The Cleaning of Mountains and Homes: a critical military studies video analysis of the representation of female personnel in the Turkish Armed Forces (2/2)

4. Methodology

In order to study the representation of women in the TAF, the rest of the paper presents the results of the analysis of eleven videos that deal with women in the TAF. The media were all hosted on YouTube, and either made or published by the TAF, or made by one of the Turkish news agencies, respectively Anadolu Agency, Haber Turk and A Haber. As far as the author is concerned, these were all the existing videos on this topic created post July 15 2016 by either television broadcasting networks or the TAF itself, as the only two selection criteria were that the videos were made after the radical post-15 July restructuring of the TAF and were from an official news institution or the TAF.1 While some of the videos deal with recruitment, other videos have the aim to inform, or to celebrate women’s day. The videos show women from different parts of the military organization, but the majority of the videos centers around women in the gendarmerie (see figure 1).

  Name Date Produced by Published on YouTube Purpose  Military Branch
1 TSK’dan Dünya Kadınlar Günü’ne özel video2
08-03-2018 TSK TRT Haber/TSK Celebration of the World Women’s Day NA
2 Sınırımız Bu Kadın Askerlere Emanet3
26-07-2017 TSK TSK Information/ Recruitment Land forces (Infantry Brigade)
3 Zeytin Dalı’nın kadın subayları4
03-03-2018 Anadolu Agency HaberCi Information/ Recruitment Land forces (Fourth Commando Brigade)
4 Turkish Armed Forces “Kadın Komandolar” Türk Silahlı Kuvvetleri5
08-01-2017 Haber Turk TSK Information/ Recruitment Land forces
5 TSK – JSGA Gümbür Gümbür Geliyorlarrrr!6
20-10-2017 A Haber HaberCi Informative Land forces (Gendarmerie)
6 “Temizliği dağda ve evde yapabiliriz”7
07-03-2017 Anadolu Agency HaberCi Information/ Recruitment/ World Women’s Day Land forces (Gendarmerie)
7 Doğu Akdeniz’in ortasında bir kadın subay8
06-03-2018 Anadolu Agency/ TSK Information/ Recruitment/ World Women’s Day Coastguard
8 Geleceğin kahraman kadın jandarmalarını onlar yetiştiriyor9
13-06-2018 Anadolu Agency TSK Information/ Recruitment Land forces (Gendarmerie)
9 İşte TSK’nın Kadın komutanları10
09-03-2018 A Haber ZaMliY HaRMe Information Land forces (Gendarmerie)
10 Turkish Armed Forces “Kadın Subay Sınırlaması Kalkıyor” Türk Silahlı Kuvvetleri11
17-01-2017 TSK Information/ Recruitment Land forces (Gendarmerie)
11 Turkish Armed Forces “TSK’nın gözbebeği Özlem Üsteğmen” Türk Silahlı Kuvvetleri12
16-01-2017 DHA TSK Information/ Recruitment Land forces

Figure 1 – Overview of the data

The analysis of the videos was done from a critical military studies (CMS) approach. As Basham and Bulmer (2017) describe, CMS considers the military, and gendered military power in particular, as a result of contestation, conflicting discourses, and social life. It does aim to avoid analyzing gender in the military by using fixed categories, and “common feminist ‘short-hands’” (p.59). CMS is thereby critical of the way in which the term ‘military masculinity’, although important in the study of women in the army, too often has become a ‘comfortable story’, a too easily applied concept devoid of meaning. Moreover, feminist studies of gender in the military have too often portrayed men and women in an essentialist manner. Especially anti-militarist feminism, in their criticism of war and military masculinity, have often referred to men as more prone to violence, thereby essentializing the use of force and neglecting female participation in military activities (Freedman, 2012; Sinclair-Webb, 2000). CMS, on the contrary

deconstructs and destabilizes the gendered boundaries routinely drawn in our analysis of war and militarism, showing where they fail, are negotiated or resisted (Basham & Bulmer, 2017, p. 60).

This allows us to recognize how in reality, gender identity and its representations are often complex and messy. Indeed, gender is performative, and (military) masculinity should not be considered as being necessarily limited to men only; also women go through a socialization process at the army where they are taught to behave in a certain way (Greenwood, 2017; Rones & Fasting, 2017). Avoiding fixed categories also allows us to conceptualize the relationship between the military and gender as dynamic and contingent and thus open to change.

            Analyzing videos fits very well the CMS approach. Videos combine textual material with visual images, thereby providing different dimensions of the performativity of gender, as it is often in visual material that military practices are presented and justified (Brownfield-Stein, Woodward, & Duncanson, 2017). In order to include these different dimensions into the analysis, I have refrained from what is done in many video analyses, namely solely transcribing the text and then analyzing the discourse (Kristensen, 2018). Instead, I regard discourse as broader than spoken/written text alone, and instead looked at the visual material as well. I thereby follow scholars like Erickson (2006), who include verbal and non-verbal interaction in their analysis. This also allowed me to take into account both the representation of women produced by the author(s) of the video, and the way the women present themselves, as “in Shepherd’s terms, the “doer” is at once produced by and productive of their representation” (In Greenwood, 2017, p. 90). Moreover, by considering these videos as ‘meaning-constructing’ rather than ‘meaning-preserving’ (Greenwood, 2017), the video analysis can, in line with CMS, analyze the complex meanings created at both the textual and visual level.

            Concretely, the following steps were performed to analyze the data. First, all verbal material in the videos was transcribed, and then translated from Turkish to English. After this was done, a detailed description of all videos was made, including both the verbal and non-verbal material, which involved a reviewing of the videos multiple times (with and without sound) to capture all different aspects. This was followed by a round of open coding of the descriptions, to determine the possible codes. Based on this, an excel sheet was made with the different categories represented in the different videos, from which then the final points of analysis were developed by rereading the description of all videos. The results of this process will be the focal point of the following section, while the discussion section will try to put the findings in the contemporary Turkish context through the process of inter‘text’tuality. 

However, before turning to the findings, it is important to note the limitations to the research approach. Firstly, the videos used were a result of a specific search for videos on female personnel in the TAF. It is, however, possible that there are videos that do not directly deal with the topic of women in the army, but nevertheless portray women. These videos might portray female personnel very differently. Moreover, the videos, being official material produced by TAF or newspapers, tells us more about the representation of women by the military and/or the news, in which the discourse of the women is part of the official representation, than about the women’s personal perception about their position in the military. Thirdly, the material only covers some parts of the military organization, and can thus not be considered as enabling us to understand the representation of all women in the army. Lastly, I analyzed sources of both the TAF and newspaper articles together, as in recent years, both are increasingly influenced by the Turkish state (Newman, Fletcher, Kalogeropoulos, Levy, & Nielsen, 2018) and thus together could give a good image of the representation of female army personnel. However, one should not forget the impact of the producer of the video on the representation provided. Despite these limitations, the analysis performed can give a good first impression of the representation of women, and thus provide the starting point for future research.

5. Findings: Fighting like men, but not being born that way

The analysis of the videos portrayed very clearly how masculinity and femininity, as well as the traditional male and female roles in Turkish society, do not neatly fit the representation of women in the TAF. Instead, the portrayal of the women was pushing the boundaries of these categories. At the same time, stereotypes of women and their ideal societal role are not necessarily overcome in the videos, but rather placed alongside the women’s role in the military. In the next sections, I discuss first how the women are portrayed as real fighters, but subsequently also why this portrayal still sets them apart from men, on the one hand, due to the fact that their participation requires a justification, and on the other hand because they have to justify their role of fighters alongside their other obligations of being a wife or mother.

Female Mehmetçikler

In all the videos analyzed, the women were portrayed as having an active role in the military that went beyond the office position traditionally assigned to female personnel. In fact, only very occasionally, they were portrayed in the office; in the majority of the time, they were displayed ‘in action’, amongst others when doing shooting training, marching, pushing up, or giving orders to their subordinates. As first Lieutenant Özlem states:

I started this road to show that women don’t work in ‘deployed-in garrison’ and that they can also be successful in combat classes (video 11)

highlighting that one of the aims of the women’s commitment to the army is also to show that they can obtain an active role in the army.

Figure 2 – Shots of 4 different videos showing women in action
Figure 3 – Two shots of 2 different leading large groups of male personnel

As the shots of the different videos display (figure 2 and 3), the videos show how women engage in the physical activities that are generally part of active fighting roles. In both the visual and vocal discourses of the videos, women are clearly portrayed as not doing under for men, or in fact, that in the army there is no such thing as gender:

This work is not about gender, it’s about the homeland. A female lion is also a lion. In our profession there is no such thing as discrimination between women and men. (Lieutenant, video 6)

The lieutenant speaking here clearly highlights how, in light of the fight for the country, gender becomes irrelevant. What is essential is the individual’s contribution to the protection of the homeland, regardless of the gender of that person. The negation of the importance of gender is a general sentiment that is supported throughout the videos: someone’s gender is irrelevant on the battleground, where it is about performance, dedication, and patriotism. It is highlighted that women in the army are dressed the same as men, perform the same tasks, get the same training, and thus operate side by side with men. Only very few videos highlight the specific ‘female features’ that make women fit for certain parts of the military – amongst others shooting, as they can control their breathing better than men (video 10), while none of the videos address the difficulties women face within the army; all videos stress that the difficulties women face in their professional life in the TAF are linked to their profession, not their gender.

The focus on the performance of women, the fact that they are portrayed as having the ability to operate like men, on the one hand negates the traditional idea of a military in which only men can participate because it requires ‘masculine’ qualities like physical strength, power and minimal complaints. On the other hand, however, it also becomes clear that this focus on the fact that women are able to perform like men, that they are able to adopt and perform these masculine practices, reflects the need to justify their place in this traditionally male institution. Thus, the continuous focus placed on the education and performance of women, which grants them access to higher positions in the army, provides one of the justifications13 for their active role in the army. It is stated in several videos that they obtain the same training as men, and hence are ready to face the same challenges, providing, as the reporter on the women in the Afrin operation states, “the most important proof that female military personnel will be able to work under the same conditions as male officers” (video 3). Thus, the videos seem to portray an image of women who earn their position through merit, which comes from their educational level and their performance. It is their achievements that allow them a place in the military, as they do not under for men in the army, or even “surpass their male colleagues” as the reporter from A Haber states (video 5).

            Merit is, however, not the only justification for the more active role of women in the army as presented in the videos. The second justification comes from the history of female participation in the army and the nation in general. In several of the videos, the reporters or the female personnel themselves make reference to the fact that the women are part of a legacy of Turkish women active in the military:

Like you said, even if the work you have chosen and the tasks you have to do are difficult as a woman, there is a legacy from history and hence I will perform. (video 3)

This sentiment of the history of active women as not only a justification of the women’s place in the military, but also serves as a driver for their work, as is voiced in several videos. The legacy of women in the Turkish War of Independence, as well as in the times of Atatürk is referred to in order to explain why women can or even should participate actively in the military. More importantly, the historical achievements of women also provides proof for the ability of women to perform, as they have achieved at least as much success as men (video 7) and thus show that women have a lot to achieve in security work (video 8).

            All in all, the image shown of these women in the military highlights their important role in the military, where they do not do under for the men. They are portrayed as strong, well-trained and active actors, which could be considered as defying the feminine characteristics normally ascribed to women. At the same time, the videos give the impression that it is necessary to proof that women in the army are like men. In fact, it seems that while Turkish men are considered to be born as soldiers, women have to proof that they earn their position in the TAF through merit and history. This shows how, while the videos challenge the idea that the military is a male domain, and thus the idea of military masculinity, they at the same time strengthen the idea that one can only join the military if one is able to perform masculinity.

Fighting daughters, wives and mothers

Next to the focus placed on women’s performances and history to justify female participation in the military, there is one other reoccurring topic: how to combine the work in the military with the other roles women play, as daughters, wives and mothers, thereby reflecting the roles discussed by Altinay (2004). The role of daughter is present in about half of the videos, and takes the form of the women discussing the response of their families to their decision to join the army. The focus that is placed on the families’ responses highlights the fact that female participation in the military is not self-evident. Moreover, it indicates the existence of a paternalism in which the occupation of the women is considered a family concern, instead of a personal decision of the woman.

My father has humor, he said: because my son isn’t, I sent my daughter to the army. I am very proud of this actually. (First Lieutenant Erdogan, video 4)

The quote by first lieutenant Erdogan highlights how Erdogan’s participation is placed in comparison with that of her brother, who decided not to join the army. The latter’s inaction is taken as an explanation for her participation, instead of valuing her participation in its own right. Moreover, the fact that her father jokes that he sent her to the army after her brother decided not to go highlights how female participation remains considered the exception to male participation. At the same time, however, the role of daughter as represented in the videos is, like Altinay describes, not necessarily considered to be in conflict with the women’s role in the military. Although, as some of the women describe, their family was worried or even shocked when they found out about their wish to join the army, this fear soon turned into pride and hence the parents support their daughters’ decision. The focus on the family of the women thus highlights the fact that their participation is not considered self-evident, and that their position is not societally unchallenged. In the meantime, the necessity of support does not problematize their participation in the army, and the women remain their families’ daughters, even in uniform.

Figure 4 – Camera zooms into the marriage picture of female first lieutenant (video 2)

That the women in the TAF are also wives or mothers is likewise repeatedly stated and displayed throughout various videos. While in Altinay’s (2004) description, the role of women or wife excludes them from an active participation in the military, these women seem to defy this traditional division of roles. As one of the lieutenants states:

handmade pastry and gun holding women we are. We have the power to clean the mountains and our homes (Video 6)

thereby indicating that the women’s work in the gendarmerie does not conflict with their household chores. As picture 4 shows, the focus on women’s private life was also reflected in the visual material: while the lieutenant is working, the camera zooms into her marriage picture, depicting her as a wife. Like being a wife, being a mother is also a role that obtains a specific notion in several of the videos. As the reporter in video 9 states:

Mother of two children, this female officer is commanding 72 men in the gendarmerie command

thus highlighting the fact that while being a mother, she is also able to perform a leading position in the gendarmerie. The emphasis placed on motherhood underscores that, when women join the army, their motherly role is not lost. Thus, it is stressed in the videos, their commitment in the army does not defy their traditional role, which is to raise the new generation of patriots, but rather is added to their prime role as mother. As is stated in video 4:

above everything they are mothers

The way in which the wife or mother roles of the women is presented thereby strengthens the stereotypical role of women and indicates a need to show that their femininity is retained.  In fact, it provides the image that the work of the women in the army is their second responsibility, after that of being mother or wife. The question of combining both the ‘fighters role’ and the ‘mothers role’ is most interestingly portrayed in video 4, which was posted by the TAF and deals with female commanders. As reflected in the quotes below, as well as in figure 5, this video portrays the mother and fighter role as two roles that do not overlap, but instead take place at different times and places:

But of course they leave their ‘mother role’ at the door of the 4th Commanders Brigade. (Video 4)

The uniforms that they left at the doors they put on again if they leave work. In other words they become again mother and/or wife. Maybe the nicest thing of the day is to eat dinner with their husband and kids. (Video 4)

The video displays the women in both their military activities, as well as during their family life. It thereby completely separates these two aspects of the female life: as in a rite, the women are thought to leave their ‘mother role’ or ‘mother uniforms’ at the doorstep when they enter the barracks, thereby portraying their mother role as incompatible with their work for the 4th Commanders Brigade. This thereby reinforces the masculine image of the army, to which the women have to adopt by transforming once they enter the barracks.

Figure 5 – Being a fighter and being a mother, two different roles (video 4)

Altogether, the videos discussed portray the different facets of the women’s lives, but thereby very easily fall into stereotypes about feminine roles. The need to stress the remaining existence of the role of mother and wife highlights that their participation in the army does not necessarily challenge the traditional roles as discussed by authors like Altinay (2004) and White (2011), but instead considers military participation as an addition to these primary roles. And, as the last video showed, such a combination of the motherhood and wife roles and their military activity might only be possible as long as they leave their “feminine sides” at home.

6. Discussion & Conclusion

The previous sections have discussed the historical development of women in the army, and have analyzed how far the current developments are also reflected in the representation of women in the army. The findings, however, should not be regarded in isolation; they are embedded in a larger (discursive) context that informs the findings. This section will discuss how these developments fit within more general developments in Turkey.

             As discussed before, the increased focus on female participation in the TAF falls together with a radical restructuring of the whole security apparatus in Turkey. Although there is a lot of secrecy around these developments, these might very well be linked to a certain extent with the increased focus on female participation in the army. The military developments are not the only relevant context, however: also the government’s discourse and policies towards women and the workforce is of importance. As part of the European Union (EU) accession negotiations, the AKP developed several gender policies over the years, many of them focused on women’s participation in the workforce. As Akman’s (2017) research on AKP’s gender discourse shows, AKP’s gender policies became over the years increasingly centered around the idea that the primary role of any women is that of mother and wife, who carry ‘national and moral values of the nation’. This thereby reflected the Kemalist discourse on women’s role with regards to the nation, but under the AKP became ingrained in a religious justification, arguing that motherhood was given the highest status in Islam. At the same time, however, the AKP combined this religious discourse with a neoliberal discourse and practices, which necessitated the promotion of women into paid employment. Consequently, “[t]he liberal-conservative discourse and governance under the AKP period was characterized by a tension from an emphasis on ‘individualism in the marketplace and the preservation of communal traits of the Turkish society’” (Akman, 2017, p. 23), thereby aiming to prevent women to be forced to do a trade-off between work and motherhood.

The findings of the video analysis presented in this paper reflect these discursive practices described by Akman (2017). Indeed, the representation of women shows this tension between the space given to women to participate in paid labor, while at the same time expecting that they can still perform their wife/mother role. It thereby fits very neatly within what Akman (2017) describes as “the new face of patriarchy” (p.27) which glorifies domestic labor but also promotes women’s paid work, and shows the limits of female recruitment to fundamentally challenge patriarchal dynamics. Despite the importance of female participation in the labor market, and the military in particular, it is therefore questionable in how far the current developments effectively challenge existing patriarchal norms. Instead, the focus on gender issues

has become another discursive and policy tool in its gender populism to integrate women in a subordinate status into the labor market (Akman, 2017, pp. 27–28).

The representation of women’s work in the army also informs us about the relation between gender, the imagination of the nation-state and citizenship. As stated above, the imagination of the nation-state, and the right to full citizenship in Turkey is linked to participation in the army. It is conscription that makes out of boys full citizens, and thereby defines the masculine nation-state. While at first sight, it seems that women’s participation in the army would also grant them these rights, the presentation of female labor as a neoliberal requirement limits its potential to create full citizenship for Turkish women. As Akman (2017) states

[w]omen’s social, political and economic participation was also framed with regards to national development objectives, rather than women’s equal citizenship rights with men. (p.11)

This is furthermore strengthened by the fact that women’s participation is still represented as an exception, a conditional state, contrary to the male soldiers who were born that way.

            In conclusion, the analysis of the videos on women in the TAF reveal the ambiguity in the representation of women. The videos portray omen both as active fighters but this does not ensure that they are placed on equal footing with their male colleagues. As a result, it can be questioned whether the increased focus on women, and their more active role, in the military, really challenges the masculine nature of the Turkish military: even though the current developments grant women more possibilities for active participation in the TAF, the decades old triangle between gender, the military, and the nation-state remains largely intact.


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Citer ce billet
Laura Meijer (2018, 25 octobre). The Cleaning of Mountains and Homes: a critical military studies video analysis of the representation of female personnel in the Turkish Armed Forces (2/2). Observatoire de la vie politique turque. Consulté le 20 juin 2024, à l’adresse

  1. This is to say that any videos coming from individual actors such as patriot clubs were not included. []
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  13. The second justification comes from the historical dimension, and will be discussed below. []

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