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Asman's “Once upon a time in Turkey: the sex influx, gender inequality, and revisiting past pornographies” (2023)

“Once upon a time in Turkey: the sex influx, gender inequality, and revisiting past pornographies”

[S]oftcore – a genre which, according to David Andrews (2006, 2), features less flexible spectacles, is rigidly heterosexist, and stresses extensive female nudity and heterosexual encounters while leaning on standardized forms of ‘pornographic spectacles like strip-tease numbers, tub or shower sequences, modeling scenes’.

As Özgür Yaren (2018, 21) explains, many newspaper articles and news items have been very vocal about the gender segregation in theatres showing sex films and interpreted this segregation as a ‘backward practice which should [have] been already overcome in 1970s Turkey’. The leftist conspiracy theories, on the other hand, were keen to define the influx as an instrument of Western cultural imperialism, locally imposed by ‘the morally [hypocritical] conservative/right wing governments’, to anaesthetize society and keep people apolitical and distracted.

It was officially the military coup on 12 September 1980 that marked the end of the sex influx (Yaren 2017, 1356). This end did not, however, indicate only the banning of films, halting their production, and so forth. Filmmaker and actor Osman Cavcı (2022), for example, writes that all producers, directors, writers, actors/actresses, and even stand-ins involved in sex movies were rounded up at a temporary police station in a commercial centre in Beyoğlu, Istanbul. Cavcı bases his claims upon the testimonies of film-set workers whom he had met throughout his career in Green Pine.8 According to witnesses’ accounts, many were beaten, some were even subjected to foot whipping, and the women were humiliated in various ways while being interrogated. For instance, female performers were asked to confirm their identities by looking at their films on a portable movie screen.

The sex influx having vanished, female performers continued to be labelled ‘sluts’. Some, like Seher Şeniz, committed suicide, and some, like Feri Cansel, became victims of femicide. At best, they have moved to other cities or abroad, necessarily disappearing without a trace. Meanwhile, male actors – and directors – have been able to continue their careers as esteemed artists/directors while having few problems regarding their ‘notorious’ past.

Zerrin Egeliler, also known as ‘the queen’, once said that she hated everything about sex and nudity after taking part in ‘those films’. Arzu Okay, who wanted to go into business following her career in the sex influx, could not find a storefront to rent because people were not comfortable seeing her as a shop owner. Although she went to France in the end, she was opposed to carrying the burden alone. In her words: ‘The producers, performers, and writers of the sex influx were all men, why it is me alone to take the burden of the shame?’ (Samyeli 2013). In the same vein as others, Karaca Kaan tells of being humiliated and defamed. Her past career in sex movies continued to haunt her, and she relatedly had several unsuccessful marriages. In an older interview (Davran 1999), she mentions how one of her husbands saw naked photographs of her in a paper and ‘went nuts’. In the end, she had to leave Istanbul, dye her hair, and try to start a completely new life somewhere else.

In sum, the women of the sex influx were excluded from daily life in a society where patriarchal pressures were strong, along with contradictions being abundantly present. The influx was a cardinal sin to forget, and the women were the personification of this sin.

On the one hand, 50 years later, these videos are being revisited by millions, including viewers outside Turkey. On the other hand, this reflects the trend of sex influx movies’ monetization without justice being done to their female performers.

Appreciation of female performers and their courage was a stance I came across during my ongoing research among Turkish porn consumers (Asman 2020). This stance can indeed grow more popular and pronounced, as it rests firmly on the political and cultural fault lines of contemporary Turkey.

The existing research on the sex influx, with the exception of Yaren’s recent work, lacks a similar level of diversity. It either possesses a moralistic tone and accentuates the women’s victimization, like in Özgüç’s case, or it presents less-nuanced feminist analyses that bypass in-depth explorations of distinct articulations of female sexuality and possible female pleasures involved, which Yaren mindfully calls attention to. As clearly articulated by Paasonen (2009, 598), researching local contexts of porn outside North America not only means the diversification of the understandings of the genre and how it develops and is regulated; it also gives room for more diversified ways of potential feminist engagements with it.

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