Graduation Year

2017

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

M.A.

Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.)

Degree Granting Department

Womens Studies

Major Professor

Kim Golombisky, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Michelle Hughes Miller, Ph.D.

Committee Member

David Rubin, Ph.D.

Keywords

Feminism, Mother, Turkey, Virginity

Abstract

Even though virginity in Turkey is commonly defined, thus gendered, as losing the hymen, in Turkish society, discourses of virginity connect to broader discussions, such as modernity, morality, social honor/shame, religion, family values, and even medicine (vaginismus and artificial hymen surgery). Previous scholarship on women’s rights in Turkey outlines how historical approaches by Kemalist secularism were not enough to diminish oppressive social norms such as virginity and how the current conservative government and elements of traditional Turkish society perpetuate virginity as an important virtue for unmarried women. This study adds seven Turkish mothers’ interpretations of what I am calling the contemporary Turkish discourse of virginity, as well as the mothers’ descriptions of their pedagogical practices on the topic of premarital sex with regard to their adult children. Here I report the semi-structured interviews I conducted with heterosexual urban Turkish mothers, 45-60 years old, college-educated, and socioeconomically privileged, living in Western Turkey, a region more closely aligned with European ideals. Participant mothers self-identify as Kemalist women, meaning secular, and use this perspective in describing virginity and its role in the contemporary Turkish society. I argue, first, that the “modern” participant mothers speak from an interstitial location, which is the result of contradictions between secular and conservative ideals in Turkey. Second, the participant mothers discuss virginity tactically from three different subjectivities: modern women who believe in women’s rights, modern mothers who respect their daughters’ choices regarding premarital sex, and caring mothers who worry about the social consequences of their daughters’ choices in a society that still stigmatizes the loss of virginity. Third, as a result of these shifting subjectivities, participant mothers observe as well as participate in a subtle social change in urban Western Turkey, which I argue is moving the politics of virginity from a social imperative toward covert practices of choice. The transcripts also show the underlying presumption of heterosexuality not only among participant mothers’ negotiations of virginity but also in the broader modern Turkish discourse of virginity. By bringing forward the voices of these participant mothers, this study aims to portray the complex structure of Turkish society and document interpretations of a discourse that oppresses Turkish women.

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