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.
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