It's time. I've been wanting to post my online treatise on this topic for ages, and the opportunity has just presented itself. LE's asleep, BE's off doing some business that couldn't possibly have been managed during the day or with a simple phone call, there was no need for me to cook a proper dinner, and I have a half-finished glass of Asma, a typically sub-standard brand of Turkish wine that's available by the liter and is often on sale. Screw top. Don't knock it.
Headscarves are the talk of the town these days, and have been for over a month, ever since our good leaders voted to change the constitution and allow girls to wear them in universities. The ban on headscarves in public buildings still remains, and at present, CHP (the nationalist party who was in power before the religiously conservative AKP won elections by a landslide) is bringing a challenge to this change to the constitutional court, where it seems likely the new amendment will be overturned.
That's the short version, and this explanation may be lacking due to its brevity. I have just quit paying attention altogether because I'm sick of hearing about it. Sick to death. BE has been an absolute fiend for any news or discussion on the topic. He scours the paper newspapers for a few hours on Saturday and Sunday mornings, the goes online to read it all again, cursing colorfully or asking me if I'd like to go out and buy some headscarves now. Many dinners have been spoiled because of some televised discussion that absolutely MUST be watched, wherein some talking heads who have no actual say on the issue spout off their opinions, all at the same time and with increasing volume so even if I could understand the nuance of their Turkish, I still wouldn't be able to understand because no one gets to finish a sentence before everyone starts talking at the same time. It's like Jerry Springer meets Fox News, only without the hair pulling. Inevitably the panels contain one or two women, covered or not, who spend the entire show chirping 'Can I say something? Can I say something?' (this is a common conversational gambit in Turkish, by the way. Another one is 'I'm going to say something' before saying it, as though it's already built into the conversational structure that no one is listening unless you announce first that you're going to say something), and occasionally they are allowed to say something that amounts to an entire sentence or two but they're usually drowned out by three or four men who all start talking at the same time. And so it goes. The 'moderator' (usually a man) also spends the whole program asking if he can say something, but no one listens to him either, especially if his sentence starts with anything like, for example, 'Hacar Hanım (Mrs. Hacar) is going to say something.'
I digress. I do enjoy poking fun at the details. A quick background on this topic (and again, I apologize if I'm off on the specifics) is that when the Turkish Republic was founded in 1923, as one of several initiatives to make Turkey into a secular state Atatürk banned religious and traditional head coverings for men and women. For the men, no more fezzes (a shame, that. Fezzes are cool, and can be seen on ice cream sellers all over the city) or woolly skullcaps, and for women, no more headscarves. Men were encouraged to wear the more European and 'modern' bowler hat. Some biographers claim this ban stemmed in part from Atatürk's humiliation while attending a party in Europe, where people snickered at his outlandish hat. I guess fezzes weren't considered cool back then. In any case, the point of the ban was twofold-- to make the Turkish public (at least appear) secular, and to make Turkey more European. Over time, the fez ban took but the headscarf ban didn't.
Here's where I get a bit foggy on the history and I'm too lazy to look it up, but I gather Turks were getting a bit lax in their secularism as well as their headgear, and the ban was reinforced or perhaps made more specific again in the 1980s, when the military took over. It was at this time that women were forbidden to wear headscarves on university campuses and in public buildings. Specifically, they cannot be covered on campus when they're there as students or teachers, and civil servants cannot be covered on the job. I point this out because I found it interesting that at the university where I used to work (where 80% or 90% of the female students were covered), women visitors often wore headscarves or even full black chadors (noticeable because chadors aren't especially common here), and the students themselves were often covered in the orientation time before classes had officially begun. When students arrived at the threshold of the campus, the scarves came off and when they crossed it again to leave, the scarves went back on. There was even a special room next to security with blacked out windows to give the girls privacy to change.
The current dispute about lifting the headscarf ban is only about universities (I hear that there are a lot of covered women workers in some state-run companies, but no one seems to be doing anything about that. Conversely, the university I referred to was nearly shut down around 2000 because of people getting sloppy about obeying the law), and it is specifically only about what is called türban in Turkish. Women's headgear has its own language here. Many women, particularly older women and women outside of the cities wear a traditional başörtüsü, meaning 'headcovering.' It looks something like this (though it's not always tied around the neck and I've rarely seen them covering the face):
A lot of other (usually older) women wear scarves outside, though loosely and with hair showing, much like my grandmother did on windy days in San Francisco, to keep her hair neat. Many women in başörtüsü aren't especially fierce about keeping their heads covered outside, and will take them off on the bus or wherever to re-tie them or shake out their hair. The başörtüsü says things like 'I am from the village' or 'I work hard cooking and/or cleaning and I don't want my hair in the way getting dirty.' It can even say 'I belong to such-and-such ethnic group.'
The much-disputed türban looks like this:
or this:It is always worn over a cloth swim-cap-like thing that completely covers the hair and smashes is down. The scarf is pinned or tied under the chin and the neck is covered. It is also pinned to the swim-cap thingie to prevent the scarf coming off, and it's usually folded so that the edges come out beyond the edge of the face like horse blinders. I'm not sure whether this is to prevent the woman from giving askance come-hither glances, or to prevent men from from looking at her from the side, but it sure makes the wearers crappy drivers. The türban is usually worn with a raincoat-like garment (thin or thick according to the season) which hides any hint of (to borrow a phrase from the Black Eyed Peas that cracks me up) lovely lady bumps. Unlike the başörtüsü (and whether the wearer likes it or not), the türban is politically charged in Turkey. It says 'I am a devout Muslim and I'm proud of it.' To some people, it also says things like 'I am oppressed' and 'I am modest and you're not.'
So that's the background and some other information. Really, I have more to say on this whole thing than I have time for (it's getting on my bedtime and my thinking is getting thick), so I'll have to post Headscarf Part II another time, where I will attempt to pick apart my (and others') very mixed feelings on this issue.
May it be sooner rather than later.