A favorite argument for explaining the situation of women in Turkey is the one about emancipated but unliberated women published by Binnaz Toprak in 1982. Here, Toprak defended the idea that the legal reforms which were launched with the Westernization movement in 1923 emancipated women but could not liberate even the urban and educated ones. In 2000, this line of thought was extended to include the argument that women became both liberated and emancipated in the 1980s due to their feminist public and collective activism. While the former argument focuses more on the structures restricting women, the latter argument gives priority to women’s exercise of collective agency, while at the same time also giving some room for women’s individual agency. Here I will suggest that the idea of women’s liberation does not necessitate the exercise of collective agency, but can be understood and explained with reference to the agency of individual women alone. In other words, I will argue that any individual woman’s struggle for freedom and her achievements in her personal life should count as liberation, even though it does not translate itself to collective agency. To support this individual agency approach, I will use data from ten oral history interviews that I made with Nezihe Kurtiz, a woman of 90 years of age at the time of the interviews, and I will show that in exercising her own agency, Nezihe Kurtiz became both emancipated and liberated, and that this could take place in Turkey even before the 1980s.

Author Biography

Fatma Fulya Tepe completed her Ph.D. in the Sociology Department of Istanbul University in Turkey in 2008. In her Ph.D. thesis, she studied division of labour at home in the lives of basic sciences and engineering female academics in İstanbul. She is an assistant professor at the Faculty of Education at Istanbul Aydın University since 2008. For the last six years, her research interests have focused on the intersection of gender studies, science and oral history.