By Annie Zidek
We are lucky to live in a part of the world where feminism has forced a marriage between equality and women, even though there are still many steps that need to be taken. Regardless, it’s important to realize that there are still parts of the world where women are disregarded in their society; their femininity is oppressed, and their softness is taken advantage of. About a month ago, I went to the Chicago Film Festival with my friend Erin to go see the Turkish film, Mustang, which depicted this discrepancy in feminism through five sisters and their emotional, sexual, and physical maturation during their time in a society where they and their Sisterhoods are overlooked.
Set in a small town in Turkey, Eastern Islamic ideology drives the familial forces in this household; there is a total disregard for women and feminine beauty. The five sisters—Sonay, Selma, Ece, Nur, and Lale—are suppressed of female rites of passage throughout their female rites of passage because they were innocently fooling around at the beach with some boys after the last day of school. Consequently, the girls’ uncle and grandmother hide them from sex and other female liberties while breeding them for marriage. Scattered along the spectrum from child to woman, the girls are interconnected emotionally because of their isolation. They find beauty in their disregard: they sprawl on floors, limbs entangled with the others’ while bathed in Turkish afternoon light. During “wife lessons,” they joke with one another and what the unknown future holds for them. On their occasional excursions out of the house, they pile into tiny cars together and joke about sexuality. They’re their own girl gang, supporting each other through the trials and tribulations of their caretakers’ emotional and physical abuse.
The sisters watch one another get married. Sonay and Selma are wed off first: Sonay is the lucky one who marries the boy she loves while Selma is stuck in an arranged marriage—her unhappiness clearly illustrated through her belligerent drunkenness and disarray at her own wedding. Not only do they celebrate together, they grieve together. When death kisses one of the sisters and their sisterly dynamic is hindered, they come together—though only for a moment—and lament. Their unadulterated bond and pure love is once again highlighted through their spooning and caressing and soft weeping.
The dynamic of their Sisterhood clearly explores serious subjects such as love and suicide and also womanhood. Though femininity is not a necessary role in Sisterhood, its function is enforced in the girls’ lives and relationships. The girls are constantly shown in their bras and underwear but never fully nude, a symbol of their simultaneous liberating innocence and sexual awakening. This depiction kills the idea of nudity’s warped sexuality and puts the nakedness in the context of familial boundaries and sisterly comfort.
Not only do their clothes represent womanhood, but their long hair, left uncut due to their Islamic heritage, also symbolizes their stark femininity and strong sexuality. The oldest sister, Sonay, who coincidentally boasts the longest hair among the sisters, is the first to openly admit to her sexual escapades when she talks about engaging in anal sex to avoid pregnancy and the breaking of her hymen; next is Selma who tells her gynecologist she “slept with the whole world” after she didn’t bleed on her wedding sheets. The last sister to partake in sexual encounters is Ece, who sleeps with a random man in her uncle’s car while he’s in the bank. All their sexual encounters mark a transition from youth to adulthood, giving sexuality regality.
Cinematically, sexuality and femininity are distinct: with visceral colors and light in nearly every scene, the director adorns the girls with strong female characteristics. In many scenes, light engulfs the sisters, putting them in an almost angelic framework. Draping them in natural lighting presents the girls as mundane goddesses. And the colors, varying hues of blues and greens and pink and yellows, give them a sense of life and vitality and youth, memorializing their childlike Sisterhood. These sisterly and womanly visuals offer a glimpse into the interworking of Sisterhood and the pivotal role femininity plays for this family of sisters specifically.
Compared to the Sisterhood of these Turkish sisters, my personal Sisterhoods seem insignificant and petty. Yes, we’ve had our own family struggles but never to the extent of the sisters in Mustang. Still I found solace in the distinct connection between that family and my own: Sisterhood is powerful. In Sisterhood, you are a band of sisters working through life together, leaning on each other, feeding off one another, being there for one another.