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Defining Republican Women: Nostalgia, Smuggling, and Itinerant Women Traders in the Republic of Turkey
My research is a survey of early-Republican era press in Turkey regarding bohçacı women, or itinerant women peddlers. Using a range of newspapers, primarily published in Istanbul, I ask how changing popular depictions of bohçacı women indicated broader societal reconsiderations of the role that women occupied in post-Ottoman society – including their labor, gender, and social status. Because bohçacı women’s primary economic role was to enter secluded private spaces and sell the latest goods to women consumers, journalists presented their social mobility as a threat to the shifting gender dynamics of early Republican Turkey. In the 1930s, the criminalization of bohçacı women, who were instrumental to cross-border smuggling economies, reflected both the gendered and economic anxieties of the era. Not only did bohçacı women exist outside of the Republican vision for middle and upper-class consumption, but they were also importing “alien” goods, a concern for nationalist writers when thinking about women’s attire and social practices. Bohçacı women’s fluidity – their ability to move between homes, classes, and borders – threatened more rigid expectations for gender, status, and citizenship during the early Republican period. Republican-aligned portrayals of bohçacı women also implicitly excluded bohçacı women as tastemakers for the Kemalist bourgeoisie. Thus, I ask: How did the profession of being a bohçacı women exist outside of the material and gendered expectations of Republican reform? How did early Republican press depictions of bohçacı women as criminals reflect a broader discourse about what it meant to be a woman citizen of Turkey during this time? Was the late Ottoman state necessarily more tolerant of these popular economies? Consumption, production, and materiality become central to gendering middle- and upper-class Turkish women throughout the 1930s. Concurrently, efforts to police and degrade the visible roles of lower-class bohçacı women highlight how changing class and gender dynamics intertwined and affected one another in the early Republic. By focusing on how the press of this era depicted bohçacı women, I intend to complicate gendered concepts of citizenship in the post-Ottoman world.
Geographic Area
Ottoman Empire
Sub Area