Istanbul and the women: getting rid of the clichés
I am often surprised (and sometimes amused) about the remarks of my entourage when I remind them of my expatriation in Istanbul. If certain remarks and questions are really fanciful such as “Do you have to wear the veil now?”. Others may be justified by their ignorance of Turkey: “Is it not dangerous to go home alone at night?”; “Is it provoking to drink alcohol wearing a dress in a bar?”; and many more.
I had never set foot in Turkey before my expatriation started a year ago, and to be honest, I asked myself the same questions when I considered living in Turkey. The Middle East is a very complex and fragmented region: our mistake may lie in the fact that we often link the image of submissive women in certain parts of the Middle East with Turkish women who are known for their emancipation and autonomy.
Learn through History:
Once the Republic of Turkey was created, Atatürk undertook a series of reforms in order to modernize the country. Thus, Turkish women obtained new rights sometimes way before European citizens. In fact, women in Turkey obtained the right to vote in 1934, 10 years before France, and 37 years before Switzerland. In 1926, gender equality was proclaimed, polygamy was prohibited, and marriage and divorce were recognized.
For example, Sabiha Göckçen, the Airport located on the Asian shore of Istanbul, is named after the first Turkish female pilot, but also the first woman in the world to be a fighter pilot.
What does « being a woman in Turkey » mean today?
First of all, I would say that there is not ONE Turkey but MANY Turkeys. Of course, you will meet more emancipated women in Istanbul than in southeastern Turkey, where social and family pressures against these women living in rural areas of Turkey remain strong. But things are moving. Thus, it is common to meet families where the mother wears the veil, where the eldest daughter wears mini-skirts and piercings, where the middle one has made the choice to cover herself completely and where the younger sister would not change her skinny jeans for anything in the world.
In Turkey, women have a choice in terms of their clothing and lifestyle. They can choose whether a “Western” style or a more “Islamic” one to match their religious beliefs and femininity. Some dress sexy, others chose for comfort above all. A little or a lot of makeup, loose hair, tied up or under a veil. All these women live together at school, at work, on the street, and in cafes and offer us an interesting mosaic that we are not used to in France. Personally, when I arrived in Istanbul, I was very impressed by the elegance and coquetry of Turkish women around me. I find them very well dressed and trendy, makeup fit, confident, and comfortable with their style. Here, I am free to continue to dress as I wish and in accordance with my western lifestyle. When the weather is hot, you can see shorts and dresses everywhere, even during Ramadan without this being a problem. However, covering one’s hair, shoulders, and legs is mandatory when visiting mosques.
In the evening, when I decide to go out with my friends, I choose my outfit according to my mood! Nightclubs and Turkish bars are less demanding than in France about the dress code required. Of course, you should avoid jogging and flip flops to celebrate in Beyoğlu and it is better to be well dressed if you are having a chic evening in Bebek, but if you want to wiggle in denim basket or skirt and heels, it only concerns you and your wardrobe. It is also quite possible and classic to go out alone, to dance unaccompanied, to smoke on the terrace or in the street, to drink the alcohol you like and in the quantity that you like.
So yes, some may be watching you but that does not necessarily mean that person is going to bother you; when you notice a group of foreigners or tourists in your country, it challenges you and you can not help but show a little curiosity towards them. The same thing happens here, especially as Turkish people are used to foreigners and many Erasmus students who enjoy meeting around a drink.
And what about security?
Of course, the feeling of security is subjective and strongly depends on the neighborhood in which you are (you may not feel comfortable in Fatih but feel at home in Kadıköy for example) but overall, I feel safer and less harassed in Istanbul than in France. Sexual harassment affects all women, but in Istanbul, no one ever stopped me in the street to talk to me, to compliment or to insult me, unlike in Paris where this happens too often. The same thing goes for the hands-on the subway even when it is packed during peak hours which could offer many opportunities to these unscrupulous people.
The Turks cannot know at first sight that I am an expatriate (by this I mean that I do not have slanted eyes or that I am not blonde with blue eyes), but most of my expatriated friends that can possibly be related to a “specific nationality”, and that would be more vulnerable to this type of behavior, share my point of view. I talked to many Europeans on holiday in Istanbul who was “pleasantly surprised” by the modernity of the city and the feeling of security that reigns there.
Finally, Turkish people will certainly easily start the conversation with you. Do not be surprised or frightened: in Turkey, it is simply more common to communicate with strangers than in some European countries where interpersonal relationships more distant. This is just one aspect of Mediterranean culture. And if by bad luck, you come across an annoying guy, just let him know and he will certainly leave you alone.
It is completely possible to live your experience safely in Turkey as a girl/woman whether on the street, at the restaurant, or at the beach. Whatever your lifestyle is, it will be shared by hundreds of thousands of people because of the vastness and diversity of this country.
To all the travelers who want to discover the beauty of Istanbul, I hope I have answered your questions. If this is not the case, do not hesitate to send us your questions, your concerns, and your experience by leaving a comment.
By Manon, a French student.
I came to Istanbul a bit randomly, but this city has been a huge surprise and a big crush since the moment my plane landed. I lived one year here, and this motivates me to come back whenever I can : to rediscover a city that is always changing, to eat a kahvaltı (typical breakfasts) or to visit the Princes Islands.
I am passionate and in love with this city, and I take a great pleasure to present the Turkish culture to my friends and my family.
I am really happy and super excited to join the Too Istanbul adventure!
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