“Who is the one that is beautiful? What is worthy and deserving of being loved? Which is the identity and personality that ought to be loved more? Who is in the possession of attitudes that lead to love? We must be able to search, reveal and develop beauty and that which is more loveable. Your reason for staying among ranks is the ability to be a source of love and beauty.” (Abdullah Öcalan)
Before aesthetics was confined to the sphere of philosophy and art, before it was conceived as a female body to appeal to men’s desires, all that added value, beauty and meaning to life was perceived as sacred and beautiful. Öcalan states this very powerfully: “I do not recognize beauty outside of the ethical and political society. Beauty is ethical and political!” Especially with the emergence and rise of power and the state, beauty and goodness were only able to be protected through struggle. Zarathustra’s “Think, speak, and act good” laid out principles, a path on which the likes of Mani, Buddha, Confucius, and Socrates developed thoughts to defend societal values.
In the cultures of all peoples around the world, heroes, prophets, totems, deities, religions, beliefs emerged that showed people the way to beauty, goodness and rightfulness. In the longest period of human history, due to woman’s embodiment of all of life’s sacredness and woman’s representation of this communal culture in society, she was seen as the source of beauty.
In ancient times, at periods where humanity’s life conditions were restricted, that which strengthened the conditions for reproduction, nutrition, and protection were worshipped and deemed beautiful. Among the most striking archaeological artefacts from the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic eras are the much-debated female figures, which are often referred to as Venus figurines, that embody this phenomenon. Considering that despite the scarce means of nourishment under non-sedentary life, where the conditions for corpulence were near impossible, fertility worship and the Venuses that played a remarkable role in life, became symbols for society’s values of sacredness and beauty. They represent big-bellied women with large breasts down to their wide hips, which are often in the process of giving birth.
Female figures of even greater size and suggestive signification can be found in the Middle East geography from the beginning of the Neolithic age, which is estimated to date back to 6500 BCE. Among the oldest of these are houses at Çatalhöyük with reliefs depicting women, as old as from the period between 6500 to 5600 BCE. Women on these reliefs are often pregnant and have very large breasts. Öcalan refers to the source of the figurines of Çatalhöyük when writing that: “The Neolithic revolution (…) developed in the birthplace of the Euphrates, Tigris and Zab rivers. It starts there and reaches to Çatalhöyük. Woman is the first to develop agriculture and animal husbandry. She is depicted as protecting herself with two leopards. Plenty of female figures emerged in the diggings there, because women’s power was hegemonic”. The famous Potnia Theron between two what seem to be panthers, is both a mother and a judge of nature. According to one archaeologist, Potnia must have been the mother of other goddesses that must have constituted a source of hope for peasants and shepherds since the beginning of the Neolithic up to the rise of male-dominated monotheistic religions.
In later periods, beauty, fertility, goodness and rightfulness found meaning for matricentric agricultural communities in goddess cults. Inanna for the Sumerians, Ishtar for the Akkadians, Astarte for the Canaanites, Kubaba and later Cybele for the Hurrians and Hittites, el-Uzza for the Arab peninsula, Demeter for the Latin cultures, and Aphrodite for the Greeks represented common symbols, rituals and practices. They are all goddesses of fertility, love and beauty. Öcalan claims that the Inanna-Aphrodite tradition represents a womanhood that not yet lost its beauty, sexual charm and physical strength. What is thus represented in the goddess is society’s agricultural tradition, its ethical-political life-form. It is still possible to find traces of goddess cultures in remnants of ethical-political societies, to recognize immense struggles being led in places where this culture is strong. Although there was no trace of them alongside the goddesses at the beginning, the gods emerged first as their little sons and later as their husbands. Dumuzi alongside Inanna, Tammuz next to Ishtar, Baal with Astarte, Attis by Cybele, Osiris along Isis, and Adonis aside Aphrodite. The sacred marriage ritual, which is a union of the goddess with her chosen partner, celebrated at the beginning of spring, happens on the terms of the goddess. Eulogies recount the beauty and fertility of this process. In autumn, Dumuzi, Tammuz, Baal, Attis, Osiris and Adonis die, representing nature’s retreat under the earth, only to reunite with the goddess in the wake of spring. These mythological tales still prevail in our epics like Leyla and Majnoun, Mem and Zîn, Kerem and Aslı, Tahir and Zühre, Yusuf and Zulaikha, Arzu and Qamber, Siyabend and Xecê, stories which are still told today. The beautiful women in the eulogies in epic love stories in fact depict the goddesses as the source of life and beauty, while expressing a longing for their era. For this reason, in these tragic love stories, love is always attacked by malevolent forces, the lovers never manage to reunite in this evil world, but their love remains the source of true beauty. That is why Farhad and Shirin tell each other:
“I found perfection only in you/From now on I cannot hope to create perfection/My first defeat is my supreme defeat/Farhad’s work is now complete/Shirin stood against Farhad’s words./She said: … We already embarked on creation/All beauties will be asked to us/The good and right we embarked upon/Our thought will always seek eternity/Erase all that you created if you wish/If you wish, create all anew/Count a passion that will not diminish itself, if you wish/Walk towards the times awaiting us/I want you to overcome my beauty/I don’t want to stay alone in nature/I shall understand myself with that which you created/Give higher beauties to me…” [Translation not official]
For long periods of time, beauty found meaning in the form of collective values. Those who were courageous, sacrificial and modest, those who lived communally, those who did not bow down to injustice were found beautiful. Before our minds were poisoned by positivist science paradigms, it was tales, epics, strans of the dengbej [laments of Kurdish story-tellers], poems, and proverbs, which are society’s greatest sources of education that transmitted and praised that which is beautiful, good and just. However, perceptions of beauty increasingly changed with time.
Among those who have shaped our notion of beauty is Aristotle. He defined beauty with mathematical ideals and ratios. He said: “The chief forms of beauty are order and symmetry and definiteness, which the mathematical sciences demonstrate in a special degree” and claimed this to be expressed in the mathematical “golden mean”. Accordingly, this measurable character was seen as the source of beauty in faces, bodies, artworks, to the extent that women’s and men’s bodies were represented in paintings and sculptures by Greek, Roman and Renaissance artists with this formula. Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa was created in this sense. While beauty was idealized and expressed in art on one hand, it was increasingly reduced to its physical aspects and to being an artistic current on the other. Especially “inner beauty”, as valued in Eastern philosophy was side-lined. The only beauty that came to be seen as meaningful and valid was that which appeals to the eye and is expressed in shape.
Today, faces and bodies are cut and reconstructed by plastic surgeons as though they were made of clay to achieve mathematical standards, such as the “golden ratio”. Living bodies, organisms are turned into replicas of statues. Definitions of beauty, of women’s beauty to be precise, follow the claims of Aristotle, who defined woman as a “mutilated male”, who is “inferior” to men. Claiming women’s ideal body measurements to be 90-60-90, all other shapes and sizes of women are declared to be defective. Even though such forms and standards are impossible to be met by the vast majority of women, especially not in a healthy way, there is a vested interest to assure women invest time and energy to obtain these ideals. As a result, many women experience problems with their health, whether physical or psychological issues, including depression and other mental conditions. Women who are perceived as being unable to reach such idealized beauty standards are condemned to a lifetime of suffering from the inferiority complexes as a result. People are made to fear life’s natural cycles, to dread ageing and maturing. Instead of living every age’s inherent beauty, we mourn after a perceived loss of youth and beauty. Every wrinkle, every white hair in the mirror thus becomes a ource of pain.
As long as we don’t beautify life, all existing beauties are endangered. Ancient forests, luscious rivers, lively sea shores are all greedily eyed by interest and profit-driven companies, states, and markets. Every day, concrete buildings, dams and other infrastructure destroy nature’s beauties, often irreversibly. Nature is losing its defence. Beautiful young women are rendered goods to be sold by their fathers to marriages with old rich men, objects at the mercy and in the service of abusive and violent partners, commodities that generate money on the market. Women, too, are forcibly deprived of their means of defence. Every day, beautiful women get murdered by their partners in the name of love. There is an abundance of testimonies of how ISIS or similar groups picked the “most beautiful girls” to be sold into sex slavery. In other words, beauty which remains defenceless and unorganized in such an ugly world is vulnerable to murder and rape. For this reason, we must live beauty collectively – and we must create spaces for this to happen. Only if we assert our ethical and aesthetical values in all spheres of life, including politics, economy, and culture, we can meaningfully set standards for beauty, live beautifully and become sources of beauty.
In this sense, beautifying life can be realized by fighting against the ugliness, wrongs and evils around us. Especially as women, we must be conscious of our responsibility to beautify life, because we are always the greatest victims of ugliness. As expressed wonderfully by guerrilla fighter, comrade Bêrîtan (Gülnaz Karataş) after an action at Rubarok, where she was hit by an enemy bullet in the face: “Look, how beautiful one gets. I look so beautiful now”. Comrade Bêrîtan is one of the first ones to understand that we have no other choice than to become beautiful through fighting. This has become even more obvious when we consider recent developments, such as the increasing systematic violence against women. I am not solely referring to physically defending ourselves with arms. Women who democratize politics, women who risk their lives to protect communities and other women, women who educate themselves and those around them, women who live communally, women who save the ecological equilibrium, women who struggle to raise children in free countries, with their own identities… and many others are all women who become beautiful through struggle. In today’s world full of ugliness, injustice and evil, not physical, augmented forms aesthetics constitute beauty; only women who defend life through struggle can create beauty.
In this sense, is there anything more beautiful than the young women who fight against ISIS fascism?
Zozan Sîma (member of Jineolojî Comitee)
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