With a population of 16 million people and with rich mixture of cultural, religious, national and other backgrounds, Istanbul can be seen as a world by itself. What you are going to read about, is without doubt present all around the world – and of course there are significant differences present within Istanbul already – but there are some specialities that are simply unavoidable and must be seen.
Apart from street musicians and occasionally other street performers, there is another type of artists in the streets of Istanbul. The special spices comes in walking, standing and sitting version, its preying styles vary, but their common habit is to distract the prey and gradually reveal their purpose. So, you think a stranger is asking you for help or directions, but in the next 15 seconds you will notice a difference. Of course they will want to know your name, where you come from and what are you doing here. Suddenly you will become »beautiful girl with a beautiful name« and no matter what you think, all of that comes from only one of your characteristics – being a woman. In 5 minutes you can meet several artists in the same area during the peak hours, chances even increase by how stereotypically foreign you look and if you look younger.
Spice girls, wanna buy some spices?
Hey, beautiful! Comments in similar manner. Whistling. Various sounds that aim to express »compliment« about one’s appearance. Welcome to Istanbul.
Variety of sexist approaches attempting to attract attention can also be found in various (touristic) places. Mostly in English and well prepared. Those artists continue believing catcalling is flattering, women actually like it and they are asking for it by simply going around alone. Walking side by side with a man, changes the situation dramatically. Yes, »your« man is respected more than you are. Some change can also be achieved by using a fake engagement or wedding ring. You have to be »his«. Or simply…
Be a man.
You are not a woman? Are you a man? Being a man in Istanbul is like winning the lottery. The respect you get by people you meet, talk to, or get service from is sometimes solely based on your gender. You are entitled to the biggest amount of rights. You can freely, without fear enter the most of public spaces and the chances you would not feel welcome there are almost non-existing.
You can express your feelings and affection to your friends (no matter what their gender is) in public spaces freely and with no need to conform to any norms or expectations from your surroundings. You are entitled to the biggest amount of rights. You can freely, without fear enter the most of public spaces and the chances you would not feel welcome there are almost non-existing. Nobody will think he/she must judge your appearance or style of clothing – no matter how you look, as long as you do not »look like a woman«. Because on the other hand you are expected to conform to society’s heteronormativity. Your sex is one of the identities that matter the most. You are expected to act and behave in a »masculine« way. Men are expected to »be a man«, as »being a man« is represented in common sense, even though it is clearly biased, encourages inequality among genders (yes, all of them) and reproduces the stereotypical and heteronormative gender roles. Not to even mention the influence all this imposes on children and youth while getting to know their gender identities. So, if you are not »a real man« …
Act like a man.
Even though »acting like a man« in Turkey differs from for example central European sense of »acting like a man«, it is still a must. Common thing that surprises foreigners in Istanbul is the following view in the streets: two men meet in the street and give each other the warmest hug one can imagine. Two men are holding their hands by little fingers in the metro.
Two men are walking down a crowded street arm in arm. Three men walk like this. But warmer and more relaxed bodily interaction between men is not connected to »acceptance« (and this is not how that will be called in a world with gender equality) of non-heterosexual people. The »masculine« is only deepening the gap between men and everybody else. How could it not, since it is based on the difference from »feminine« and builds itself on opposition to women’s »weakness«. In practice it is putting anyone, who is not acting completely as he or she should according to his sex, in an inferior position. Gay or lesbian couples will receive loud and shameless comments in the streets and let’s not even start about transgender persons and other gender or statuses that do not conform to traditional heteronormative discourse. The most important question: is there anybody benefiting from all the sexist behaviour?
Streets of the Oppressed
One does not simply walk into streets of Istanbul. Even if you are not oppressed neither oppressor, you become a part of what is happening. Also by just walking past, by observing or not or simply by not caring – you are still a part of everyday sexism present all around, sometimes hidden, sometimes clearly showing itself. Sexism doesn’t discriminate – no matter where – race, religion, class, age, political views (to only name a few possibilities) don’t matter. Sexism will find you. And finally: even your gender doesn’t matter. Even as a man you cannot freely express yourself in terms of gender. And yes, even if you are feeling comfortable, as long as there will be somebody around you not feeling the same, it is worth think about it. Sexism is not simply freedom of expression, it is violation of other people’s freedom. So, next time you walk down a street, open your eyes and ears. Is that your cup of çay? Or you would rather try to change it?
Finishing BA in dramaturgy and performing arts, researching on culture in Gezi protests, activist for human rights. Interested in migration, gender, activism as intervention into public space, sustainable living. Musician by heart.