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Thursday, February 22, 2018

Linda Rader Overman is very proud of her student's critical film review of Mustang by director, Deniz Gamze Ergüven




Religion, Men & the Virginity Fetish by Abigail Mazenod

It is hard, almost impossible, to watch Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s film Mustang, and not feel pure emotional distress for the female characters involved in such a misogynistic social structure. With the experiences shown of five sisters being held captive in their own home, reminiscent of the five Lisbon sisters in The Virgin Suicides, also between the ages of 12 and 17 and being married off one by one, reminiscent of Tevya and his five daughters in Fiddler on the Roof, this film shows the distress, depression, frustration and abuse that can go hand in hand with enforcing such a strictly rigid observation of religious customs. All of these extremely religious and strict social constructs seem to only do harm to the women involved, while only giving more power to the men involved. These young women live in an environment within a culture, which restricts them from being the people that they innately are; they are forced into isolation and for most of them an unwanted marriage.  One consistent idea that is expressed and almost overemphasized in both the movie and the conservative religious culture involved, is the fetishized idea of the importance of virginity concerning the value of women. Mustang critiques the almost obsessive importance of virginity with the use of costumes, settings, and the examples of the religious Turkish customs shown in the film.
 One of the first ways that the film shows the cultural importance of virginity is through the costumes used. In the first scene, all five girls are shown wearing school uniforms. These uniforms not only express a lack of identity for young people in Turkey, but they also present an idea of innocence to the viewer. Young women who wear school uniforms are generally in a religious or strict school environment, with an association of purity. This schoolgirl virgin is also an image that is commonly fetishized by the western world, and in the context of this film, is possibly an acknowledgement of that tainted image, both from the point of view of the director, and that of the girls within the film, showing that they have been influenced by the western world. When these daughters are locked up in their home, any attire that could make them look in any way not virtuous is confiscated, and they are given unflattering new uniforms, lumpy sack dresses and head scarves. These new uniforms strip them of their physical identity in an effort to staunch any voice that they might have, and ensure that no man, except for their future husband, will see too much of their bodies. Though this is a cultural norm in this rural setting in Turkey, the girls still feel a need to rebel by wearing revealing negligee and casual attire whenever possible. When they escape for the day to go to a professional football match, the young women wear casual attire that any westerner can identify with. This choice of outfits is a visual example that they are just young teenage girls who want to have a good time. Though they are going against their grandmother and uncle’s wishes, they still seem like they are pure innocent girls. At their weddings, the girls who get married wear a white dress, representing their purity, and a red veil, representing their still in tact hymen. This color scheme expresses all of the importance and value that this culture sees in women in a very visual way. A woman is first a virgin, then a wife, then a mother and a homemaker; her only importance and worth in this society is how she is associated with a man, and a woman who has no man is worthless.
Another way that the unnecessary emphasis on virginity in this culture is expressed in this film is through the setting. An early scene in the film shows young girls and boys playing in the waves at the beach. This beach is the perfect symbol of purity and innocence because it is beautiful and clean. The young people are roughhousing in the waves, and playing chicken. A viewer of this scene might be concerned with the safety of these girls, understanding that this is in a conservative setting and the characters haven’t been fully presented in a multidimensional way yet. It is quickly understood though, that these young women can take very good care of themselves when it comes to peers of the opposite sex. The girls are confident and have no problem fighting back in a playful way. This scene shows that they are assertive girls who just enjoy having a good time. Next, the scene changes showing the young people have left the beach and are picking apples from a garden: the forbidden fruit. This garden is symbolic of the Garden of Eden, another religious tale, cautiously told to warn men of the evil and manipulative temptation of women. This extreme religious visual shows the girls the last time they were sinless and free, before they plucked the forbidden fruit of worldliness and embraced what their elders saw as loose morality. The picking of the ripe fruit is a foreshadowing of the manipulative temptress that these young women will be in the eyes of their community.  This scene marks the beginning of the girls being locked up in their prison of a home, the last time they felt freedom, in order to enforce their kept virginity.
The cultural norms shown in this film are shocking to many of the modern western world. Living in a country where many basic rights are taken for granted, seeing that Turkish men “marry off a girl child at an early age contravenes human rights and children’s rights; it is one of the forms of discrimination and violence against women” (Yüksel-Kaptanoğlu 1708). The film shows the forced marriages and the common practice of virginity examinations before the wedding. Because these “virginity examinations are conducted at the request of individuals or state officials for social reasons, such as suspicions of behavior deemed immoral, premarital intercourse, adultery, and prostitution”(Frank 485), taking the eldest sister, Selma, to the doctor to make sure she actually was a virgin on her wedding night was not outside of the realm of realistic possibility. The scene before shows the newlywed couple consummating their “holy union,” and his parents checking the sheets to see the blood, evidence of a broken hymen. Not only is this practice a complete invasion of privacy, it is practically medieval. Without the broken hymen on her wedding night, the bride is considered less than worthless, she is worthy of disgust. This need for a virgin is so fetishized, that the reward for a well lived religious life in this culture is seventy virgins in the afterlife. It is explained in Al-Itqan Fi `Ulum Al-Quran (translated: The Perfect Guide to the Sciences of the Qu'ran), that as a reward for the good Muslim man in the afterlife, “each time we sleep with a Houri (a virgin companion of Paradise) we find her virgin. Besides, the penis of the Elected never softens. The erection is eternal; the sensation that you feel each time you make love is utterly delicious and out of this world and were you to experience it in this world you would faint. Each chosen one will marry seventy Houris, besides the women he married on earth, and all will have appetizing vaginas”( Al-Suyuti 351). There is no reward expressed for the virtuous Muslim woman in the afterlife with the exception of her joyful reunion with her husband. This misogynistic idea that a man’s sexual appetite is to be satiated with countless virgins and an eternal erection, and that the woman’s only prize is her husband’s satisfaction, is such a disturbing and domineering idea for Muslims to anticipate, that it’s no wonder that the young women in this film need to be physically imprisoned to be kept within their community.
Mustang shows a sad piece of a beautifully rich and vibrant culture. The young women it follows are effervescent, glowing beings, with life and opportunities awaiting their discovery. It shows their journeys and struggles in an oppressive household within an oppressive culture while also showing the powerful strength of women, and the human ability to heal, change, adapt and survive. This film gives some perspective on the restrictive reality that many Muslim women experience in their daily life, and the mental, physical and emotional strain that this specific cultural norm has prescribed to the women within it. Throughout the film the fetishized idea of the importance of virginity concerning the value of a woman is expressed and criticized in many ways. Mustang sheds light on the almost obsessive importance of virginity within the Muslim culture in Turkey with the use of costumes, settings, and the examples of the religious customs shown in the film. The characters in this film exemplify that, like the phoenix rises from the ashes, an oppressed woman can rise above and escape her community of oppression.
 
Works Cited
Ergüven, Deniz Gamze, director. Mustang. Ad Vitam, 2015.
Frank, Martina W, et al. “Virginity Examinations in Turkey: Role of Forensic Physicians  in Controlling Female Sexuality.” JAMA, vol. 282, no. 5, 1999, pp. 485–490.
Al-Suyuti, Imam Jalal-Al-Din. The Perfect Guide to the Sciences of the Qu'ran: Al-Itqan
               Fi 'Ulum Al-Qur'an (Great Books of Islamic Civilization). Edited by Osman A.
               Al-Bili. Translated by Michael Schub and Ayman Abdel Haleem, Garnet
               Publishing, 2011.
Yüksel-Kaptanoğlu, Ilknur, and Banu Akadli Ergöçmen. “Early Marriage: Trends in  Turkey, 1978-2008.” Journal of Family Issues, vol. 35, no. 12, Mar. 2014, pp.  1707–1724.




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