Cultural Gender Gap: “Çilek Kokusu” Review

By: Anna Merezhko, March 3, 2017

I often watch Russian shows just to get an idea of the differences between American and Russian cultures. A year or two ago, my best friend recommended a Turkish show she saw (“Çilek Kokusu”) and loved. When she mentioned it was Muslim, I mentally prepared myself for a show filled with sheiks, turbans, hijabs, and bearded men. This didn’t interest me much because it wasn’t something I could identify with, so I forgot about it, until she brought it up a month ago. By this time, I had forgotten she ever mentioned it, so when she told me about the three main characters, the love triangle, and the problems they faced, I was interested. I can’t help thinking I would have probably dismissed it, again, if she mentioned it was Muslim.

Knowing nothing of the Turkish culture, I expected it to be similar to Russian. Russian shows often depict the struggle of a couple who are from two different classes and who try to be together despite their parents’ disapproval. They like to stretch out their series for as long as possible. It feels like half of their episodes consist of facial expressions- someone reacts with betrayal/shock/fear and the camera zooms in on their face, and stays there for a good minute ( I die a little inside everytime that happens.)

In those ways, this Turkish show was similar. The actual storyline of the main characters could have easily been explained in one 2-hour episode but instead, was stretched out to 23 2-hour episodes, but there were other differences that I wasn’t too comfortable with.

The first thing I noticed when watching this show is that they blur blood, brands, and alcohol. If one of the characters has the faintest cut or trail of blood, it’s blurred out. Every time someone is drinking a glass of wine, it’s blurred out. Even though it’s totally obvious that the main character is driving a Mustang, Volkswagen, Mercedes, or Audi, the car logo is blurred out. I found it ridiculous but I guess it’s due to copyright and media laws.

As the show progressed, I started noticing a very accentuated gender gap in the male and female relationships. Although the show tried to depict independent and educated women, the amount of times the men grabbed women by the arm and refused to let them go was a bit much. I dismissed it the first few times, convincing myself that this was normal, but it kept happening. The couples in the show would have a fight, and a woman would attempt to storm off only to be grabbed by the arm and forced to stay. There was nothing romantic about it; it was forced and every time this happened, the man was yelling.

Now, let’s talk about the yelling. The tone that most of the male characters had towards the women was a fatherly tone- like they were speaking to disobedient children. It was like nails on a chalkboard whenever the guy would call the girl’s name, even though it was in the middle of a romantic scene. That is when I knew it was wrong. In the middle of “aww”ing, I would stop and cringe. Although they didn’t explicitly say this, you could sense how women were treated as feeble little kids who need to be protected and told what to do.
Throughout the show, the producers/writers made it abundantly clear that physically lashing out was the norm for men. They made men seem like rabid dogs that need to be muzzled and put on a tight leash. There was one scene in particular that bugged me to the core of my existence. In this scene, one of the main characters had just found out that their ex was seeing someone else while trying to get back together. The guy was driving a car at the time and reacted by flooring it and putting both him and the girl main character in danger. The girl attempted to calm him down and managed to get him to pull over. Later on, the guy came up to her and thanked her for calming him down because “he didn’t know what he would’ve done.”

There were multiple scenes where guys lose their temper and women would be ever-so-slightly treated like property. Most Russian shows don’t depict these kind of interactions between men and women. It gave me a good comparison between Russian, Turkish, and American culture. I didn’t notice how equally American and Russian shows depict genders until I saw an example that showed otherwise.

I also felt embarrassed that I refused to watch this show before because of the stereotypes I held about Muslims. Throughout the show, there were no hijabs, sheiks, or turbans. It was evident that Turkish people respected and honored their parents. They held their parents’ opinion and approval in very high regard. There were two instances where one of the parents disowned their child or threatened to do so. Disowning your kids is definitely not something you would find in an American show.

It was also evident that Turkey was not a desert. Everything was so lush, green and new! It didn’t look like the broken-down country-side that Russians often depict in their shows. Turkey is officially on my bucket-list of places to go before I die.

For me, this show ignited an interest in the Turkish culture and taught me the importance of knowing other cultures and their traditions, beliefs, and values. There is always something you can take for yourself, be it negative or positive.

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