I grew up with respect– undeniable, unconditional respect. Our humble house was rich in morality, integrity and respect. It was an equal opportunity household and, if I asked a question, I would always receive the truth; even as a child and if the answer was too complex for my understanding, my father would always respond with the answer. There was no fake, sweet-talking, superficial bullshit (with the minor exceptions of both Papa Nöel and the Easter bunny), it was authentic, genuine and real. My parents (and the notable mention of select mentors in high school: Madame Marsden, Donna and Dave Inglehart, Anna Skeele, and Jane Gagnier) surrounded my siblings and I with this concept of raw, no-nonsense truth during my entire upbringing and helped to develop me into the strong, compassionate, respectful person that I am today.
This mentality and dynamic had many positive, humanistic correlating attributes that are ideal traits, yet they have also proposed ironic ignorance in comparison to other worldviews and cultural norms. It may seem quite odd to some, but there have few instances in my life where I have actually felt “gender.”
The first time I felt my gender was when Lonnie Taylor’s dad kicked me off the baseball team for being a girl. Oh yes, how could I forget the day where my aspirations of playing in the MLB as the starting shortstop for the Boston Red Sox were extinguished? I remember that he got my hopes up: he allowed for me to try-out with all of the other guys. I was a fast, energetic, up-stoppable shortstop with such passion and dedication that I would fearlessly dive and hurl myself to stop every ball from ever getting past me. I was a lunatic on the baseball diamond and wasn’t afraid to get down and dirty or muddy and bloody. I was fast as hell (not proven but if our team had raced, I believe that I would have come out on top because I was wicked fast and I know that I wanted it more). At the try-outs for the Raymond majors, I knew that my performance was better than half the guys there. I was one of the boys, confident in my talent and I was nearly certain that my abilities had gotten me a spot on the team. Almost. My heart stopped beating for a moment when I was informed that, “baseball was too competitive for girls” and after 10 years of growing up and rough housing with the boys, I was forced to quit baseball and “try softball.”
This was the first time in my life I had been labelled as being a girl.
Since all those years ago when my dreams of going pro were burned, I still never quite learned how to be a girl (Side note: I immediately wrote an editorial in our class newspaper, the Estey Times, entitled “Battle of the Sexes” where my fury of gender inequality was first borne in type). The role of being a girl was forced upon me and it made me feel very uncomfortable. I never really had any girl friends (besides the occasional fellow tomboy) because I never had much in common with them. In my nature, I embrace the facts that I am aggressive, competitive, intense, fierce, and that I am an athlete at heart with a strong mind; a warrior. Girls were, and still are, a foreign concept to me. At the moment I was first called a “girl,” I was made to feel like I had to play a role for society that I virtually knew nothing about and I tried so hard to own it. For a kid hitting puberty, this turned out to be a massive identity crisis.
From this, I struggled with insane confusion and depression. I had known who I was, but I suddenly found myself tossed off the plank into the rough seas of identity and being forced to swim to a fabled shore to find my inner “girl” without drowning first. Bitter with a mouth full of salt, this journey was tainted by an idea implemented by a misunderstood conception of social norms. A wave of hostility attacked my psyche and, as I have always been my own hardest critic, I beat myself up and considered myself to be freakishly abnormal. I was not like other girls, but somehow I was supposed a “girl”? I was a tomboy (hell, I even looked like a boy until I was probably 13 or 14). When it was blatantly spelled out to me that I was a girl, my confidence that I had gained through sport and competition was lost and was instead replaced with sharp sentiments of inadequacy, insecurity and insanely negative sense of self-image.
Society and media drove my confusion and intensified my standards and consequently personal disgust and pain. Girls were supposed to be pretty. When I looked in the mirror, I saw a rugged frame with a muscular, boy-figure covered with scratches, bruises, and scars from over-enthusiasm for sport. The person I saw reflected was not a girl. Girls were supposed to be pretty. The mirror showed a kid with no sense of fashion (because Red Sox jerseys didn’t count) with no pink or purple palettes in sight who inhabited a world where dresses were unheard of. I kept hearing myself yell, “girls are supposed to be pretty!” When I realised that I was supposed to be a girl, I lost everything that made me independent, special, and unique, and I instead focused on everything that made me different from others, especially in comparison to other girls in how I looked. The person I saw in the mirror was the ugliest person on the planet.
I was taught that girls were supposed to be pretty, they were supposed to dress nicely and they were supposed to look good so guys would want them. Childish and silly, but I was made to believe that the greatest success for a girl was to get a boyfriend– not to get straight-A’s, not to learn how to pitch a knuckleball or throw a perfect spiral, not be proud of their musical talent on the clarinet, not to out smart their teacher by doing a science fair project on string theory. Priorities were all disoriented and I felt like I needed to change in order to be accepted and liked by others. It became so intense and overwhelming that I sunk into a deep, incomprehensible depression from the judgements of friends, peers, family and, worst of all, myself.
I was lost.
I was quiet and slithered by in the background, undetected. My depression and confusion of identity lingered through the years, but it only made its presence fully known on occasion. Middle school and high school were filled with sheer self-loathing and consequent self-disrespect that reflected upon all of my relationships, worst of all being the one with myself. I drifted onward like this and I only learned to confront the problem as I entered the “real world” when my experience led me to focus more internally towards rediscovering myself.
I learned to cope with things through experience. In focusing on my passions– sports, running, meditation, yoga, reading, writing, dancing, drawing, music– I regained my creativity and my drive for both life and discovery of insight and knowledge. In this way, I learned that loving oneself requires a courage unlike any other; it requires one to believe in and stay loyal to something that no one else can see that keeps us in the world: our own self-worth. I re-conjured the amazing energy that makes me the unique person that I am. I remembered the spirit of the fearless child I was and realized that the fire within me still burns and it is not dictated or seen by society, gender or any form of social construction– my fire is something that burns in my heart that I dictate, that only I can control, that can never burn out.
Finding the source to my own misery was fairly difficult, but resolving it and learning to master the following mantra has been an developing project that requires active attention and much effort:
I do not need to validate my self-worth through others.
Society both directly and indirectly conditions us to focus our attention on the means that make us perceive ourselves as being “inadequate” or “not good enough.” From this, we consequently find ourselves in the position where we believe that we are only worth something if people like us. We fail to remember that it is not about being good enough, or pretty enough, or skinny enough, or popular enough or liked enough– it’s about liking yourself enough to respect your own existence and to value your own life. It’s about experiencing life, learning, growing, expanding your mind and conscious awareness of yourself and of others, maturing and striving to become the best, healthiest, and happiest version of yourself. No one can choose that for you and no one can dictate who you are or who you will become except for yourself.
This realization has been a mountainous trek within itself. Applying this mentality has helped me overcome my personal battles as well as cope with different social contexts. Dealing with western sentiments regarding gender was difficult enough, but the challenge I face at current is dictated by different trends of social norms.
The second time in my life where I felt gender was in Turkey.
After accepting my image and not considering myself as being limited to a gender and to implied traditional roles, my patience was put to the ultimate test when I entered a non-western context. Patriarchial and male-dominated to it’s his-storical core, what a blast (I swear if only the Turkish and Arabic men knew my defiance and unorthodox nature that they would, for sure, stay far away from me). In this culture, differences between men and women are made clear in extroverted society and affect conduct. Women are seen as inferior for their equality would threaten the traditional means of power structure, social etiquette and conduct, as well as all known ways of behavior and life.
In Turkish society, women are paralyzed by sentiments of domestication ordered by the untrustworthy men in power. Yes, in the past 90 years, Turkey has developed greatly, but there are certain progressive ideas that were never functionally adopted. Turkey is a great advocate for the family and traditional blood ties, but the fear of disrupting or modifying this ancient, primordial tradition keeps the call for gender equality dormant.
I am not a Turkish woman, but I can their implied gender role objectively. I know that the concept of family, in terms of traditional heirarchy and social structure, are intensified here: one does not merely have just the influence from one’s parents, but one is in constant connection and contact with them as well as one’s entire extended family (aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, the works). More influence equals more pressure. Individualism and personal identity is not accepted nor encouraged in the same way it is in the west and one’s perspective and personal goals in life are not truly one’s one for the pressure for pleasing others is great. Due to this, girls are drawn back by invisible chains of past traditional roles where they are preoccupied with filling the future roles of becoming wives and mothers.
Yes, in this age girls can go to university and get degrees but “what for?” I had an extensive conversation with a working professional Turkish woman. Single, at thirty years of age, with multiple degrees and extensive experience, she is perceived as “strange” by Turkish society. Women who choose careers as taking priority over family in Turkey are not seen as pioneers but as disruptive troublemakers.
Oh, she isn’t married? Something must be wrong with her.
She isn’t a mother? She must work extra hours without extra pay so the women in the office that are mothers can spend more time with their families.
She was only thirty and she felt as if her life was over for she had failed to due her domestic duties as a woman.
No, I am not a Turkish woman and I have seen the effects of such through different treatment. Foreign women are prized, not because they are seen as “liberated” or more “free” by Turkish men, but because they are seen as being less conservative and easier sexual conquests (as well as a potential ticket out of Turkey). Traditional Turkish men expect all women, disregarding origin, to follow their cultural norms by accepting that their status is lower to theirs and that they must conduct themselves accordingly.
It is rather difficult trying to balance being comfortable with one’s own image along with putting on a stable mask to play the cultural role in a relatively backwards context. I may not see myself as a gender, but I have to be aware of the fact that others most certainly do. Others expect me to be a woman, to be pretty, to be be proper, to act and behave in a certain way. I never learned the role of truly being a girl and I never wanted to (rebel, rebel). It can be absolutely draining pretending to be a confident woman when I am uncertain as to what that really means in this culture. It is exhausting not being seen as the intelligent, energetic, passionate person that I am and instead being objectified as a sex image in public and a potential wife/mother in private.
Some experiences of being a foreign girl abroad:
I have been attacked (1), nearly assaulted (3), followed (5+), harassed (lost count), been called out for walking alone (lost count), been yelled at for wearing a knee-length dress (2), had a middle-aged man yell at me (reason: uncertain), had a taxi driver slap my girl friend for being drunk (1), have had random guys hit on me (seriously, do not check the “other” inbox on Facebook. Current count: 99+), and countless of weirdos trying to get my number (again, the count is unknown).
In the act of self-defense, I have beaten the crap out of a Turkish guy that tried to disrespect my body, I have tear-gassed a few, kicked some nuts, got in some good jabs and cuts to to solar plexus, broke at least two noses, protected my self and other women in defense from unnecessary harm as a consequence of sexual harassment and gender discrimination.
I have learned to respect myself and I refuse to let someone else try to over power and degrade that kindled respect that I have in an attempt to lower me into an object of their perceived disrespected and lowered status. I know me and, unfortunately for them, they do not and they have no idea that they messed with the wrong woman for I am not afraid to stand up for myself and what I think is right.
Impartially, it is an amazing experience to tune into such awareness. I have been through hell in regards to my perception of self where I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly and I would not trade the pain, growth, and adaptive experience for anything. I have been exposed to different contexts and have seen how one can manage different ideas in an attempt to promote the best for one and all’s existence. There is no set standard for the greatest conduct for accumulating the telos for humanity but, by observing the problems cast by all societies and accepting the desired commonalities of equality and respect, a driving force of acceptance and hope of establishing lasting social change to reorganize and prioritize the purpose for being on an individual/personal level to cultural context, and even higher so to an international level that transcends all borders is presented.
#Respect (in the Ali G voice)
This entry was posted in Editorial and tagged conflict, culture, east meets west, eastern world, editorial, equal rights, equality, gender, gender equality, gender inequality, Istanbul, politics, psychology, respect, Saygı, sexism, social change, society, sociology, story, Turkey, women's rights, writing.