The woman in red

The latest image to go viral on social media is that of the “Turkish woman in red”  It’s actually a short sequence that you can find as a video showing a young Turkish woman being sprayed in the face by police wielding teargas guns.   The image is hauntingly symbolic.  The woman is stylishly dressed in western clothing.  She seems out of place, as if she has suddenly stumbled upon the riot,  As Alexandra Hudson of Reuters points out ” in her red cotton summer dress, necklace and white bag slung over her shoulder she might have been floating across the lawn at a garden party; but before her crouches a masked policeman firing teargas spray that sends her long hair billowing upwards.”  Coupled with the stop action nature of the photos the sequence and individual images take on a dream like quality.  That is until you realize how vicious and nasty spraying teargas directly into someone’s face is. In that context the woman in red stands defiant against the conservative government of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.  She is demanding her right to sexual equality and independence.

The appeal of the photograph, of course, lies both in its incongruity and in the “girl next door” quality of the young woman.  I cannot help but be reminded of “Les Misérables.”  This story has been played out before.  That was the June Rebellion of 1832.No king now sits on the throne of France.The ultimate power of this sequence of images is that the answer is inevitable.  The future belongs to the world’s youth.  Equality and liberty are not just slogans.  The world ultimately belongs to Éponine, Marius, and Cosette.  All of that is in four little frames, demonstrating once again the power of image.

This entry was posted in Reviews and Critiques.


  1. Andrew Wolf June 5, 2013 at 1:52 pm #

    I disagree with two of your points here:

    First: why are you assuming she is standing up for sexual equality and independence? Turkey is a stable democracy. The current Turkey PM is a lot like George Bush for the people of Istanbul, a conservative country bumkin who trys to infringe on their way of life, but hardly an oppressive dictator (He has won by large margins in the last two elections). These protests started as a result of the current Islamic government cracking down on Istanbul’s drinking laws as well as an issue surrounding labor protests that typically take place in Taksim square and are against the current government. Sexual equality has not been a stated issue.

    Second: I take issue with the idea that this Woman isn’t “dressed like a protester.” As something of a professional protester myself I often leave work in my dress clothing to go to a protest. I don’t think that her clothing makes this injustice worse. Furthermore, I feel generally as a society we force a women’s appearance into conversation about their actions where we would not do the same for men. The classic example being that we constantly talk about what Michelle Obama is wearing any time she holds an event and yet we never talk about what Barack is wearing (Which btw is always suits made by a union tailor shop in Chicago).

    Anyway I agree that the excessive use of Police force on innocent civilians is horrible and the fact that this woman is clearly not using violence in her speaking up is very important, in fact the most important reason why this picture is compelling. But I think we must be careful to assume she seeks sexual liberation or gains special or lesser status because of what she is or isn’t wearing.

  2. Megan June 6, 2013 at 4:38 pm #

    I agree with Andrew, but I’d make one small distinction. I think the post is completely on point regarding the woman’s appearance being central to why people find it compelling, and why it has gone viral around the world. Unfortunately, the normative standard in our global culture is if you look, act, and dress a certain way, you can be expected to be free from violence and treated with respect. This picture, both affirms and strips away these assumptions. While it is obvious that this woman is not free from violence despite being a light-skinned, well-dressed, cis woman, it is also those attributes that make people outraged. How DARE that cop do that to that pretty little lady. It’s this aspect that the post points out.

    This picture is compelling because of that reaction that is almost completely reflexive. Yet, it is also compelling by the fact that it questions our assumptions: what did I think about the police violence and protests in turkey before I saw this image? would this same picture have gone viral if it featured a woman of color? or a guy, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt? and, would we have felt so outraged? And of course, if not, why?

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  1. […] received some very interesting comments from readers Megan and Andrew regarding my post about the Turkish woman in red.  The discussion really returns us to the view that an image is a meme.  We see it and we draw […]