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Women’s opportunities and choices are affected by the economic conditions of their environment, whether they view themselves as Muslim, Islamist, or secularist. Within the boundaries of economic possibility, there is a broad space of movement within which women can strategize and manipulate existing options and pursue new opportunities. The Islamist movement populated this space with a panoply of new options for women. This included opportunities to gain an education or professional training, work outside the home, and participate in political activism. As we have seen in the preceding chapters, in Ümraniye these opportunities were not open to all women equally. Unmarried young women were given access to different training and education than older married women. Furthermore, women often found that their aspirations and the Islamist promise of an alternative lifestyle were short-lived. At marriage or motherhood, women often found themselves pulled back into a more restrictive lifestyle. Middle-class and elite Islamists were more likely to be able to maintain an alternative lifestyle (indeed, develop their own version of middle-class Islamist chic). But even these women faced the dilemma at marriage of continuing their economic, educational, or political work outside the home, or focusing their energies on and submitting to the authority of husband and ISLAMIST ELITISM AND WOMEN’S CHOICES 7 family. The primacy of women’s duty to home and family is also a basic principle of Islamist thought. Tesettür veiling is a key symbol of the Islamist movement, but, despite its centrality, tesettür is fractured by the same multiple, contradictory meanings as are other Islamist lifestyle choices. Tesettür bears a heavy symbolic burden. As we have seen in previous chapters, among Islamist followers it connotes egalitarianism, party populism, and resistance against the laicist autocracy. Göle (1996) has argued that wearers of tesettür are engaged in identity politics, that is, a bid to acquire elite status for an Islamic lifestyle that would put it in competition with a Western lifestyle in the definition of social status. Certainly, tesettür in Ümraniye was a “city look” that had developed its own momentum as fashion. This gave it a cachet of upward mobility. Islamist fashion also implied moral uprightness and other qualities residents found attractive , especially in the opposite sex. Tesettür’s association in the media and public displays with the Islamist social movement also added to its value within the community, at least among Islamist supporters. However, there was no evidence that tesettür had any effect on the actual social status or economic position of its wearers in Ümraniye. Indeed, the relative freedom of action that the Islamist movement afforded women within the economic and social restrictions of Ümraniye might simply be part of the life cycle for young, unmarried women, or married women before they have children. This is quite a different image from that drawn by studies of Islamist elites—the editors, writers, intellectuals, middle-class activists, Islamist Yuppies—who are perceived to be engaging in identity politics. The paradox of veiling lies in two sets of superimposed meanings : first, the Islamist challenge to the status quo; second, Islamist support for the principle that woman’s place is in the home and her role is to take care of husband and family. Islamists have attempted to deal with this paradox by differentiating “Islamist” practices from those of the masses. Islamist practice is regarded as superior because it is “conscious” (şuurlu), unlike the unconscious adherence to tradition that is presumed to explain these same practices among the masses. Much like Kemalists who attempt to distance themselves from certain shared behaviors and values by attributing them to the “Other” Istanbul, Islamists attribute the restrictive, patriarchal nature of shared practices to the “Other” Muslims. This constitutes a kind of Islamist elitism quite distinct from the more neutral “elite status” envisioned in the discourse of identity politics. Islamist Elitism and Women’s Choices · 213 This “enlightened” explanation of veiling, seclusion, and women’s proper place in the family, however, does little to change the fact that women are subject to the constraints accompanying these practices. In many instances in Ümraniye, a practical seclusion at marriage was “chosen” because of a lack of other credible options for establishing and maintaining a family. Even educated women may have difficulty finding the resources to establish a professional life. The himaye of family life, also implied by veiling, is a powerful source of support, protection, and comfort, although it exacts a great price from women...


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MARC Record
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