by Dr. Patti Feuereisen
What hooks me on the Turkish dizis are the powerful women depicted in the stories. The women who write the scripts for certain dizi’s go deep into the complexities of women’s friendships and motherhood, where I believe hetero male writers cannot go. Women centric dizis help women bond together over these stories and find strength in narratives that enrich our journeys as women.
In this missive, I focus on the deep friendships of women in three dizis written by women. Featured are Kadin, Alev Alev and Sen Anlat Kara Deniz. The stories are all female centric, all go deeply into motherhood with fierce protective mothers and all include violence against women where the woman conquers and thrives with the support of her best friend and a community of many other women. These dizis make sure not to allow the hetero romantic relationship to conquer all. Throughout each dizi the common thread is the power of motherhood and a plethora of meaningful friendships that influence everything else in the arc of the stories.
Women’s Friendships and Community Building as Agents of Change and Healing
Female friendships are complicated and rich. We are deep and expansive, we think about community rather than self. In her work about the feminist economy Jennifer Armbrust describes women working together embodying honesty, empathy, gratitude, intimacy, generosity and integrity to name a few. Throughout history change begins with one woman sharing her experience with another then another then another until a movement begins.
Each of these dizis’ has an aspect of that movement. In Kadin, protagonist Bahar is able to help her neighbor Ceyan to become a righteous woman with self-esteem, who will never be abused again. Alev Alev begins with one woman believing Cemre, and then another and another until there is a movement of women going up against the system to protect each other from domestic violence. Sen Anlat Karadeniz also begins with one woman Asiye who believes and supports Nefes and finds other women to help until a movement to fight domestic violence is started with woman after woman coming forward with her truth to start her healing journey.
Kadin was aired in Turkey on Fox TV from 2017-2021 and is based on a 2013 Japanese drama titled Woman. The Japanese screenplay is written by Yûji Sakamoto. Hande Altayli, a female Turkish screen writer, has written 69 of the 81 episodes, with a writing team comprised of mostly women. It is notable that it is co-directed by a woman. The main character Bahar, a thoughtful, compassionate single mother of two small children has had a rough life. She has a psychopathic half- sister who wants to hurt her at every turn, she is rejected by her mother, loses her husband, has a rare illness. She works as an ironer in a garment factory with tiring hours that keep her on her feet all day. In a heart wrenching scene, we see Bahar show her mother her bodily bruises from her serious illness during her request to stay in her mothers home so her mother can watch her children while she undergoes medical treatments. Her mother sees Bahar’s bruises and yet tells her that her other daughter needs her. There are many scenes where Bahar is rejected by this mother and yet is an amazing mother herself, who loves her two children with every pore in her body.
Because of her financial struggles she moves to an apartment she can afford in a marginal part of Istanbul, where she lives across the hall from Ceyda. This is one of the most interesting friendships of any of these dizis. Ceyda starts out as hostile toward Bahar. She resents Bahar and her two young children. Ceyda has prostituted herself for her older married lover who pays her rent; she also provides sexual favors for the landlord who is twice her age. She sings in a rather sketchy nightclub that her boyfriend patronizes. Her eyes are vacant of emotion and she is often drunk or stoned on drugs. When Bahar hears Ceyda being beaten up by her boyfriend, she protects her by going up against Ceyda’s abuser. This is the first time someone has cared enough about Ceyda to protect her and even then she is resentful and mistrusting of Bahar, who she believes must have an ulterior motive.
Children are often the first to recognize the innocence and kindness in adults. Despite her overt hostility, Bahar’s young son immediately loves Ceyda and that begins Ceyda’s journey to love herself. Ceyda begins to self-actualize with the love and support from Bahar and her two small children. As the story evolves, so does Ceyda who is no longer an insecure woman who believes she deserves no better than to be used and abused. She begins to see herself in the reflection of that family and she evolves into a loving, sensitive, fierce protective mother to Bahar’s children, and we learn that she too has a child she’s been estranged from that she becomes reunited with. And although the two women could not be more different in their personalities and background, they fortify each-other. They become each other’s chosen family and these two women put their lives on the line for each other without blinking, as they protect their collective children.
Alev Alev aired on Show TV from 2020-2021 and is the strongest female centric of these dizis with all 28 episodes written by one woman, Burcu Gorgun, adapted from the French miniseries La Bazar de la Charite. This is a powerful story that reaches beyond the dizi format as it bravely states the political misogynistic reality that men abuse women at staggering rates and women have to fight for survival.
Alev Alev is centered around domestic and sexual violence in the pivotal relationship of the series between Cemre Kayebayli and her abusive husband Celebi Kayabeyli, a prominent politician in Istanbul. Although at the center of the story there are two men that join forces with the women to save Cemre, it is still the powerful sisterhood that gives Cemre her stamina and belief that she will conquer her abuser and save herself and her child from him. Ruya, Cicek and Cemre all support each other throughout the story. There are two other characters that join in saving Cemre; one is a physician and the other is a woman who gives Cemre a job in her restaurant when no one else would because they knew her story and judged her and/or were afraid of her powerful husband. In a breathtaking scene Cemre is forced to go before a medical panel of mostly men to prove that she is a mentally fit mother who deserves custody of her child. She tells the panel:
I am a mother and I have a dream not only for myself but for the other women who are afraid they will get killed if they step outside, the women we didn’t see, hear or know, mostly the women who are neglected and murdered! I want this for the mothers who are murdered in front of their children. I want this for the men who think their tie is more important than those women! I want it against justice that asks for proof to find a woman right, but looks for excuses to find a man right. I want to be the one who is believed for once. Now you tell me, am I mentally fine or not?
As she not only speaks for herself but also for all the other women who are suffering under a patriarchal system, she is profoundly powerful. This is a dizi about women joining together and fighting the system and abusive men. A community of women rise together to protect this mother and child. Another particularly compelling scene is when Cemre has escaped violence from her husband, and speaks on social media that he is still pursuing her. Several women gather and camp out in front of her apartment building to ensure her safety as they chant they are with her, they believe her. Alev Alev distills women’s relationships on many levels. It demonstrates that women can fall out of friendships over men, over misunderstanding, over not believing and then come back together because their friendship is stronger than their problems with each other.
These women come together over and over again and believe in each other and give each other sustenance, and through those strong connections they form a chosen family. In the end the strength of this sisterhood forms a movement where women victoriously triumph.
Sen Anlat Karadeniz
Sen Anlat Karadeniz aired on Atv from 2018-2019, written in partnership of two women Ayşe Ferda Eryılmaz and Nehir Erdemis, who won the Butterfly Award for best screenplay in 2018. It is a brilliant story of a woman who lost her mother at birth, was sold to a vicious abuser at age 16, gave birth after he brutally raped her. She lives in a compound, set up as a prison, with her abuser, his female cousin, many servants who only obey her abuser. We meet Nefes the heroine when she is twenty-two years old and her son is seven years old and they have tried to escape 22 times. The brutal reality of domestic violence and sexual abuse is graphically portrayed through this abuser’s constant machinations. Nefes takes us on her journey of dissociation to survive her torture where she creates an incredible fantasy world for herself and her son as they wear magic headdresses and capture and save animals in the circus. She is Blue Feather and her son is Howling Wolf at the Moon. When she finally successfully escapes, she finds herself with the Kaleli family who live in Trabzon, a small community in the Black Sea region of Turkey.
Then begins her journey to freedom. The first time Nefes meets a woman she can trust is when she joins the Kaleli family. She meets Asiye Kaleli. Asiye is a mother too, and she immediately protects Nefes against all odds. Asiye goes up against her husband and anyone else who dares not to support Nefes and her son. Asiye brings Nefes to her friend who is a social justice lawyer, and woman after woman join in the struggle to surpass domestic violence. Nefes has a very intense relationship with Tahir Kaleli, who is a champion for justice. Their romantic relationship is deep and complicated, as Nefes is not the typical damsel in distress. Left to survive on her own until now, she has developed agency and grit and creates a path of healing for herself and her son. There are other friendships that are intense and woven throughout the story, and again proof that women’s friendships are deeper than their conflicts as many of the women go through discord and yet work through their relationships and become closer. Also several women end up uniting to fight the system of abusive men and help other women to fight domestic violence and heal.
Sen Anlat Karadeniz is all about healing and re-envisioning a life of love and triumph over abuse. In a lovely twist, Tahir the husband follows his wife Nefes in her career path and relocates and becomes an active parenting partner and advocate fighting violence against women.
Friendships and Chosen Families – Art Imitates Life – Life Imitates Art
I work with girls and women who are abuse survivors, and many years ago one of my brilliant clients who needed to totally separate from her family because of years of ongoing abuse, taught me that when your biological family abuses you, you find and create a chosen family. This is the family that you choose and learn to trust, and through that trust you begin to feel worthy and different from the abuse and rejection you suffered with your family of origin, your biological family. Each of these dizis reflects on the power and depth of women’s friendships. And each dizi demonstrates that yes you can create a family that will cherish, and respect you and together you will form a loving chosen family, and it often starts with trusting one woman who becomes your best friend.
Article copyright (c) North America TEN & Dr. Patti Feuereisen
All pictures and video clips belong to their original owners. No copyright infringement intended.
Dr. Patti Feuereisen is a psychologist in Brooklyn, New York. Author of Invisible Girls: Speaking The Truth About Sexual Abuse and founder of the non-profit Girlthrive. Presently working with her publisher to have Invisible Girls translated into Turkish. She is obsessed with dizis as they continue to get her through the pandemic.
Note: Two other excellent female centric dizi’s written by women-
Doğduğun Ev Kaderindir which aired 2020-2021 on TV8 is a woman focused story adapted from her novel Girl Behind The Glass by the renowned psychiatrist and author Dr. Gulseren Budayicoglu the main screen writer Eylem Canpola with 5 other female writers on the writing crew.
Istanbullu Gelin which aired in Turkey from 2017-2020 is also a story written by the prominent psychiatrist Gülseren Budayicioglu based on her book Hayata Dön. The two main writers for all the episodes are women, and there are several other women on the writing crew.
To Jeri Cohen ❤️❤️
Brilliant insight from Dr. Patti.
Thank you Bharti for your comments, it is so important for women to stand up and speak out in support of one another and your wording of galvanizing is so perfect!
And Silvia, hummm…. interesting observations regarding the therapy and therapist in Istanbullu Gelin. I am not sure it if is a “bad seed” phenomenon, also it seems he did get better by the end of the story, right? My memory is that he found a woman who he loved and loved him? A point of therapy can be to build a positive relationship with nurturing that is selfless after a narcissistic awful mother, which was the case with Adem. But yes the therapist was better than most in TV series of any culture. I can only guess that there are really good writers with consultation with psychologists for the good depictions in general and specifically, this story is written by a psychiatrist. with an almost all-female writing team.
Re: Istanbullu Gelin
I’m in awe of the actress portraying Adem’s psychotherapist. She’s right on target as he guided Adem to an importance crossroad in his life. At one point I felt optimistic about his progress and was willing to bet he would turn his life around. To my disappointment this didn’t happen as such. Are we to assume that when one hears of “a bad seed” it’s not so far fetched?
Perhaps this “therapist” is a real life psychologist?
Great analysis, and one that carries more depth and weight as it’s coming from someone who is an expert and is actively working in this area. It is hearteing to see these examples of women’s solidarity on TV. Such positive messages are important in the face of all the abuse that has become an accepted part of all societies in some form. This reinformcement through mass media that women need to stand up for and help each other speak up about and fight against abuse is required to galvanise women, who otherwise believe passive, non-resistance or looking the other way is the best way to handle abuse. Hope to see more such scripts in dizis and elsewhere on TV!
Thank you for this article, Dr. Patti. There’s an immediate difference in depth and impact when a writing team has female voices. Makes me wonder what a world we would love in, if every team had enough women on it! While many shows still perpetrate the depiction of women as catty competitors for male attention, it’s important to highlight stories that go beyond those cliches. A wonderful piece!
Yes Sona what a wonderful world it would be if every imaginable team had women on it!!! xo
Yes Kathleen, you are right, we can not compare these to American series. After watching so many dizi’s that women write it is so refreshing to feel a woman’s hand in the story, allowing the female characters to have agency and complexities- I hope you watch these, and enjoy!
Thank you so much for bringing these dizis to my attention, each one sounds very much worth watching! Via these dramas, I am developing a new understanding of a place and culture that until now has been unknown and more than a little scary to me. Compared to American soap operas, well, they really can’t be compared with them, can they?