How long have I been here this time? Two weeks in and yet again some arsehole has to go spoil it for me. Here I am trying to build a better relationship with this country, trying to be positive, trying to make it a time for the kids to learn and respect their second culture. Unfortunately, despite my best laid plans, there is always someone to spoil it for me.
This time is a man named Bulent, the deputy Prime Minister no less. Hard to believe that almost 20 years ago he was sat in my classroom while I taught him. Not so hard to believe that he, a quiet polite man, was a complete and utter misogynist–what is it they say about charmers?
To be fair, there’s a whole bunch of them in power. There’s lots I could say about that but won’t, it’s too tiring and depressing, and if I’m being honest they’re all as bad as each other with their harking back to some ‘Golden age’ which never existed, whether their AK, Secular, Turkish, British or whatever. (As a politics graduate who used to be interested in all this, now I am just weary).
So what has the big man Bulent done? Well just read his highly progressive views on women, given at a Bayram speech. Apparently our public laughter is offensive to him, it is not chaste, we don’t live up to his ideal of what women should be and behave. And why does this make me angry beyond everything else I keep hearing? Perhaps because I am a woman? Perhaps because I am a feminist? Or perhaps because I’m so sick of politicians thinking that morality is their business? Or perhaps I am fed up of politicians, surrounded by advisors and research still believing in their outdated ideas and so convinced that they are right, will disregard everything to the contrary (and yes I’m thinking of you Mr Gove, you’re a moron too).
There is a bunch of other stuff that Bulent says ( I will not do him the ‘honour’ of using his title–whole other issue there), banging on about morality but while men get a cursory mention the emphasis is definitely on women and their role in it all–isn’t is always? Bulent is far from alone in his views. This is a country still struggling with honour killings, ‘arranged’ marriages, deeply misogynistic views and pervasive sexism. And before people start to argue that I’m painting a black backward image of the country, it’s not happening everywhere. It’s a deeply divided country where feminism has made great strides but at the same time the word Feminism is much dirtier here than in other places, it has definitely been painted with the colour: man-hater.
Perhaps if I were based elsewhere in the country this would irk me but not necessarily enrage me. But here, to speak those words, and yet again emphasise women, only feeds into the pervasive sexism which is almost palpable. This is not a tourist area, yes there is a beach and a pool, and the site was established by ex judiciary and military but that does not mean the area is liberal and enlightened–though some would argue it is, it is definitely not. The beach, while public and frequented by families during the day, is soon taken over at dusk by men of all ages coming purely for the purpose to drink. OK you may think, not so unusual, but there are reasons they come here which are different. Many of them are the ‘secret drinkers’, that is from families where (most likely) the father is devout and will not allow them to drink. They do not want to risk being seen in bars by people they know; it may be a large city but still news travels fast. There are no women, unless they go seeking prostitutes. Places do not feel safe while they are there. These men often are brought up with views on women as those espoused by the moron, so in their view anyone not conforming to their values of the ‘chaste woman’ is a prostitute or similar. Perhaps I am not being fair but I doubt it. The one time I did go for a walk alone I quickened my pace as it grew towards dusk, and their looks in my direction were not good. I should not have to feel this way, no woman should.
This is not only my experience here. When living in Ankara we were surrounded by a lovely undeveloped green area. The same story there, secret drinkers who would come at dusk or even during the day, and leave a trail of broken glass from beer or Raki bottles. On a family walk once, within 5 minutes we had collected 50 raki bottles. I never could have walked there alone.
There are too many places a woman does not feel comfortable to go alone, and often even in the company of friends. This is not the same as being in a tourist area which has well lit promenades, and a stream of young charmers who try to call over women with sweet words full of lies. Sexism and misogyny exist there too, as they do anywhere, but it feels less threatening than being in an area where the rules on how women should behave are more closely controlled.
That is why Bulent is a moron, because once again the emphasis is on the women. It is always men who take no responsibility. Moral breakdown and disorder is once again the fault of a woman who does not ‘blush and turn away’.
Screw you Bulent, and all of you who think this way. I am NOT in control of your penis, YOU are. I am NOT to blame, nor are any of the women in this country or elsewhere, for any perceived ‘moral breakdown’. We have the right to be, to walk freely, to wear what we want, and yes to laugh out loud, to stare you down and laugh in your face. I will hold my sons hands as I laugh loudly and publicly in your face. I wish them to know their second culture but NOT the one that you are holding as a ‘golden age’. I will teach them all the things that outrage you and especially that women have a voice, and that voice and laughter is a joy to hear and a right to express.
After posting this the threads on Facebook, and apparently Twitter have been awash with outrage at the comments of the moron. International media have picked this up, even the ever racist Daily Mail has had something to say on women’s rights. But out of all this a couple of comments have caught my eye:
1. “aren’t there more important issues happening nearby too?” This comment was made after a friend posted a follow up story with the moron trying to back track in ever typical style by saying (and insert whiney voice when reading this) ‘those comments were taken out of context’–what a sad response to use the out of context excuse. Anyway back to the comment above. It got me thinking, was this person saying that WE should be concerning ourselves with more important things like Gaza/Israel, etc. I’m hoping that wasn’t what was meant, and while I can see some validity in the point my basic response is No! This is an important issue. Anyone who attempts to subtly devalue women and their rights in this way, and in a country where so many are still struggling under heavy patriarchal structures (which many of us Western girls are fortunate to have never truly experience in this way even though we may use this term), this is a big issue and not one to be taken lying down, or in this case silently. The moron’s desire to have us all ‘shyly blushing’ is very dangerous and firmly shows that a woman’s voice/opinions are not to be heard. Note that the invisible woman so cleverly created in the Fast Show sketches in the UK is so prevalent here. In fact the blog Women in Turkey Project has an interview which touches on how women, even when running a business are deliberately ignored with men refusing to speak to or take instruction from them.
If, as I suspect, the comment was intended to ask whether the moron had more important things to talk about then this left me with a dilemma. In the follow up article, where he whines and uses the out of context argument, not only does he big an even deeper hole with his crappy beliefs on women’s acceptable behaviour, it’s also revealed that the original speech lasted 1 1/2 hours! Really? Seriously? How much does this man love the sound of his own voice? One and a half hours at a bayram speech instructing people on his views on morality and ‘correct behaviour’? That aside, if his views on women are this abhorrent and backward I’m not sure that I wish him to spend and equal or greater amount of time espousing his views on sensitive political situations beyond these borders. Already I have been reading too much about how his party’s rhetoric on this and how it is stirring up anti-semistism within the country and causing problems for Turkey’s Jewish minority.
2. After reading and article in the comment is free section of The Guardian yesterday, I did what I very rarely do and looked through some comments, only to see:
“Where is Ataturk when the world needs him?”
To comment on this is rather risky, as Ataturk is seriously revered over here, but that is one of the reasons I hung my head at this comment–in despair. When is this rhetoric ever going to go? He is dead. He died a long long time ago. He’s not coming back like some Messianic figure. It’s no good calling on him to come save the day. If that’s a response to the moron’s words it isn’t helpful. It’s not helpful to keep harping back to history if you want to change the present. There never was a ‘golden age’ no matter what side of the political spectrum you come from.
My blog is not, and has never has been, intended to be the place for a political debate. It’s mostly about my experiences and attempts to rebuild a relationship with a country that I did not settle well into when I was here. I have been constantly told that my opinions are invalid because I’m not Turkish, I don’t understand because I’m not Turkish, blah blah blah.
So, perhaps foolishly, I have put my head above the parapet. I found the above comments, out of a plethora swimming around social media, to be the ones that struck me most. The ones that, as a mum of 3 Turkish boys, I hope to teach them that women’s rights/voices/equality is an important issue to talk about, comment on, and stand up against those who wish to take it away in the guise of morality. As for Ataturk, they will be taught about him too and they can make up their own minds about him by reading, talking, and the freedom to have an opinion that may or may not conform.