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16 April 2014, Wednesday
 
 
Today's Zaman
 
 
 
 

A walk in my girlfriend’s shoes

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18
4 April 2012, Wednesday /WILLIAM GALLMEYER
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.

 
 
COMMENTS
Yes, I am totally sick of this "unacceptable" way of thinking. It is NOT my job to assimilate to this backward way of thinking. I have been living and working in Turkey for 7 years and believe me I dress far more conservative than my Turkish co workers. That being said ...work is work... and persona...
Caterina Herrington
Jennet, your Idiocracy comments are shameful to be coming from a fellow woman. The amount of misogyny a woman, especially foreign ones, endures on a daily basis in Istanbul is horrific. I lived here for 2 months, and I been "casual grope" 3 times and these times I was wearing a hooded sweatshirt an...
Englishteacher
I am going to marry a turkish man. I live on the other side of the world. Now I understand what he was saying to me. He said I must always walk right beside him turkish men are rude and not nice. He said you can not walk the streets by your self turkish men will look at your body and they are like ...
to marry a turkish man
Why should women be expected to cover themselves to get respect they deserve respect as humans not because show visable signs of belonging to a particular group. I don't particularly care what religion anyone is an a harresser is a harresser whatever his religion or not. A woman should be able to g...
What's that about
Dear William, In answer to your question: "Don’t they have sisters, mothers, girlfriends, lovers or even female friends?": Yes, Turkish, Muslim men are rightly very protective of their sisters, mothers and daughters. You should learn from their (even if not perfect) example. Protect your girlfrien...
Abdullah Eyles
A person, either male or female, should have the right to walk out of their house naked and still be respected as a human being. If they have a problem with shoulders, maybe they shouldn't over-sexualize women.
AlexAndrea
Being a Scandinavian woman living in Istanbul (and always dressing in jeans and "decent" clothing, whatever that means), I come across harrassement almost every day. As many readers here seem to suggest, it is NOT about the clothing, but about how Western women are perceived here, particularly if yo...
Are you kidding me?
when a woman cannot even respect herself with her dress, what chance is there for any man to do the same. These half naked women shamlessly walk around Muslim countries as if they are doing society a favour by wearing their ridiculous flimsy attire. And most of them who do so, are so ugly so I can...
jennet
@jennet I totally agree that the women visiting Turkey need to dress as the locals.If they do not however, what gives people the right to treat these women badly ? It is more a respect to the country to dress as a local rather than a Muslim thing as you put it. Problem is however my dear jennet tha...
simplesimon
It should not matter what a woman is covered from head to toe or wearing a miniskirt - no one has the right to harass her! If you feel that she was dressed inappropriately for a Muslim country, why are the men not acting in a proper, respectful way towards her? There is no excuse for harassment - it...
Liz
I actually went to school with your girlfriend for several years in the states, and I can attest to her professional and respectful character. notsorosetinted, I agree with your point. I have nothing but respect for Muslim culture, but I believe differently. Your "Western" girlfriend should not have...
Emily
Well-written and thought out, but these comments are shameful. Why is it so much easier for you to blame her for the shirt she wore as opposed to blaming the men who did not choose to respect her? Blame the men who spit and jeer and catcall- all of those are universally rude, regardless of your nati...
Joan
In answer to notso, I doubt that anyone wearing a burka would get groped in Britain - but perhaps she may be spit upon. That's not the point. For some exposed shoulders are sexy - it could have been a grandfather who tried to cover one up - and if your going to dress sexy in a part of town where th...
june
I would be surprised if not shocked to see someone walking round in public in any country or culture in a shirt that covered so loosely that it could blow up in the wind!! leave the beachware on the beach!
Surprised
hang on guys ....... its ok for a woman to wear a burka in the UK (not traditional british wear), so why is it not ok for this woman to wear a shirt that came off the shoulder?? hardly walking around in her bikini!! If turkey want tourists they must accept that we are not going to walk around in the...
notsorosetinted
Why would your girlfriend not dress to fit the culture of which she's in and walk around with her shoulders exposed in a t shirt that fly's up in a breeze? In the Spice bazaar of all places! How old are you 22? Time to get a bit of wisdom happening.
june
if you are a woman from the west, you should expect to be treated as a *** if you shamefully walk around half- naked just to attract unwanted attention. So why should these women complain about the backlash from Turks, for dressing down. Dress gracefully and respect the Muslim culture and no body w...
jennet
I think you might be preaching to the choir WILLIAM! I would suggest the purchase of a tazor by all women in Istanbul. I small shock to the proper area might make men think twice the next time.
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