"There are places that are freer."

Living in Turkey as a Woman

Written by Anonymous

I am someone who has lived in the US for 8, Canada for 10, and Germany for a year. Oh, and in Turkey for about 13, plus the three years I've been "back", in total 16. That makes a lot of years, almost 35. One thing is for sure: I am no longer a teen who can wander around forever. One does want to put roots down.

So anyway...it's been 3 years that I've been back from Canada, one of the world's most civilized countries, somewhere where many Turks would absolutely kill to live in, migrate to--many have asked me in awe: "but why would you come back here?" Even police officers while I was renewing my passport had asked me..."so...you are saying you have canadian citizenship...and you want to live here...correct?", their face in utter disbelief. YES, I came by my own will, it was my decision, no one forced me into it. It's funny, right?

Anyway, so here I am back. How has it been, honestly? The real scoop--no lies. I feel much less free, much more restricted. Like everyone's watching and criticizing. Because that's exactly what they are doing. There's a lot else too, but this is the main thing that stands out for me.

Here's a general attempt to explain some of the restrictions from a woman's perspective, in a nutshell:

Ever since I stepped into this country, people have been trying to "cover me up".

Literally, they either want to cover up my mouth, "don't say that! That's just too much. That would offend him/her. Then they'll think so and so" or "shhhhh! You shouldn't laugh so loud..." (often because no one else laughs as loud) or they want to cover up my body: I've had my aunt literally pull my cleavage up and my skirt down to her levels of liking; I've had both my father and aunt tell me they wouldn't go to a certain restaurant with me (on two separate occasions by the way) if I wouldn't change my dress! How offensive could my dresses have been that they used such strong words? They literally refused to go out with me if I didn't change. In the case with my dad, his explanation was "the waiters there know me." (which means, "they'll think I have a loose daughter and I'll be embarrassed." The dress was short.)

Recently I was at an iftar, where I wore a strapless long dress with a jean jacket on top. When I took the jacket off because it was so humid, it was nearly a scandal. A lady older than me panicked, "but everyone's fast will be ruined when they see you" (the algorithm being: your shoulders show. Therefore: men who have fasted all day will be turned on and they'll think impure thoughts about your shoulders. Therefore: all their "hard work" will be for nothing. Hmmm...) she then proceeded to ask the waiter for a shawl and made me cover up! I felt violated and embarrassed. I am absolutely aware that she may have had a point, it was Ramadan and you don't want to show up naked, but still, there were others at the table with sleeveless tops and waaaay more cleavage than me. She also could have just said something privately and not yell it out so loudly where the whole table heard and laughed (awkward!) as well as the waiters, and humiliate me. It was invasive, what she did. I am 34 and don't need to be policed in public...but wait: apparently I do in this country, because I don't know how to dress appropriately.

Censorship happens in the context of freedom of speech and freedom of expression too.

I used to write a blog on a daily news site, and one time I chose to write about my online dating experience back in Canada. Just online dating experiences in general. I published it on my Facebook page and once my once-proud-dad read the entry, he freaked out! He told me to take it down: that his colleagues knew my name and that he's told them his daughter blogs (because he was proud). What a shame it would be if they read I have online dating experience! Perhaps they'd think "wow, she must be loose...wow, she must have lots of experience with men..." I really don't know what goes through these hypothetical people's minds--all I know is that I had to take down the piece. (Ok, maybe I have a clue: it's usually unacceptable to be as open as I am in Turkish culture: in terms of how one speaks, how much one shares and how one dresses. It's just that I don't really want to abide by these rules. That's what it is.) Anyway, it felt wrong against every fibre in my body but I took the scandalous blog entry down. Just because by chance, what if they did read it and make my father feel bad? God knows, the last thing I want is to shame my dad because of my "freedom of expression stuff".

Being objectified like there's no tomorrow: this just comes with the territory.

Especially at the workplace. A random guy I don't even normally talk to but do some business with asked me if I had lost weight. I was taken aback but replied, "yes" and he then proceeded to say that it was better this way. Thanks for the approval, random guy who isn't even my friend! Or being looked up and down by superiors and being told that I am chubby, that I have curves. One male and one female did this, laughing. Not funny! Offensive! Or in the form of mobbing: someone I can't speak back to had said "come here! move! your ass needs to become smaller anyway." WOW. But this guy was a real case of The Devil wears Prada where NO ONE ever speaks back at him out of sheer fear for one's life. I changed departments after that.

Basically, a woman's first job is to not only NOT BE FAT but also BE PRETTY at all times. But this one shouldn't come as a surprise. It's just that in countries like Canada or Germany, no one cares if you're fat and I even got tons of compliments when I was "fat" and without makeup. No one keeps track, either. The only other culture that is much more extreme than Turkey in terms of looks that I have experienced is Iran. Having been there and having been exposed to "having to cover up" and "having to have makeup on/be ridiculously beautiful" simultaneously was definitely an experience. I must point out: it is fun to be made up, look good etc. and some of the most beautiful women in the world are Iranian, but it'd be nice if it were a choice, not an obligation.

Oh, a goodie: your marital status: everyone asking you if you are single and if yes, wondering what your problem is. (You're too picky? You have way too high standards? You couldn't "find/get" someone, something must be wrong with you) This is another huge one.

Women need to be wanted by someone, anyone, belong, have a ring on their finger or at the very least a promise.

While I don't know if it is a compliment or not when someone exclaims, "wow...a girl like you? How come no one has snatched you away already!", what I do know is that it's none of their business. It gets tiring explaining "well, kismet." (My standard explanation) but I must admit, these exclamations leave me with self-doubt, like really, what is wrong with me and how come no one snatched me...

I know none of this is newly written, but this is my own unique experience. The next thing that may come to mind is, "if it's that bad, why do you stay?". Well, I put up with it thus far because this is part of my culture/heritage, my family lives here, I wanted to give it a shot, etc. But I AM seriously considering leaving again, since this kind of life is not a life, where one feels like a prisoner, under scrutiny and judged, pushed into tight boxes of expected behaviour. Not okay with me. There are places that are freer. I did give it my best shot, really trying to respect this culture while keeping my identity and integrity. It may have been up until here though...