How smiling selfies on Twitter are fighting misogyny in Turkey

In an unprecedentedly strong statement, Turkey’s deputy prime-minister Bülent Arinç used his end of Ramadan address to target Turkey’s women. During the speech he scolded women for laughing in public and for using mobile phones to communicate. 

“Women give each other meal recipes while speaking on the mobile phone.‘What else is going on?’ ‘What happened to Ayşe’s daughter?’ ‘When is the wedding?’ Talk about this face to face,”, the deputy lectured. In response, women across the country took to Social Media to mock the demeaning attack. Their strategy? To photograph themselves laughing out loud- then post the images on Twitter and facebook.

Turkish women take to social media 

 The backlash was immediate, and quickly photos of laughing female twitter users were spread across the internet. BBC trending reported that laughter related tweets were sent out 300,000 times over the course of the campaign, most using the hashtag ‘resistlaughter’ written in Turkish. (#direnkahkaha) The photographs showed hundreds of women, of all ages and social classes, united in laughter against misogyny. 

The protest was reminiscent of an Iranian online campaign in which women posted smiling pictures of themselves without a hijab, the Muslim veil. Yet the position of women in Turkish society is hardly a laughing matter. Nor is it unusual anymore for members of Turkey’s ruling party, the AKP, to express themselves critical of the lifestyles of Turkey’s modern woman. Erdogan, who during his time in power rescinded the Kemalist ban on headscarves at Universities, himself commonly refers fondly, albeit patronizingly, to his conservative female supporters as ‘my little headscarved sisters’. That his affection doesn’t include all women in Turkey became clear when in 2010 he invited representatives of Turkey’s leading women’s organizations to Dolmabahce Palace, where he publicly announced that he does not ‘believe in equality between men and women. 

Celebrity support for the campaign 

An unexpected boost for the movement came when Emma Watson, of Harry Potter fame, joined the social media campaign. As the freshly minted UN Women goodwill ambassador, she tweeted a picture of herself laughing in public and posted a link to an article critical of the deputy’s remarks. Other Western public figures joined in, with the vice-President of the EU Commission Neelie Kroes posting under the hashtag #lol and #kahkaha, announcing ‘I’ll laugh when I feel like it.”

From referring to abortion as murder to attacking women for being unchaste, the AKP Government line has become increasingly misogynistic. Tragically, yet perhaps unsurprisingly, violence against women in Turkey has surged. A CNN article on the laughing protest cited a report from 2009 that 40% of Turkish women are the victims of domestic violence. Such stats abound in Turkey, and appear to have only have gotten worse in recent years. In 2012, Turkey ranked 124 out of 135 countries according to the World Economic Forum’s listing of gender equality.

What sets this campaign apart from previous social media protests is that it highlights the plight of women in Turkey. It’s also indicative of the gender-breaching quality of social media, and adds a much needed surge in popularity to the women’s movement in Turkey, which threatened to become eclipsed by other more visible social movements. 

Thankfully, the laughing protest is clearly another win for Turkey’s social media users.

See also: Turkey’s Twitter-Bot army and the politics of social media

Featured image: Beautiful, smiling woman take a picture of herself with digital tablet. Selfie style. Toned in warm colors. Copy space for your text. Outdoors shot, horizontal. via Shutterstock. Copyright: mirela bk

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