Atatürk's Republic

Following Turkish News, Politics, Arts and Culture

Turkish Airlines, Fashion and Feminism

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Turkish Airlines, named the best airline in Europe for 2012, has also drawn its share of negative national and international attention in recent months.  First it faced vociferous criticism for the conservative look of its proposed new uniforms for flight attendants.  Then it was reported that the airline would ban bright colors of lipstick and nail polish.  Both of these incidents provoked accusations that the airline was imposing conservative Islamic values on its flight attendants.

Turkish Airlines is just the most recent focus of accusations of creeping Islamization in Turkey.  Though some examples used to prove the thesis that Turkey is sliding toward Sharia are gender neutral, like restrictions on alcohol, most often critics focus on real or perceived restrictions on women, and more specifically women’s appearance.  The most civil criticisms of the proposed Turkish Airlines uniforms deemed them too “conservative.”  There is no denying that they are a departure from the bright pink mini-dresses worn by the company’s flight attendants in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  However, what most likely caught the attention of Turkish critics of the uniform were the long coats worn by some of the women in the pictures from the company’s fashion show.  In Turkey long overcoats are part of the everyday outfit of religiously conservative but fashionable young women who also choose to wear a headscarf.  Women who cover their heads have long been banned from state jobs including teaching, law and even serving as an elected official.  Though not officially excluded in the private sector, many face discrimination and often were unofficially excluded from working with the public.  The first “covered women” began working for Turkish Airlines just in September of last year.  These long overcoats most likely were designed to cater to the fashion sensibilities of these women specifically as most of the other styles shown, while modest by most standards, show too much leg for the vast majority of covered women.  However, since the coats were shown without a scarf, some may have interpreted this as a sign that women who do not cover will be forced to dress like those who do.

Seemingly unaware that Turkish Airlines had backed down on the red lipstick ban, yesterday the Ukrainian feminist protest group FEMEN posted a statement and pictures to its website in protest of the ban.  FEMEN’s trademark protest is publicly bared breasts, symbolizing their demand that women be able to control their own body and appearance.  Lately they have made the international news for protesting against what they perceive as Shariazation in the Arab Spring countries.  FEMEN is an extreme example, but its stance that by definition nudity is freeing and modesty is oppressive is an intellectual current that runs through mainstream secular feminism.  While the right of a woman who chooses to dress in revealing clothing to be free from harassment has been championed by mainstream feminism, the right of a woman who chooses to cover her body and hair to work or go to school has been largely ignored.  For example, there was no similar media frenzy when rectnly a Turkish lawyer in a headscarf was dismissed from a courtroom by a male judge, despite the fact that the ban on female lawyers wearing such attire had been lifted.  Turkey’s entry into the EU has been stalled for years, in part due to Turkey’s illiberal record in areas like freedom of the press.  However, in 2005 the European Court of Human rights upheld a ban on students wearing headscarves in public universities (the ban was lifted by the government in 2010).

Those that consider themselves liberals and feminists need to realize that in liberal, secular societies women should have just as much right to cover as to uncover themselves.  If the right to wear red lipstick to work is inalienable, then the right to wear a red hijab should be too.  Organizations like FEMEN that campaign against Islamic inspired dress distract from the deeper and universal issues of domestic violence, pay discrimination and access to maternal and reproductive services.  Turkish Airlines has received a lot of negative press over its recent fashion faux pas, but it has also benefited from the fact that these controversies have also served to distract from more pressing issues facing its employees.  Unionized members of Turkish Airlines began a strike early this morning.  However, the strike has no connection to the regulations on appearance that have gripped the attention of conventional and social media.  Statements from  Hava-Is union representatives make it clear that Turkish Airlines history of repressing employees right to strike through layoffs and the company’s dubious safety record is a bigger threat to employees than any of the recent proposed changes to their dress code.  Public outcry gave Turkish Airline stewardesses back their right to wear bright lipstick, but it is a hollow victory considering the larger issues at stake.

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Written by ataturksrepublic

May 15, 2013 at 8:31 pm

One Response

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  1. Excellent piece. Agreed.

    Liam Murray

    May 20, 2013 at 8:30 am


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