On 12 September 2016, the first day of the Eid al-Adha holiday, a woman was assaulted on a public bus in Istanbul for wearing shorts. Hurriyet Daily News reported that “An unidentified man at the back of the bus initially shouted ‘those who wear shorts must die,’ before physically attacking and kicking her in the face and shouting ‘you are a devil.’”  This is, of course, disturbing news for anyone who cares about Turkish society.

The alleged attacker, Abdullah Çakıroğlu, was at first released but—after the uproar it caused in the country—was re-arrested on 19 September on charges of “inciting animosity”. Mr. Çakıroğlu’s testimony in itself is chilling, and tells the story of a deeply divided society:

People can embrace others’ faith but they cannot ignore it. Everything has a proper way. Had she dressed properly, we would not have acted that way. If people wear pants or at least a tracksuit, we would be less aroused […] When I turned my head to the left, I saw a woman opposite of my seat. She wore shorts and was sitting in an obscene way with her legs sideways. She was staring at me with an obtrusive look. I lost myself in an instant. I thought she disregarded the values of our country and society and she did not show respect for herself and the people around her with her clothing style. My spiritual side took over and I kicked her in the face.

With a spiritual side like that, it’s a wonder that French Sociologist Emile Durkheim was able to say that religion could hold society together by fostering a sense of shared values, but that is beside the point. In response to this deplorable assault, the Turkish Justice Ministry introduced a new law on 19 September; “those who commit intentional offences against the physical integrity of another person will be able to be arrested with the ministry’s draft law” and such assaults will carry a penalty of up to two years in prison. While this is a good development (insofar as it will mean punishment for similar attacks in the future), it is important to note that women face maltreatment in many other public realms as well.


The Attacker Is In Custody. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/i-would-be-less-aroused-if-she-had-worn-pants-says-man-who-attacked-woman-for-wearing-shorts-in-istanbul.aspx?pageID=238&nID=104087&NewsCatID=509

A good example of this in the sports world came in December of 2014, when then coach of Osmanlispor Osman Ozkoylu took offense to a journalist at a post-game press conference. After Mr. Ozkoylu complained about refereeing decisions that went against his team, he responded to a female journalist who, apparently, laughed at him. Perhaps unable to stomach the slight—especially coming from a female—Mr. Ozkoylu lost his cool and had to be restrained by security guards as he confronted her. Video of the confrontation can be seen in the earlier link, as well as from a different angle in this Youtube clip. A female anchor for Turkish news channel NTV couldn’t even bring herself to utter the coach’s full name when reporting on the confrontation. The interesting point to note here, above all else, is that Mr. Ozkoylu (at the time) did not seem to find anything wrong with confronting a female in this manner. Of course, Turkish football is no stranger to such controversies. In 2012 we also saw current Elazigspor coach Umit Ozat say—on live television—that “women did not understand football as well as men”. Ironically, Mr. Ozat would hire a female as an assistant coach two years later.


Mr. Ozat and his assistant, Duygu Erdogan. Image Courtesy of: http://www.star.com.tr/spor/umit-ozat-kadinlar-futboldan-anlamaz-demisti-ama-haber-956761/

Interestingly, the connection between women and gender roles regarding sports in the Middle East has garnered attention for the wrong reasons elsewhere as well, where patriarchal values again came to the fore. After it was revealed in 2014 that Lebanese skier Jackie Chamoun posed naked for a photoshoot on the ski slopes, it prompted Lebanon’s Youth and Sports Minister Faisal Karami to call for an investigation into the photos to ensure ‘the protection of Lebanon’s reputation’. Just as Mr. Çakıroğlu found it his responsibility to police a woman’s morals on a bus, and as Mr. Ozkoylu found it his responsibility to respond to a perceived slight by a female journalist, then Mr. Karami found it his responsibility to defend his country’s “reputation”.


Can’t We All Just Get Along? After All, Ms. Chamoun Rocks Lebanese Nationalism Well on the Slopes. Image Courtesy of http://www.aboutleb.com/lebanon-news/228/topless-skier-jackie-chamoun-the-least-of-lebanons

The concept of “honor” and “reputation” can sometimes be closely related to the perceived “normal” gender roles that are supposed to be reflected in society. In all the instances I have mentioned, the individual reactions stem from a tendency to follow the the societal models of gender identity; when it is perceived that they are not being followed it prompts a reaction. The female is supposed to “dress modestly” when in public and certainly not pose for (half) naked pictures, just as the female is not supposed to ridicule the man in public and the female is not supposed to discuss things—like football—that are outside of their typical sphere of knowledge (again, a sphere defined by culture). Ultimately, this represents another way in which developments in the wider social world are sometimes mirrored in the sports world; sports can offer another angle from which we can look at different societies.