Why are women considered to be “natural conservatives”? Andrea Dworkin, one of the most influential figures of radical feminism, addresses this question in her brilliant book Right-Wing Women (1978). She argues that the Right offers women useful methods to reduce male aggression and – in return for some sacrifices – this promises crucial affordances such as safety, shelter, rules that make it easier to cope with complex situations, and most importantly love (1983: 13). Love is a drug that conservative ideology promises to women and, like every other drug, it has some curative qualities and some side-effects.
Wattpad is one of the powerful popular culture platforms in Turkey. The application is mostly used by young women, and provides an opportunity to read, write, and publish fictional stories for free; if a story achieves a large readership, publishers will publish it in hardcopy. Wattpad lets users comment on the chapters that the writers upload, which can affect how the writer develops the story. This new medium makes easier to access the publishing world for young and subclass woman writers. In Turkey, many TV serials are adapted from Wattpad novels such as Hercai .
In my PhD thesis, I search for the linkages among the popular novels, neo-conservatism, neo-liberalism and the global gender regime through the most popular Wattpad “romance” novels written by conservative women. I argue that romances on Wattpad create a love myth, which in turn feeds traditional ideas around gender roles.
Love in Rising Neo-Conservatism Age: Mafia, Militarism, The “Hyper-Masculine” Way of Love
As a powerful cultural platform, which a wide range of visual industry genres – from Hollywood movies to TV serials – feed from, Wattpad is very popular among the teenagers and young women in Turkey; as a country, Turkey has the third highest usage of Wattpad (after the US and Philippines). For my PhD thesis, I analyzed September 2019’s most-read Turkish Wattpad novels to generate some clues about Wattpad trends. Firstly, common tags used in the most-read novels in Sep/2019 were #mafia (16K), #psychopath (20K), #badboy (8K), #revenge (30K), #forcedmarriage (30K), #soldier (7,5K), #Turk (41K). Action, young adult fictions, teenage-girl fictions, historical fictions, and fantasy/sci-fi are the most popular genres. However, all these genres seem to show the same stereotypical characteristics of romance novels. In their promotion pages alone – which include a blurb of the novel, a book-cover (mostly photoshopped visuals of famous people) and key words – almost every story can – in principle – be categorized under the “romance” genre. In those stories, women are depicted as being in need of protection from enemies, whilst also being a danger themselves, with their potential to betray men. Killing, torturing, and punishing people are common and approved behaviours for the mafia-types or for ‘head-of-the-household’ men, who inevitably have control of the household finances as well as power in their industry in these stories. This suggests that the “tough guys” of the political arena and a neo-liberal mafia culture affects the fictionalization of love on Wattpad, as millennial masculinities are both constructed and presented in a very violent way.
In her novel Mystery: Beloved of the Soldier, for example, Melek Kas tells a story about Azar, an 18-year-old woman who has just started college, and a young soldier, Talha. Azra gets sexually harassed by her professor and even though she wants to keep going to school and complete her medicine degree, she decides to quit. She never tells anyone about this harassment. Talha runs into Azra in a grocery store and by chance he recognizes her from “his dreams”. The mystery is that Talha keeps having the same dream, in which Azra gives him water during a fight against terrorists in which he is shot. Although he only meets her this one time, Talha decides to marry Azra, and tells his family to talk to her parents and arrange the marriage. When Azra hears of his request, she accepts the proposal thinking, “If I marry this guy my family won’t ask me why I quit the college and they won’t learn the sexual harassment, they won’t get hurt.” So she “sacrifices” herself in order to protect her family’s happiness, and marries this stranger, assuming he’s a good guy, “[b]ecause no Turkish soldier is bad”.
After the engagement, Talha finds out the truth about the professor and punishes him himself. First, his privates capture the professor, get him naked and tie him up in a cold warehouse. Talha brings Azra there and makes her watch him being tortured. Even as she’s disgusted by all the blood and torture, she feels grateful for him and falls in love with him. After the official marriage ceremony, they move to Mardin where Talha lives, a city with a border with Syria. The rest of the story is about how they start to get closer, becoming intimate with each other and about the ways they protect their love (and their country) from external threats.
Scott Peck defines love as, ‘one’s will to expand him/herself to nurture one’s own or somebody else’s spiritual improvement’ and says that, ‘[l]ove is an act of will, i.e. both an intention and a will. Will also points out choice. We do not have to love, we choose love.’ In romance literature, love is something so powerful that you cannot resist it or control it. If someone falls into love, he/she would do anything for the loved one, even if this thing makes the beloved hurt. In Mystery, the relationship between Azra and Talha involves possessiveness, extreme jealousy, even threats from Talha like, “If you wear these clothes outside I will break your legs, Azra”. Azra is also possessive and jealous, attacking a woman who is in love with Talha.
We can see the similarity between nationalism and popular love myth in this novel clearly. Both in Istanbul and in Mardin, Talha orders one of his privates to watch Azra 24/7 and report to him everywhere she goes and everything she does. In Mardin, they live in a suburban house, and after a while a family moves into the house next to theirs. Talha get suspicious about this family, especially the, “bearded, dark-skinned man who looks nothing like Turkish people, he must be an outsider.” Soon, it is understood that they are “Syrian terrorists” and even though Talha tells her to stay away from them, Azra opens the door when the man knocks, going into their house to help his pregnant wife. She feels guilty for breaking the rule but the man insists that his wife is in a difficult situation. However, when she steps into the house they capture her and tie her up because she is the wife of the commander. Meanwhile Talha is on a cross-border operation in Syria protecting “the border”.
We live in a capitalist, neo-liberal, neo-conservative global cultural and political atmosphere and our ways of connecting each other are not free from those macro-structures. Love, in this uncertain world full of poverty, violence, terror, racism, sexism, homophobia, and other disasters, can be a solution to these problems. However, in popular novels on Wattpad that are mostly written by young Turkish women and teenage girls, love is something to rescue them from all the fighting, and this illusion makes them dream about a future where they can be rich, loved, beautiful but most importantly “passive”. Strong, hyper-masculine men are desired not only because they are capable of protecting women from other men but also women can be “powerful” through their strong boyfriends/husbands. This transfer of power is the only way to be powerful for a woman because whenever she resists patriarchal order and decides to build her own life by herself she gets beaten, humiliated, raped or even killed by men: as seen in the example when Azra goes to university, or into the next door house. The second instance relies on racist tropes to give a sexist warning; women should not think for themselves.
bell hooks writes that, ‘[t]o begin by always thinking of love as an action rather than a feeling is one way in which anyone using the word in this manner automatically assumes accountability and responsibility.’ In romance novels on Wattpad, love is always pre-decided, “written on our fate”, we cannot control or decide who to love. Simultaneously, if a man loves a woman, he cannot control his feelings and – because of the intensity of his desire and jealousy – he can do anything: yelling at her, pushing her, forcing her to do or not to do something, etc. There is no ‘accountability and responsibility’ in a Wattpad romance and it’s clear from my analysis that despite the escapism these stories may seem to offer, this right-wing portrayal of romantic love relies on too many oppressive norms to “save” us.
Tuğba Sivri has a bachelor degree on Public Relations. Then she continued her academic life in Media and Communication Studies master on Galatasaray University. She completed her master thesis about political activities of conservative women in Turkey. In 2016 she started a PhD programme in Turkish Literature and now she is writing her thesis on the popular Wattpad romances and how the discourse of neo-conservatism is produced through these narratives regarding gender roles.
 Hercai is a very popular Turkish TV drama and every Tuesday which is the day the show is air it becomes a trend topic on Twitter. Most of the tweets about the show are in English and it has been a worldwide phenomenon.
 These tags are from the most read novels and the numbers in parentheses refer to the total number of stories that use these tags in Wattpad Turkey.