In one of the most influential novels of all time in Turkey, "Woman Has No Name," the female protagonist with no name says, "They will either tolerate and forgive me or they will humiliate and accuse me. Because I am a woman, just because I am a woman." The novel was written by one of the most prominent and well-respected defenders of women's rights in Turkey, Duygu Asena.
Since her novel was first published in 1986, awareness about women's rights and equality has increased considerably. Some protective laws have been passed and many women have taken action to make public spaces more secure, created online platforms to support each other and spoken up for themselves about any kind of abuse they face. This has led to greater awareness of the fact that violence conducted by men against women must not be tolerated.
Despite the increased awareness and diminishing prevalence of violence against women in the public sphere since the first novel's release, there has been far too little progress made in eliminating the intangible repression and abuse that women face at work and in their private lives.
This is mostly an outcome of a global patriarchal order that exists and exerts great power even in the most developed countries. Asena had also underlined the existence of this insidious and widespread threat to gender equality in her masterpiece, most probably because she was also a victim of it, even though she came from a well-educated and prosperous family.
No More Flowers: Film and women
The universal existence of this intangible repression against women was also emphasized at one of the most highly anticipated art events of the year in the cultural capital of Turkey, the Istanbul Film Festival (IFF). This year, in the 37th round of the festival, there was a new section, "No More Flowers," which was dedicated to bringing together 10 different films featuring a strong female character who was bold and persevering in her struggle to protect her rights or pursue her dreams.
Some of those strong women were comparatively privileged professionals such as judges and business executives, and some were from more humble backgrounds, like the American veteran of the Iraq war who ended up as a mentally ill and homeless person in NYC, or the mother who made ends meet by being a sex worker in Argentina.
In Ana Urushadze's directorial debut "Scary Mother," which successfully created excitement in international festival circles last year, a middle-aged mother risks her physical and mental health by writing a frantic, pornographic and hostile novel about the members of her family who have been repressing and forcing her to conform to their idea of family roles.
In "Numéro Une" (Number One), the female protagonist, a highly respected French business executive, faces a nearly identical type of discouragement from her husband and also gets fiercely besieged by her male rivals on the way to her well-deserved promotion as the CEO of a company.
Both films highlight the struggles women often face from the men in their lives; these stories starkly show the ways in which men put women down, even while these men are supposed to give full support to their "beloved" ones so that they can achieve their own dreams.
There were many scenes in both films that were painful and uncomfortable to watch, partly because they resonate so much with the real experiences of women confronting these "quiet" or "private" types of oppression.
Another intangible type of female repression widespread in many societies is the incorrect association of women with certain specific roles and professions.
This kind of struggle women face was elegantly and beautifully portrayed at the IFF in "L'amour des Hommes" (Of Skin and Men), a film by Mehdi Ben Attia. He depicts how the conventional roles usually at work in the model-photographer relationship can be exquisitely reversed.
At the question and answer session after the screening, he acknowledged the dominance lf male-oriented narratives in Tunisian movies and added that his intention in making the film was to help reverse this situation by using an unconventional and bold story line where the protagonist, who is a female art photographer, takes salacious photos of men.
Yves Hinant and Jean Libon similarly aim to show the unconventional sides of women through the story of a real life Belgian judge, Anne Gruwez, in their mockumentary/docudrama, "Ni Juge Ni Soumise" (So Help Me God). Judge Gruwez entertains the audience with her peculiar and deadpan approach towards the defendants. She also astonishes the audience with her untimely and inappropriate inquiries to a sex worker on the bizarre requests of her customers – just because the topic catches her interest. Yet, she manages to gain the admiration of defendants, detectives and colleagues in the story; most importantly she wins over the cinema-going audience with her eccentric, outspoken and uncompromising character.
Untold stories, biased perceptions
Cinema, as with many industries, is not gender equal by any stretch of the imagination, as the past year has shown for the entire world to see. But even in more subtle ways, the film industry is still under the dominance of male stories and male narratives. Therefore, the IFF brought together a number of important decision makers at a panel called "Women in Film: What has changed up until today and what is next?" to discuss the current state of women and their presence in the film industry.
Francine Raveney, Project Manager at Eurimages and former director of the European Women's Audiovisual (EWA) Network, provided some extremely disappointing but eye-opening statistics based on pan-European research carried out by the EWA Network.
The research suggests that there is actually relative gender equality in film schools across Europe but when it comes to making a career in the film industry, the percentage for women fell roughly to 24 percent. Moreover, when it comes to national film funding, the share of funding awarded to female directors ranges from 11 percent to 28 percent of overall funding, a clear disparity.
The underrepresentation of women's narratives in Turkish cinema is even more severe than the situation in Europe. The share of women directors who released a movie between 1990 and 2001 was just 5.76 percent. Back then, it was still considered quite a significant jump from the levels of 1980s cinema. That came in at 1.25 percent.
Unfortunately, Melis Behlil, the moderator of the panel and an associate professor at Kadir Has University confirmed that the number is still only hovering at around a very weak 5 percent based on her study carried out in 2015-16.
There are also some other widespread biased perceptions that need to be broken down. For example, most men working in film think that camerawork is not suited for ladies. "Trying to convince my colleagues that I am as capable of doing all the required physical work as my male counterparts was the most difficult part of my 11-year career, contrary to what is believed. Having to carry all the cameras and equipment and having all the back pain…" Meryem Yavuz, one of the few female directors of photography in Turkey, said during the panel discussion.
There has been a substantial increase in awareness about gender inequality since the 1986 publication of "Woman Has No Name," yet it is clearly recognized that policy-level action is needed to help eliminate the problem. Therefore, established institutions such as Eurimages and the European Council are committing themselves to achieve gender equality throughout the industry by implementing a "50/50 by 2020" strategy designed to help increase the visibility of female talent in all aspects of cinema – not just in front of, but also behind, the camera.
As Anna Serner, the CEO of the Swedish Film Institute put it, "I don't either claim that everything is going to be better when women are more involved or claim that women are better at directing than men. However, I surely know that women have different stories and different narratives because women are able to look at the issue from different perspectives. Just because of this reason, more women should be in the sector."
We should always keep in mind that women are capable of doing everything men can do, but also remember that we do it with a different touch. This will help bring more diversity to the stories that women and men tell, and accordingly will enrich the films, increase empathy, delight the audience and hopefully make the world a slightly better place by expanding the variety and quality of cinematic stories and narratives.
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