Saturday, September 29, 2007

better to be a man here

Its true. If I had a choice to be born male or female in Turkey I would choose male, hands down. Yesterday I was arbitrarily dropped off in the middle of a Turkish freeway not too far from the town of Soke on my way to Ephesus. The reason for the drop-off is much less interesting than what I experienced standing on the side of the road. Drivers of many many cars slowed to what Id certainly call unsafe highway speeds to stare at me. Yes, I was wearing a tank top and shorts. Yes, I was a woman standing alone on a freeway. I felt positively out of my element. But also---there was not a single female driver. I spotted two female passengers over the course of my half hour of passive standing---before finally finding a man to help me.

The thing is, the men are pretty delightful. Theyre talkative and helpful and even playful. There have been the aggressive ones, no doubt, but Ive been pleasantly surprised. Ive experienced more street harrassment in Italy---hell, even on the streets of San Francisco.

And their openness is part of why Id choose to be a man. They have more permission to be engaged. The women are reserved because theyre expected to be. Once I finally caught my minibus it was the women who watched me, looks of utter concern (not disdain) visible in their eyes and furrowed brows---even those who wore a full headscarf so that their eyes were all I could see. The men, meanwhile, tried to help, gallantly displaying their limited vocabulary for all the bus to hear and chime in. I turned to a young college-aged woman sitting two aisles up and gave her the look you give women when men are talking over each other and she said, plainly, "You will need to transfer at the end of this line and get on a bus to Kusadasi." Her English was beautiful, and yet she had held back while the men around her uttered their few words and phrases. I felt grateful and sad and bewildered all at once. And I thought, Better to be a man.

Turkey is modernizing. Its progressive. It fancies itself a European nation. But where women are concerned they have a distressingly far way to go. I sometimes find myself struggling to articulate arguments concerning the Middle East and womens rights because I despise the notion that Americans have something to teach other countries or that somehow everyone else should be on board with our way of life, our standards, our morals. But I can state with conviction that any country where Id feel happy to have been born a woman is a place where I feel more right and peaceful and happy in the world. And as Turkey strives toward increasing modernization I do hope this is something that the young men and women who are shaping the future of this beautiful place---so full of potential---come to recognize.


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