Not the Other but the Other Half
World history has been dealing with the same problem since the very dawn of our kind’s appearance; notion of ‘the other’ and its aftermath on both sides. We have, as the master race of this planet, taken Earth for granted and used the Space around us as if it is the backyard garden where we dump our garbage. This self-righteous attitude is overtly visible in our everyday lives, from our family lives to politic interrelations of nations. Thus, we have not been able to resolve one serious problem we have carried from our caves to our houses equipped with the latest technology: gender discrimination. I believe, other types of discrimination can be brought into an end within time or with the collective attempt from both men and women; however, when it comes to gender and/or sex based discrimination, it requires a cross-cultural, international and even a supranational motion.
The terms, gender or sex discrimination, are used interchangeably, despite the fact that sex and gender do not have the same meaning; former refers to biological or anatomical identity as male or female, whereas the latter is a social construct of characteristics that are culturally associated with masculinity or femininity. Similarly, sexism is a term coined in mid-20th century, its definition is: “The belief that one sex (usually the male) is naturally superior to the other and should dominate most important areas of political, economic, and social life.”(1) Although the term is new, sexism can be traced back to ancient times, when women did not have the right to vote or to be a citizen, which is still seen in some parts of the world even today.
Throughout history of humans, there are only a few historical women figures whose names were written in the history books. For centuries, men held the upper position in almost every profession out of the domestic sphere which was claimed to be the place where a woman ought to be. This quickly reminds of a famous quotation of George Bernard Shaw:
If we have come to think that the nursery and the kitchen are the natural sphere of woman, we have done exactly as English children come to think that a cage is the natural sphere of a parrot—because they have never seen one anywhere else.
Ruth Rosen from the Department of History at the University of California Berkeley, has made use of this quotation in her essay from 1971, called Sexism in History or, Writing Women's History Is a Tricky Business. Rosen, simply argues that men, not only have ostracized women from professional life and some parts of social life but also they have excluded from the traditional history. Rosen claims in her essay, “traditional history has been most concerned with the re-creation of the elite intellectual military, economic and political powers that fashioned the course of events. .... [b]iographies of white male authors, soldiers, industrialists, and politicians have crowded the library shelves labeled as ‘history.’” Ruth Rosen simply argues that women have been made invisible both in history-making and the history-writing, and yet the historians of the modern era, are stuck between the prejudices of past and the stereotypes of the present (541, Rosen).
In this respect, equivalently, representation of gender roles in popular culture is nourished from these stereotypes and prejudices, or vice versa. The problem behind representation lies at the very nature of representation, because what people do and how they do depends upon how they see themselves and their world and this in turn depends upon the concepts- the windows from which they look. Everyone, every political or social group wants to be represented and every government claims to represent but in between we are troubled by the difference between fake and real representative institutions or people and the way representatives would be institutionalized. In my opinion there is no real representative government or group since the representative is chosen to make decision for his choosers that is (instead of!) representative’s duty is to reflect accurately the wishes and opinions of those he represents. Though we have problems with the “institution” of representation, we should and must respect the representation of each other. Wintdrop’s sermons are literal representation of god’s words. Wintdrop through the literal representation of divine deals with the role of the individual in society especially what he should do practically in this life?
Since the feminist movements of 1960s, movies, magazines, television shows and advertisements have been criticized by not necessarily by feminist activists but also by the new generations who do not or reject to possess and continue those cliché gender roles given to males and females. Disney cartoons have been on the target, especially because most of them feature a beautiful, young princess/woman who is waiting to be saved by a prince who usually is a rich, brave, strong white male (‘prince charming’) from a kingdom far away. The first examples that come to mind in this respect are Snow White, Rapunzel, Ariel from the Little Mermaid, and so on. In addition to this, as Marcia Lieberman also stresses in her essay ‘Gender, Race and Ethnicity in Disney film’: “The middle-aged women are evil, villainous, and sexual. .... These middle-aged women would include such characters as Cruella Deville (101 Dalmatians), Ursula (The Little Mermaid), and Wicked Queen (Snow White).” Comparably, most advertisements basically run on stereotypes, too. A recent dish-washing liquid was highly criticized as it showed two women, one using the promoted detergent and the other one who uses some other brand. While the former one is happy because she could catch up with her other duties such as home-cleaning and looking-after her children after a relatively ‘easier and more enjoyable’ dish-washing, the latter one was upset because she could not make enough time for her chores. MEDİZ (short for Women's Media Monitoring Group) as one of the most active NPOs in this field, have declared their manifest recently stating that women do not carry stain removers in their purses, do not sing and dance while they are doing chores or simply do not hug their detergents after every session of laundry/dish-washing. Similarly, Uçan Süpürge (Turkish for Flying Broom) serving as Women Communication and Research Association, organizes a festival every year in Ankara between 5 -12 May, running films directed by women or with a women theme. Also home to panels and conferences on gender discrimination and the representation of women characters in television shows in Turkey, Uçan Süpürge constitutes a very remarkable place for itself in the process of giving voice to women and de-gendering of Turkish media and culture.
A recent study, conducted by R. Ayhan Yilmaz from Selçuk University in 2007, entitled “Gender Roles in Advertisements: A Content Analysis of the Advertisements Published in Milliyet Newspaper between the Years, 1960 and 1990.” investigates “... how the gender roles related to women were presented in the advertisements published in print media between the years of 1960 and 1990” (Yılmaz, 143). Yılmaz in his research, makes comparisons and contrasts between his work and the analyses carried out in the United States, such as Belkaoui and Belkaoui, 1976, Busby and Leighty, 1993, Cornelius et al, 1996, Kerin et al, 1979, Lewis and Neville 1995, Sullivan and O’Conner 1988, Wagner and Banos,1973; and, one of his deductions is that in the US, although there was a considerable increase in representing more women in professional life and as leaders, the stereotypes representing women in advertisements were still predominant until the mid-1990s (Yılmaz, 145). In this research, the datum and the comments were classified as in such divisions; what type of product, what the role of women in the ad is, hair of the women, what the women are doing, whom the women are with, the clothes women are in. In conclusion, it is asserted that it was not until the 1990s that there was a working, independent portrayal of women in the advertisements. In ‘60s and ‘70s, women promote the product as its user—in 60s the illustrated advertisements were popular whereas with the 70s modern techniques were being used. In 80s, the product range was significantly grown with advertisements of household electrical appliances, private banks, etc. However, according to the study, during these 30 years women were broadly took place in the advertisements as an inactive model (mannequin) who was merely standing besides the product (or in some cases, in the bank, etc.) another interesting fact that the only female ‘continuity character’ used in advertisements, which is a very commonly-used method to increase brand recognition was the Ayşe Teyze (Aunt Ayşe) who would carry a bleach in her purse all the time, as opposed to male figures of private industries and banks. Interestingly enough, other brands of detergents and bleaches used male figures that were muscular, strong men (or super-men) helping women to gain strength by using their brand. The advertisements of 1990s and 2000s are not included in this research, yet the only advertisement that does not show a woman in the kitchen, or struggling with dishes, laundry, children, etc involved Yildiz Kenter, a famous theater actor, at a gas station, implying a woman driving and buying her gas on her own (Yılmaz, 155).
Coming back to the USA, to make a comparison of participation of females to politics and employment rates, concerning the education they receive with data belonging to other countries, I will make use of a website which is comprised of statistical data in as diverse as about 9 categories and 50 sub-categories for almost all of the countries all around the world, they collect their sources via cooperating with universities, UN organizations, public agencies and non-governmental organizations. Throughout the years from 1990 to 2007, percentage of female population, aged above 15, that has been employed during the given years, has almost not changed in the USA with an average percentage of 56%, whereas this number has gradually decreased from 32% to 21% in Turkey. We can see almost the same statistics for the percentage of female employees, age group 15-24. The USA has an unchanged graphic, whereas Turkey’s graph is declining this time from 36% to 19%. The literacy rate among adult females, aged over 15, is 99% in USA whereas it is 82% in Turkey (2007 data), which has gradually increased from 46% in 1975. If we look at the percentage of women in members of the parliament, it is 15.2% in the U.S., 4.2%in Turkey, and 45.3% in Sweden which is the highest number around the world.
According to Gender Equity Index (GEI) which was first introduced by the Social Watch in 2004 to measure gender inequities in different areas, Sweden is the number one country with an overall score of 88, with scoring 82.9 at Empowerment, 83.8 at Economic Activity, and 96.3 at Education. The United States ranked 25th on the list with an overall score of 74, though it has one of the highest numbers regarding Education score with 97. Turkey stands a low rank (140th) with an overall score of 46; and its only promising score is 85.3 at Education score.
Regarding the equal representation in parliament, aiming the next Turkish elections to be held in June 12, there has been a campaign, a cooperative work of several NPOs, female artists, actors and celebrities, calling out to the political parties to run female candidates. Under current circumstances, AKP (the ruling party) has 78 female candidates (14.2% of their total candidates), CHP (main opposition party) has 109 (20%) and MHP has 68 (12.4%). And BDP (Kurdish Nationalist Party) declared that they are supporting 13 independent female candidates as the political party cannot run in elections. KA-DER (Association for the Support and Training of Women Candidates) has recently held a press conference and indicated their dissatisfaction with the number of female candidates, as the total number of member of the parliaments is 550, they demand there should be at least 270 women in the National Assembly. The current situation, whereas, implies there could be only at around 100 female MPs at best. Another hot topic is that women’s associations blame ruling and opposing parties for they do not have any women candidates with head-scarf. They believe this is a direct interference to civil and political rights.
In conclusion, I have aspired to give a quick summary of the gender inequities and sex discrimination with facts and examples from the U.S and Turkey from the perspective of both a Turkish young female and a foreigner follower of American culture. After millenniums and centuries, we have been discussing hot topics that once were taboo; however, it seems that we have not been able to resolve one very prominent challenge in our social and private lives. I believe there can be no perfect society without perfect equality in all aspects of the society and equal rights and opportunities given to people of all genders/sexes.