- Castration, Sexual Violence, and Feminist Politics in Post–Coup Attempt Turkey
“Castration law has passed,” read a news title among the many seemingly surreal headlines in the post–coup attempt Turkey. The title was literal, and more. During the coup attempt and its aftermath, the law of the father was destabilized and reasserted in short order, and the symbolic threat of castration was unexpectedly redistributed. An exceptionally mighty president hid for his life for hours on a military coup night to reappear in early morning stronger on his way to a presidential system. The government’s rule seemed so fragile one day and so absolute the next. It was during this time that a chemical castration regulation was hastily passed as a “treatment/punishment” for sex offenders (Asharq Al-Awsat 2016).
Feminist and queer activists have tirelessly cultivated profeminist sensibilities against sexual violence and pushed back against the violent project of masculinist restoration (Kandiyoti 2013) and the consolidation of a religiously accentuated neoconservative familialism (Acar and Altunok 2013; Coşar and Yeğenoğlu 2011; Korkman 2015, 2016). They have reminded us, then and now, that sexual violence is not the product of a chemical pathology but an assertion of masculine power. They have insisted that the government proposals for castration as “remedy” reflects the same heteropatriarchal logic that produces sexual violence and is part of the AKP’s efforts to replace gender-progressive measures with family-centered conservative policies (Bianet 2016; Duman Bilge 2011; Evrensel 2016b; T24 2016).
I argue that the castration law and its peculiar timing reveals not only the centrality of neoconservative gender politics to the AKP’s hegemony but also the centrality of the reiteration of the hegemonic relationship between power, masculinity, [End Page 181] and violence to the reassertion of political rule. Castration mediates the relations of domination among men where the relationship between heteropatriarchal masculinity and political power is established by the sexual/political violence of penetration (Açıksöz 2012; Açıksöz and Korkman 2013; Başaran 2014; Şengül 2014; White 2014). The state of emergency declared after the coup attempt allows the government to extend its capacity to punish opponents with utmost literal and symbolic force. As those who dare to attempt to violently overthrow the government are to be ruthlessly punished, so are those who breach the prescribed boundaries of the masculinist prerogative of sexual violence. As the powers of execution, legislation, and judiciary are centralized, so is the power to (decide who may) legitimately penetrate.
During the coup attempt and its aftermath we witnessed the killings of protesting civilian men by uniformed men, the tank captures by civilian men who then attacked the uniformed men and posed to cameras mounted over cannon tubes that looked like oversized penises/perfect phallic attachments, the president’s appearance on television under duress surrounded by guard men displaying large guns, the torture of soldiers under custody through (threats of) rape, and finally the gathering of men, some in suits and some in uniforms, to declare a state of emergency. All felt like a feminist nightmare, where the monopoly of violence was contested among men, who would fight it out and then protect “our” women and attack “their” women. A secularist acquaintance appallingly remarked, “we will take you (women and children) to a safe island and come back to fight,” while a shocking tweet read, “Wives of the military coup soldiers are our war-trophy.” With progovernment protestors filling the public during the night, not only did (unveiled) women express fear and experiences of street harassment and strategize their mobility and clothing to self-protect, but also protestor women were governed more closely and asked to dress modestly and participate not among but beside the men (Tahaoğlu 2016). This was a moment for reasserting political rule through reiterating the heteronormative boundaries of masculinist sexual violence.
What challenges does this moment pose for feminist politics? Feminists have called on their sisters among the protestors to display solidarity against men’s assaults on unveiled women whom they attacked as “secular pro-coup” along with their usual penetration-based insults. They recalled the rally of pious and secular feminists against...