Modernization in Turkey started in the late Ottoman period as a social critique and took shape when the Turkish Republic was established as a modern nation-state in 1923. Women’s emancipation, which was inherent in the ideas of modernization, was one of the most important components of the Republican reforms. Subsequently, the reforms were implemented to attain women’s emancipation in a nationalist context. This article discusses the specific characteristics of the nationalist solution to gender issues in Turkey’s modernization. My argument is that the organization of political power as well as family life in Turkey rested on paternalism, meaning the father’s symbolic and actual power over others. Paternalism in Turkish modernization on the one hand provided a basis for justification of the authoritarian rule of the state and on the other hand enabled women to become modern, though the limits of their modernity were determined by the paternal authority. I focus on paternalism in the single-party years of the Republic and also discuss the current policies of the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (Justice and Development Party, AKP) rule regarding gender and modernization, to show that the concept of paternalism remains relevant to understanding the gender regime in Turkey.
Pınar Melis Yelsalı Parmaksız is an associate professor in the Faculty of Political Sciences at Ankara University. She is the author of many articles on gender, Turkish modernization, memory, and oral history, and author of the book Modernization and Gender Regimes: Life Histories of the Wives of Turkish Political Leaders (Saarbrücken: VDM Verlag, 2010). She edited the book Neye Yarar Hatıralar? Bellek ve Siyaset Çalışmaları [What are memories for? Studies of memory and politics] (Ankara: Phoenix Yayınevi, 2012) and is currently working on a coedited volume called Mothers in Public and Political Life, to be published by Demeter Press in 2017. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.