With the growth of social media, and the rise of the women’s movement, domestic violence has come under increasing scrutiny in Turkey. But when it comes to parenting, “mum’s slipper” – a traditional punishment for naughty children – raises no such objections. Indeed, the idea of a mother beating her child with a slipper still seems like a legitimate, and even amusing, form of discipline to many people in Turkey. But not everybody agrees.
In 2016, a court case made this a matter of national debate when 38 year-old Hasan Güzel filed a complaint with police about his mother. Şenay Güzel was accused of having thrown a plastic slipper at her son during an argument, and charged with “attempting to cause deliberately light injury”, for which she could have received a prison sentence of up to five years.
“There is no mother who does not throw slippers at her children,” said Şenay, who was later acquitted. Speaking after the case was dismissed, Şenay’s lawyer said that the slipper was an “indispensable element” for Turkish mothers.
The case caused a great deal of amusement in Turkey, not least because Sıdıka, a popular television series in Turkey, features a main character who is always being threatened by her mother with a slipper. Most people interviewed for this piece laughed when the subject was brought up.
Özdemir Çeker, a 42-year old former anarchist political activist who lives in Beylikdüzü, Istanbul, and now builds bungalows for a living, told Inside Turkey that he probably deserved such punishment.
“I was a difficult child. [My mother] didn’t have any other choice,” he said. When asked if he felt any degradation or fear when a slipper was thrown at him, Çeker continued to laugh. “No, I was never afraid of my mother”.
According to Kemal, a 31-year old civil servant in Ankara who asked to remain anonymous, slippers were the “last resort” for his mother.
“She could have slapped me, for instance, but instead it was like a warning,” he said. “Slippers don’t hurt. I mean, there are also psychopathic mothers who beat their children with a hose, but my mother was soft-hearted.”
Many of the men interviewed for this piece remembered these incidents almost fondly. But for women, it evoked more traumatic memories.
“I would never do such a thing if I had a child,” said Cemre, a 37-year old doctoral student in İstanbul who did not want to give her surname. “It’s violence.”
Cemre, like others, saw slippers as the last resort of an exasperated mother, but said that as a child, she wondered if her mother ever felt remorse for hitting her.
“To be hit by hand was much more repulsive,” said Rabia Can, a 38-year old doctor’s assistant. “Slippers were like tools, so they were less disturbing. The hand is supposed to show warmth and love, so when it’s used for violence it hurts emotionally.”
For Yaprak Akbaba, a 28- year old editor, the issued raised a question of power.
“Who stays at home and dominates the children? The woman. And what does the woman do? She enforces the patriarchal system, and keeps her child down.”
Most of the women interviewed could recall their mother’s slippers in detail – for Akbaba, it was black plastic, with a diamond pattern on top. She said that she had experienced different kinds of domestic violence as a child, and that jokes about slippers in television programmes and films made her uncomfortable.
“For me it’s the same thing as using ‘Coşkun the rapist’ [a character who has appeared in Turkish films since the 1970s] as a comedy element. Mum’s slipper is dangerous. It justifies violence against children and reinforces the power of the mother over the child by imitating the man,” Akbaba said.
Hasbiye Günaçtı, a well-known feminist activist, took a slightly different view. Although Günaçtı said she opposed any kind of violence, the power of the slipper was largely symbolic.
“Mum’s slipper is a way of expressing anger. There are slippers in almost every women’s house and throwing one is the result of despair. When a mother can’t establish authority with knowledge and love, she uses the slipper.”
Like others, Günaçtı made a distinction between abusive mothers and others who used the slipper.
“Throwing slippers does not actually involve suffering and the desire to dominate. Rather, it says ‘yes, I throw these at you but I don’t intend to hurt you’,” she said.
But Hivren Özkol Cop, a psychologist in İstanbul who has studied childhood trauma, said that even jokes about the slipper were a way of dealing with memories of a mother’s behaviour.
“It can be difficult to accept negative emotions, especially when the mother is perceived as weak and vulnerable,” she said. “This is common in families where there is male domination.”
And such actions could have long-lasting consequences.
“The power of the mother over the child should not be underestimated,” she continued. “A mother is the centre of a child’s life, especially in the early stages, and anything done to punish or control a child through physical pain becomes a traumatic experience.”