The bad girls - female cartoonists in Turkey

Three Men are hiding behind a dune at the beach. They are watching young girls in bikinis entering the sea. “Watch carefully”, one said. “It might be the last summer you can see bikinis and bathing suits”. The latest cover of the Turkish Feminist Cartoon-magazine “Bayan-Yanı” caused a storm on social media. Two women in burkinis are displayed in the drawing as well. “Some readers saw it as an affront to veiled women, some criticised a sexist view of unveiled women,” said cartoonist Ramize Erer. She was not expecting such a reaction. “It is a rather harmless reflection of the habit of traditional men to watch women in bathing suits on the beach”.

Ramize Erer, Bayan Yanı, August 2018

A Cartoon displaying a cemetery reflects that in the first six month of 2018, 120 women and seven children were killed by men. Cartoonist Günay Batur reflects the stage of social and political displacement in the society in her column “aslında” (actually). She enumerates: “The Academics for peace lost their careers due to saying no to war. The workers getting members of unions lost their jobs. Students are imprisoned for harmless demonstrations.  Theatre artists lost their stages. Judges and prosecutors lost their positions, if they neutrally tried to apply law. Unwanted politicians disappeared behind bars. People are discriminated because of their ethnical or religious background.”

LeMan Kültür is a building in Beyoğlu hosting the editorial bureaus of the Satire-magazine LeMan and Bayan Yanı. The café is a popular meeting place for cartoon fans. Witty drawings decorate the space. The cartoon serial Harem in Bayan Yanı made fun of the glorification of the Ottoman past in some popular TV-shows.

Bayan Yanı means “the place beside the lady”. The title refers to the habit of bus firms to sell special tickets for ladies to sit beside each other. “Sometimes the drivers prevent you to sit beside your husband or boyfriend because they need a woman to sit beside a woman, since someone booked a place beside a lady”, Erer said. She is one of the rare female artists accepted at the legendary, so-called “Gırgır-Ecole”.

Ramize Erer, 2018

The satire magazine Gırgır was a bestselling media publication between 1972 until 1989 in the times when Turkish media was suffering from censorship having faced two coup d’états in 1971 and 1980. Gırgır's local heroes created an attractive biotope for the readers, allegorically addressing social ills and taboos. Erer earned her first job at Gırgır with a drawing of a girl admonished by her mother not to secretly smoke in the bathroom.

Meanwhile, the girl sits grinning behind closed doors masturbating in the consciousness of committing a much bigger taboo than the mother imagines. “Chief editor Oğuz Aral criticised me for being not tough enough in my drawings,” she remembered. “I wanted to prove myself and created the bad girl. Aral gave me a table then. He loved the drawing, but the magazine was bombarded with letters by enraged readers about this unbelievable and pornographic drawing targeting the purity of Turkish girls.” “Biz Bıyıksızlar”, we the ones without a beard, grew to a very popular comic strip in the 1980s and 1990s.

“Hihi, I should shut up my Hymen, zzzzzt’ The Hymen is torn! I saved my Hymen. You can put it in your bank account!”- “Psst, we shouldn’t have pressured her so much, our sweetie lost its mind…”

"The bad girl" by Erer is still a cult figure; it stands for the demand for the liberation of women's sexuality. Broad sections of society in Turkey can identify with this topic. The control of female sexuality represents the greatest cross-layer commonality.

Let’s do a Selfie. I do a sign of Victory as well. Now I shared it. – Don’t share it, my wife will kill me, if she sees it. – Of course, she will see it. You want panties, but no one shall see your ass?

Erer was bullied in the 1990s even by the editorial staff of the Kemalist daily Cumhuriyet, because readers were provoked by her drawings. "The cultural supplement for which I drew then was led by a woman who threw me out with the words 'the bad girl should have learned to close her legs '."

Meanwhile the cartoonist reached international fame. In 2017 she won the award for creative courage at the Cartoon Festival in France. In September she will receive the Sokol Prize for Digital Caricature, Critical Drawing and Satire at the prestigious Austrian Cartoon-Museum in Krems.

Bayan Yanı was first published on March 8, International Women’s day, in 2010. The magazine quickly attracted a group of young female artists drawing more personal and biographical stories within a feminist framework.

Ipek Özsüslü is in her early thirties. She often includes herself in the drawings and tells stories from the Istanbul’s cosmopolitan Cihangir neighbourhood, where she lives. Women and their search for the one unique hairdo is the frame of this story.

Ipek Özsüslü, 2014

Özsüslü's Cartoons often target child-abuse and criticise the justice system. “Violence against women and children is for me the biggest issue in our society. The current government is supporting conservative role models not helpful to prevent this violence” she said.

Ipek Özsüslü, 2017, There are no child-brides. “Carry her to the house”. “Damn she fell asleep”.

“I have been for years alone with one two other women, who managed to survive in the tough, male dominated environment of the Satire magazines” Erer said

“Drawing Cartoons has liberated us very much. I am able to be much more outspoken, when I am drawing,” Özsüslü said.

Ipek Özsüslü, 2017

A book distributed by the municipality of Kütahya to couples getting married includes hostile comments about women. “Women shouldn’t complain too much”, “they shouldn’t work” and “can be beaten ones in a while”.


The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.