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The Father-Son Relationship and The Representation of Imposed Masculinity in Çoğunluk (Majority)

Haziran17

–A critique on the movie Çoğunluk (Majority)

The father-son relationship in Çoğunluk (Majority)—a 2010 Turkish movie by director and screenwriter Seren Yüce—plays a significant role in portraying the “imposed masculinity” prevalent in Turkish society and its negative consequences in shaping men’s identities and lives as well as women’s. The definition of masculinity—as the father puts forth, not exactly by his words but by his actions and expectations from his son—is branched out in three ways: being aggressive, unemotional, and superior to the other sex, therefore, women. By acting in a manner that embodies these three characteristics, the father supposedly represents the ideal “manly” man, and obliges his son to become the same—a violent, stoic and authoritarian being.

The first scene of the movie gives the spectator an initial yet crucial view of the father’s way of raising his son. The movie begins with a view of a forest as the father enters, walking with fast and firm steps, and turning to the camera to yell demandingly at his son, “Come on son!”, who is struggling to keep up with his father’s pace. As the camera focuses on the little boy, we see his plump cheeks red and sweaty, and hear his panting as well as his slow and exasperated footsteps. His slightly twisted eyebrows that give his face an about-to-cry look and his arm on his hip as if providing him with support to make it to the end both add to the director’s efforts to create an atmosphere of exhaustion and struggling right at the start of the movie. In fact, this scene, which lasts for 1 minute and 11 seconds, can be considered a metaphorical summary of the movie, and hence, an important foreshadowing since—for the rest of the film—we observe how the father expects his son to follow his footsteps, constantly shouting at him to catch up with his expectations, specifically the ones regarding how to be a “manly” man.  The son, on the other hand, continuously lags behind, obeying his father’s orders yet certainly not trying his best to accomplish them. As the movie moves on from this initial scene, we still hear the echoes of the little boy’s panting as he grows into a young man only to try and constantly fail to grow into what society—as well as his father—deems a “real” man.

In the second scene, as the father and son come home, they both undo their shoes exactly in the same manner—the way they sit, and pull their legs up on their knees; the way they look down on their feet and unbuckle their shoes are all identical. The fact that director and screenwriter Yüce chooses to present us this particular image of identicalness of father and son right at the second minute of his movie points out his willingness to introduce us as quickly as possible to their relationship: As some may consider commonplace regarding Turkish families, the son mirrors his father, applying whatever he sees him doing to his life, without even questioning but merely imitating him. This is particularly relevant to Mertkan’s relationship to his father because—as can be seen in the rest of the movie—his father expects full obedience from him, giving him orders and dictating him what to do with his own life. This controlling attitude can be seen in many occasions such as when he orders his son to take some construction material all the way to Izmit for no reason, to go to the sauna with him, to break up with his girlfriend, to drop out of school or to go to work at the construction site in Gebze. The father rules the son’s life in multiple ways—physically, romantically, academically and financially.

Ironically, although the father dictates his son to comply with his decisions, and requires full obedience, he also expects his son to conform to the ideals of masculinity put forth by the society, which involve being an independent decision-maker. As a male member of the household, of the society and of the Turkish Republic, Mertkan is implicitly assigned three different roles of masculinity all of which highlight the same main traits deemed “manly” by others, and all of which are emphasized primarily by his father, and by his friends and acquaintances at different times and occasions. To begin with the first role, as a male member of the household, Mertkan is almost never expected to help with household chores. A cleaning lady, Şükriye, comes (during Mertkan’s childhood years) to clean the house, and the mother deals with the rest—cooking, shopping, and many more burdening household chores.

However, not only is Mertkan not expected to contribute, as is the father, but also he is allowed to openly despise and express hostility towards women who handle those chores instead. The scene following the shoe-undoing scene, for instance, is an appropriate example for this claim: “What the hell is this doing here today?” the father asks his wife angrily, pointing to the cleaning lady by choosing to say “this” instead of “she” as if she is an inanimate object or an animal. With this conversation in the background, we see the little boy, young Mertkan, walking past Şükriye carelessly, unplugging the vacuum cleaner, and throwing the cord at her. “Mert’cim stop it” Şükriye responds in a soft yet pleading way, shortening Mertkan’s name and giving it an affectionate tone with the Turkish suffix “’cim”. The father intervenes at this moment, not to condemn his son’s behavior but to implicitly endorse it by scolding Şükriye instead: “His name is Mertkan, not Mert’cim!” To understand the implications of this “correction”, it is appropriate to talk about the meaning of the son’s name. “Mert” means brave, and “kan” means blood, indicating that the braveness comes from his blood, that is, his older generations the first member of which is his father. As courage is societally considered one of the main “manly” characteristics in an individual, the idea of its being inherited brings to mind the idea of the inheritance of “manliness” and masculinity. One can say, at this point, that the reason why the father defends the use of his son’s full name, which was given most probably by himself, is partly due to the idea of the inheritance of masculinity from father to son and partly due to the unwanted emotional association made by the adding of the endearing suffix “’cim”. Endearment and any kind of emotional attribution, after all, exclusively belong to women, and certainly not to men.

Regarding the idea of emotions and being unemotional, one can easily say that overtly expressing feelings such as love, sadness, fear or affection is societally condemned for men. This imposed stoicism is the main reason why the mother is unhappy about her life and often complains about it: “How did I raise you as such unemotional persons?” she asks Mertkan, but mostly to herself as she realizes that the way the society taught her to raise her male offspring in a “masculine” way led her children to become stoics hiding and repressing their emotions, and being ruled by their lack thereof. She also complains to her husband about how he never asks about her feelings or how he never even smiles—symptoms of lack of emotional expression—in response to which she gets an order of silence.

As the father is the male role model for his son, his concealment of his feelings, and his always firm and put together attitude influence the son’s character in a way that teaches him to hide and subdue his emotions and look firm all the time. However, Mertkan—as a male member of the society in interaction with other members—struggles to do so. Even though he tries hard to ignore his feelings for his girlfriend whom his friends and parents despise because of her socioeconomic status and ethnic background, he finds himself saying, “I love you too”, and calling her early in the morning just to hear her voice. Although he pretends that leaving home and going off to Gebze to work there does not affect him, we see him crying hysterically on his bed when he is alone, and when he sees the taxi driver and hugs him, bursting into tears. Because as a man Mertkan is expected to “keep it cool” and look strong, he is forced—by his father, his friends and the society he lives in—to repress whatever he feels and to replace it with a sense of authority and anger, which often tends to turn into perpetrating violence on others.

Related to the claim about the inheritance of “manliness”, one can argue that Mertkan’s father was probably raised with the same patriarchal mentality that enforced masculinity as a set of fixed rules to be obeyed. In this case, the father’s aggressiveness that often results in vulgar use of language and perpetration of violence is likely to have come from a similar “masculinity-imposing” son raising style. This inference adds to the validity of the previous inheritance claim that what is considered “masculinity” is imposed not only horizontally (so-to-say) as in the same generation by a society at a particular time period but also vertically through a series of generations at different times with slight changes in the definition of “manliness”, yet with the main patriarchal and dominant core being preserved.

Not very differently, Mertkan’s role as a male citizen of the Turkish Republic resembles his role as an obedient son, and as a stoic and firm member of the household as well as the society. This time, however, he has to keep up not solely his family name and honor but his country’s honor and national pride. He needs to hide his “weaknesses” by suppressing his feelings of empathy and sympathy for the other human beings to be able to fight, and fight mercilessly. At this point, the discussion of serving in the military comes into play, especially since Necmi, one of the father’s friends, keeps bringing it up. Different from many European countries and the United States of America, Turkish Republic requires all of its male adult citizens to serve in the military for a limited amount of time (with a few exceptional occasions). Although with the establishment of the Turkish Republic, the Ottoman monarchy based on national military power has been replaced by a democracy, due to the fact that military service is still an obligation and not a choice, and that Turkish military has had many battles especially with Kurdish groups in the Eastern part of Turkey, being a soldier has remained as the symbol of masculine power defending national pride and unity. In this sense, serving in the military is perceived to prove a sense of masculine strength both in a physical and metaphorical way.

As Necmi keeps asking the question “When is Mertkan going to do his military service?” either to Mertkan’s father or to Mertkan directly, the tone of his voice as well as his facial expressions put forth the implied idea that this young man’s “avoiding” military service by pursuing a degree in Open University shows his weakness and lacking masculinity. The sauna scene is particularly relevant to mention at this point: After Necmi compliments Mertkan by calling him “handsome” and “koç gibi delikanlı” (which literally means “a ram-like young man”, referring to a man’s courage and strength), all of which serve to flatter his so-called “masculine” aspects and male ego, he asks him to give him a massage (hence the reason of the compliments). As Mertkan involuntarily begins the massage, Necmi complains: “Squeeze a little, boy, how are you supposed to defend the nation?!” This seemingly unimportant comment, in fact, refers to physical muscular strength often considered essential to being a “manly” man, and therefore essential to being a good soldier, which—as Necmi implies—is missing in Mertkan.

The notion of being a man and defending one’s country is prevalent in Çoğunluk (Majority), yet it is never overtly expressed but subtly implied through news on TV that we hear in the background of table conversations or merely of the sounds of the forks and knives hitting the plates. Nevertheless, there are some parts where it is implied metaphorically. The dinner scene with the entire family serves as a good example. As the men of the household talk excitedly about how Mertkan is finally going to serve in the military after dropping out of school, the little boy—Mertkan’s niece—jumps off his chair, grabs his toy gun, and points it towards his uncle—pretending to shoot him on the arm. This metaphorical display of violence makes the grandfather exceedingly happy as he applauds his grandson for his already “manly” behavior. This particular scene is significant in understanding the social dynamics lying under the association of men and the military, or in a more basic sense, of men and violence. Being aggressive and inclined to fight is heavily encouraged for boys, even from a very early age to the extent that wanting to inflict violence is applauded by the head of the household.

At this point, it is crucial to point out a paradox regarding the nature of the imposed masculinity and the expectations involved within this definition. It is appropriate to say that the full obedience expected from the son by his father can be applied to a national scale where the same unquestioning and peremptory compliance is required from thousands of sons by the military. Hence, “the obedience training” in the micro level of the household serves as the basis of the military training where one is obliged to turn off his reason and to comply with the orders without any objections. However, since the definition of masculinity put forward by the society requires a man to be independent and able to stand behind his statements and decisions, this sense of full compliance conflicts with becoming a powerful decision-maker who can take initiative and plan his own life in the first place—if not anyone else’s. This social paradox can be observed very clearly in Çoğunluk (Majority) since Mertkan struggles between complying with his father’s dictated orders and establishing himself a separate and independent identity. He, in fact, is only one of the victims of this paradox: As the movie’s title suggests, the “majority” of the Turkish society—specifically the men—suffer from trying to create an individuality in between those conflicting societal demands. Although not trying to come up with a particular solution, director Seren Yüce presents us with a realistic and natural portrayal—almost a mirror—of the Turkish society and the majority of ideologies that rule and dominate it. The paradox is still there but now at least some of us are more aware of it.

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