A well-educated young Turkish woman on a bus yesterday told me that her ex-husband used to beat and humiliate her. Several years on, she is having trouble creating goals for herself. This month, during a span of 12 days, 12 women were brutally murdered in Turkey. More, if we count girls and teenagers.
Men’s lack of awareness about their role in violence against women is made worse by the media’s own ignorance and manipulation of the issue. Turkey’s media is no exception. But the indicators are all there, on page three in the newspaper and in our apartment buildings, that men are beating the life out of women.
Last month, I watched one of the country’s top talk show hosts, Beyazit Öztürk, interview rock vocalist Aylin Aslım on Kanal D about a project to benefit the "No to domestic violence" campaign. I talked with Aylin this week for the main story on the Women in Sight page about her role in the project. The compilation album and recent concert took its name, "Güldunya", from a previously banned song of hers addressing an honor killing case.
I heard Öztürk criticize the album cover for not relating to abused women because he said its image of bright red lipstick gave the album a cosmopolitan feel. "Unfortunately, people see this issue as far away from them in the southeast," Aylin replied. "It’s the same ratio in Istanbul as in the southeast. The level of education doesn’t have any bearing on the statistics either."
Undeterred by his lack of information, he then suggested that the campaign had gone too far by making violence an issue of men against women. "Shouldn’t we say that this is more a human problem," he said. "No," Aylin said, "It’s a widespread fact that men use violence on women. Women don’t rape their husbands."
"But women beat their children," he said. "Because they are beaten by men," Aylin replied. She told me that at that point, the mostly male university-aged audience groaned in disapproval at her response. And Öztürk told her that he thought she was being too harsh.
"It is so inappropriate to say we shouldn’t see this as a man’s problem," she told me. Disheartened by the young men’s response in the audience, Aylin said, "They made me feel more hopeless."
Whether they know it or not, those young men look to Öztürk as a model for their behavior and a reinforcer of their misguided values. Chauvinism that runs so deep is hard to root out but easy to feed.
And he didn’t stop there. "But I have a lot of ’girl’ friends who seem to get a lot of pleasure from the macho attitude when it comes to choosing a boyfriend," Öztürk said. "I don’t know what kind of women are around you but that’s not true of most women," Aylin told him.
They talked about how the streets have become more dangerous. "We used to have young boys protecting the girls and the neighborhood," Öztürk said, adding that those days were gone. "Girls shouldn’t need protection," Aylin said. Especially not from young boys.
"I think the bullying attitude that [Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan represents, a man who carries a knife and isn’t afraid to show it to the public, this affects young people," she told me. "And it has an effect on the street. You can see a woman getting beaten and people don’t do anything about it."
Sadly Öztürk’s overt lack of sensitivity or information about the subject matter is not unique to his show. It seems to be a byproduct of a society equally possessed by violence and apathy. And it sure works for ratings. Not long ago, Aylin and Hülya Gülbahar, a prominent lawyer and an active feminist, were invited on a show by another popular host, Okan Bayülgen, whose program is billed as intellectual and high-class.
"You’re a popular face for women issues," he said to Gülbahar. "Is this because you were a victim yourself?" "No and I’m tired of this question being asked," she replied.
"How selfish," Aylin said, "to think that someone has to suffer to care."