- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 23, 2006


He’s a lady? Not in Turkey, he’s not. Some would de-scribe it as a victory for common sense, others as a victory for a faintly homophobic form of family values. But a recent decision by a Turkish TV channel to scrap a show deemed a threat to public morals also is a sign of Turks’ deeply conflicted attitudes toward the European Union and the West, local analysts say.

As ideas for television shows go, Kanal 1’s latest money-spinner was simple. Take eight men, wax their legs, squeeze them into skirts and dump them in a camera-filled kitchen for three weeks.

The one viewers voted the best woman would win the equivalent of $35,000.

For the second time in two years, though, this local version of the U.S. show “He’s a lady” fell victim to a wave of public outrage even before it hit the air.

“This is an attack on the Turkish family structure,” said Zeynep Tekin Boru, a governing party lawmaker and prominent campaigner against the program. “Turkish men conform to a certain type — brave, tough and moustachioed. You cannot stick them in women’s clothes.”

This sort of talk is not surprising. Family underpins society in Turkey, where even strangers are addressed as “auntie” or “big brother,” and many associate social life with relatives.

And if Turkish women are traditionally admired for modesty and industriousness, men are expected to be real men.

According to a story doing the rounds since EU health warnings began appearing on local cigarette packs last year, packs with “smoking can cause sterility” are proving difficult to sell in Anatolian tobacco stores.

What was striking about the campaign against Kanal 1, though, was how often machoism slipped into overt homophobia and run-of-the-mill conservatism into anti-Western prejudice.

“The fact Westerners enjoy this sort of thing is no reason for us to have to watch it, too,” wrote Bilal Ozcan, a columnist with the center-right daily Bugun. “In the West, men not only marry men, they even brag about it.”

For political analyst Umut Ozkirimli, such comments reveal how different Turkish Euro-skepticism is from its equivalent in other countries.

“Other candidate countries worried about loss of sovereignty,” Mr. Ozkirimli said. “Turks don’t care about that. They care about loss of values.”

His argument is backed by the results of a Turkey-wide survey on conservatism released earlier this year. Respondents proved to be sticklers for traditional values: 63 percent disapproved of nightclubs, and 65 percent disapproved of unmarried couples living together. More than three-quarters said they were disturbed by homosexuals.

Above all, the survey revealed striking contradictions in attitudes toward the European Union.

Two-thirds of respondents said they wanted Turkey to join the bloc, and even more thought Turkey would benefit from membership. But a similar number said the bloc would “corrupt the morals of the young,” and more than half worried that EU membership threatened the future of the family.

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