A walk in my girlfriend’s shoes

April 04, 2012, Wednesday/ 17:29:00

As a feminist man who is dedicated to constructing a new masculinity -- who is committed to concepts like choosing one’s battles, reacting in appropriate proportions to life’s trials and tribulations and focusing on what really matters, without getting distracted or discouraged by that which I cannot change -- I can’t tell you the rollercoaster of emotions that I experienced last weekend when my girlfriend was harassed again and again.

At the spice market and later in Taksim, she was pinched, groped, spit on, cat-called, growled at and her clothes were rearranged. The temptation to stereotype “those expletive Turks” was all but irresistible. She was harassed a few feet away from me, right next to me and once with my arm around her.

Have you seen the “girlfriend stance” on the bus? The boyfriend pushes his girlfriend up against the railing and leans up against her, enclosing her on one side with bus and the other three sides with protective, jealous, hyper-masculinity. It seemed weird to me and a little bit funny until our experience on Saturday.

Although it wasn’t “run-of-the-mill” harassment, it wasn’t the worst she has experienced by far. I can’t wrap my mind around it. On the way home from The Vagina Monologues (I know, ironic), she was subjected to the “casual grope,” where a man walks past closely and rubs his hand against her in a way that could be confused as accidental, and presumably defended as such. I didn’t notice until after he had groped and passed. I angrily punched the wooden siding of a fancy restaurant. You can guess that I wasn’t proud to have lost my cool.

These incidents made me angrier than I ever want to be. I don’t like it when someone else controls how I feel. I guess I got a taste of what my girlfriend experiences daily. I became defensive… and offensive. I asked her to walk on the inside of the sidewalk, and for a few minutes I kept a wad of spit ready for the next harasser.

If you are familiar with feminism, you are no stranger to the many double standards to which women are subjected. Virgin-slut, housewife-castrator and pushover-dominatrix are a few. These ideological prisons are clearly unfair (hence the term, double-standard), but when they are played out in real life, they are really miserable. The spice market was a prime example. My girlfriend’s shirt was pulled up to cover her exposed shoulder by a “helpful” man. I’m proud that she looked him in the eye and put it back in place. Five minutes later the same shirt was spit on. Five minutes after that an old, bald, toothless, fat man growled at her, presumably in an uncontrollable fit of animalistic arousal, upon seeing a few inches of exposed shoulder. These are just some of the contradictory behaviors that damn women if they do and damn them if they don’t.

The next day her shirt was blown up by the wind and a woman scolded her with “çok ayıp,” a very strong version of “shame on you.” She’s cornered from every angle, receiving blame and condemnation from both men and women.

My conscience cries out: Who created these standards and who raised these men? Don’t they have sisters, mothers, girlfriends, lovers or even female friends? How would they feel if their mothers were groped? It’s hard to remember that we are up against an ideology, not a select group of men who could be re-trained at a weekend retreat. Misogyny is a social disease; it’s an epidemic. While I know this, I still feel confused and angry. How can I respond appropriately to such inappropriate behavior?

Until I figure it out I guess I will do my best to listen to women, hear their experiences and support the good work of Hollaback! İstanbul. Visit their website at: http://istanbul-en.ihollaback.org/.

The Turkish way of referencing almost all men and women as “abi” or “abla,” meaning older brother or sister, should be taken seriously. As women are our sisters, we must treat them with respect. And we must hold our brothers accountable for their actions. We need to speak up when our friends -- and other men on the bus -- behave disrespectfully. And we must hold our friends accountable to speaking about women with respect in male-only circles. As men, we share an equal (if not greater) share of the responsibility for ending harassment.

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