disclosures seem like a way out.
For some time now, social media, apart from its communicative function, has been undertaking the tasks of organization, protest, and making people’s voices heard. Since social media is open to unregulated and limitless comments and since it can cause the women who engage in the act of disclosure to be scrutinized and exposed to maltreatment , it is necessary to keep in mind that it is a problematic medium. The fact that disclosure is directed towards a patriarchal society via social media –which is a medium that cannot be regulated and is open to abuse– may result in women not attaining the justice and empowerment they expect. On social media, just like in the judgmental male dominated justice, the truth of women’s statements is being questioned. Since it is open to the access of many others who are not involved in the matter, women sometimes end up not receiving the support they expect, or in certain cases, they can be harmed once again.
Some comments, which insinuate that disclosure disempowers women, are related to feminism as a kind of negative commonality in which women do not want to undertake the patriarchal exploitation and subordination mechanisms. Solidarity between women, creating bonds between different forms of womanhood, and collective empowerment is possible first by accepting this negative commonality and traversing it. Getting caught up in the easy way of feeling powerful through identifying with “power” can lead to questioning the accuracy and truth of women’s statements rather than taking women’s statements as fundamental.
It is important to take a look at feminist history in order not to evaluate facts as frozen fragments, to see the disclosures in their historical continuity, and not to start history from scratch. Thus, we will not be generalizing the consequences of singular facts. Tackled from this perspective, disclosure is not just a matter of today. On 6 November 1987, when feminists organized the Campaign Against Battering, their slogan was “Shout so that everyone hears, and male violence ends”. In saying this, feminists were calling women to expose the violence to which they are exposed. The following was written in the book focusing on this matter: Battering is not the right of a man, but it is his crime. There is no such thing as a rightful battering. So, when we are being beaten, we should not feel ashamed or guilty. We should be self-confident, we should be resolute, we should talk to other women, we should take this violence out of our private lives. These are the first steps of emancipation. “When a woman who has been beaten denies that it is her fate to leave the house which she entered into with a wedding dress with a shroud, and when she wants to stand alone, there should be women around her who will support her. Women who leave their homes should have a place to go. We should organize to achieve this end.” Here we see that the call to disclosure is simultaneously backed up by a call to organizing. The main goal is to make sure that women realize that what they go through is not an isolated event which only happens to them but something that is common to the lives of many other women and that women abandon the idea that battering is their own fault or mistake. In doing so, the feminists chose to stand in solidarity with women who are subjected to violence rather than being passive witnesses of battering and disclosure. This was how they aimed at empowering the women. During this process, the first steps which will ensure the establishment of Purple Roof Women’s Shelter Foundation were taken in 1990.
Another important turning point in the history of disclosures pertains to KESK. This disclosure process was factually scarring. The following facts played an important role in terms of the end result: it was not empowering for the woman involved in the process, KESK lacked fairly and justly functioning mechanisms which look out for women, and finally, just like in many other disclosures and judicial mechanisms, it was primarily the statement of the woman that has been put into question. However, this upsetting event has been a kind of lesson for many NGOs, institutions, and political parties. Following this process, the awareness of women in these spaces have increased and women got stronger. Many NGOs added regulations and rules against rape, abuse, and harassment to their directives.
Sexual harassment involves non-physical, non-consensual words, behaviors, and attitudes with sexual content. We see that the concept has expanded in various ways especially in hierarchical and authoritarian cultures.
Mackinnon states that heterosexual sexuality is based on domination over the female body and eroticization of women’s unequal positions, and for this reason, it legitimizes sexual violence against women. Perceiving sexual harassment as sexuality risks pulling judgements into the realm of morality and shame. Conservative moral judgements and internalized patriarchal norms cause women to be stigmatized and humiliated and the perpetrators to strengthen their defensive positions. This also allows for fixing women in a position of eternal victimization, subjecting women to a victimization scale, and makes it possible for women to speak only when they are victimized enough. While being subjected to sexual harassment provides an opportunity for women to make their voices heard, it also carries the risk of covering up many behind-the-scenes sexist, degrading, discriminatory, unnerving, and injurious mechanisms and exposures. The targets of sexual harassment are women and LGBTI+ people. The purpose of sexual harassment which specially targets women in the business life are discriminatory and sexist behaviors that aim that distancing women from the public sphere, from workplaces, and to break their self-confidence. Especially when we look at some of the sexual harassment disclosures in academia and the world of literature, we see that the business life is organized in terms of men and male hegemony. The patriarchal system and its perpetrators, who draw borders for women with fear of violence at home and fear of rape on the streets, try to limit women’s production in the public sphere through various forms of harassment at the workplaces. The necessity of obtaining consent from a hegemonic male figure to be able to publish her book causes women to be subjected to harassment –sometimes sexual harassment– of that hegemonic male figure. Whereas women could have easily said “take your photos with sexual content and leave”, these kinds of derogatory attitudes leave women in situations where they do not know how to respond. These women can make their voices heard only after the acts of sexual harassment, and after being constrained to reveal what had happened.
Another noteworthy example pertains to a group of women followers of Adnan Hodja who are called the “kitties” and who have been in front of the public with his sexist, humiliating, dominating, and homogenizing expressions and appearances. It was a generally accepted understanding to think that these women chose to be there “by their own will”. The public watched these images which are totally contrary to human dignity with the code of “do not interfere with family life”. However, on after it was clearly proven that these women were subjected to sexual harassment, abuse, and even rape, cynicism and gossip gave way to “kitties” becoming a matter of judiciary and crime.
I am aware that dealing with the issue of disclosure involves many difficulties, and of course, I believe in the importance of establishing a link between the victimizations of women that they experience in patriarchal society, and I also think that one should be careful about making a priority list. For sure, it is necessary to use the concepts of sexual harassment, abuse, assault and male violence properly… However, I also think that women need to speak and raise their voices more about the organization of the workplaces and gender equality even in cases there is no sexual harassment and keep on disclosing sexist and discriminatory statements that subordinate them and make their lives difficult. Supported by the authoritarian regimes, the backlash on gender equality struggle is getting stronger all over the world. Despite the obstacles before demanding rights, women and LGBTI+ people are resisting against misogyny, homophobia, increasing oppression, and violence with a struggle stronger than ever.
We observe that even if not all forms of masculinity, about which women have written for many years now, cannot be placed in the same pot, and even though sometimes they do not necessarily correspond to a form of crime, these masculinities can still hide various forms of sexism, inequality, and hierarchical domination. It is sometimes voiced that disclosures related to all kinds of suppression are evaluated under the dark shadow of femicide. However, I think we need more analyses to suggest this. When I think that the intense anger that sometimes arises causes this hypothesis, I prefer to call it the uncanny rage of the oppressed. If disclosure is a feminist method, then sometimes it can ooze from the cracks, and sometimes it can shatter the embankments. I find it a bit unfair to assess disclosures which do not always carry with them the tranquility that observers expect from them without taking into account the conditions of impunity in which we live. This environment of impunity and injustice is an empirical fact. Just as this fact often forces women to disclose. Whether we find it appropriate or not, I do not think that given facts alone can empower or disempower women.
If a woman having been exposed to the persistent stalking and abuses of a self-appointed “lover” had to change her resistance more than once in 4-5 years and had to recourse to disclosure on social media after her efforts to get results from the legal mechanisms fail, then I do not think that disclosure is a result of her weakness, it simply reveals that she had to ooze from the cracks.
In the global competitive neoliberal system, we see that the psychological expressions and forms of relationships between men and women are changing. With increasing competition, individualism, selfishness, emotional bluntness, and narcissistic tendencies which are becoming more common in masculinity performances, we see shorter-term, non-intimate, unresponsive relationship patterns becoming pervasive. Dating violence and domineering attitudes are becoming commonplace. We have come to recognize different expressions of masculinity as a result of women’s statements and feminist struggle. These include: gaslighting (dictating the perception of worthlessness to a person with the aim of exerting psychological pressure), mansplaining (men explaining everything to the women with whom they speak regardless of their field of expertise; even if a woman has spent years working hard on the subject, a man can aim to show her the right path with his extraordinary and all-illuminating perspective); stealthing (removing or tearing a condom during sexual intercourse without partner’s knowledge or consent).
Some of these attitudes and behaviors to which women are exposed do not fall within the scope of a crime. And it had taken years for women, through their solidarity and experience sharing, to conceptualize these attitudes and behaviors. Even if they do not constitute a crime, many of the sexist forms of expression and behavior, can be as devastating and injurious as other forms of violence and abuse. Empowering through forming connections between different ways of being a woman and different forms of exposure to masculinity can only be possible in and through organizing and struggling with other women. Undoubtedly, it is not right to place all the disclosures in the same box and homogenize them. While many of the disclosures are about lives and existence of women, about expanding women’s living spaces, about overcoming and becoming aware of inequalities, it is possible for some disclosures to reproduce moral norms.
When we take a look at the representation of an act of disclosure, we can ask what it excludes. On the one end, we might be seeing a representation of disclosure which is just for women, and on the other end, an exaggerated accusation directed against men. Leaving aside justice and law, when we focus our attention on that which is just for women, we might have to endure the sadness of an exaggerated accusation (if there is such a thing) directed against the man who is the perpetrator. However, missing the representation of that which is just for women would amount to reproducing the roles that a patriarchal society attributes to women.
The empowerment of women undoubtedly has to focus on how women organize not as passive spectators of disclosure but as just witnesses as well as on the forms of struggles they engage in the workplace, at home, and on the streets rather than the conditions under which they are forced to act of disclosure…
Alev Özkazanç, Bir Musibet: Yeni Türkiye’de Erillik, Şiddet ve Feminist Siyaset, Dipnot Yay. 1. Baskı, 2020.
Alev Özkazanç, Cinsellik Şiddet ve Hukuk, Feminist Yazılar, Dipnot Yay, 2013.
Translator: İpek Tabur
Proof-reader: Müge Karahan