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It’s a kind of destiny to fight
1 Aug 2010
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“Sometimes they believe that if all of us will be Quran-free, without any religion, everything would be solved. Then, what will we do with the long history of religion from the time of the caveman? Can we get rid of these fifteen centuries of history? Is it possible to get rid of the word ‘belief’?”

Guzin Yamaner. Member of the Research and Implementation Center on the Problems of Women (KASAUM) and Women’s Studies program at Ankara University. Interviewed August 2010.

It’s a kind of destiny to fight

I am the head of modern dance department in state conservatory. I write plays, and I translate plays from English to Turkish, especially feminist plays. I have regular stage and women's festivals every two years. I have written two books for theatre profession. We have 1,500 theatre people in Turkish Universities, fourteen theatre branches, and I am the only one in Ankara University as a theatre gender academic.

When I was in fine arts academy, I decided to be an academic in the theatre field. One of my professors, while he was teaching us ancient Greek theatre, he was talking about ancient media. He told us female roles were not acted by women because it was forbidden for women to be on the stage. The theatre was a holy place, and they were women. The theatre was so important for social life, it was forbidden for females to act. Instead of them, men were using female voices and wearing masks. Even in Shakespeare, in 1500’s, in Elizabethan theatre period, the Ophelias and Lady MacBeths were played by men.

I started to go on, to dig into this problem. I asked, “Why?” He said it was because females in the theatre, they challenged the male actor’s minds. Bitch-working and devil-working because they are female. It’s better to get rid of them. It’s better to make the theatre clean from female bodies. 

It was a torture story for women to be in theatre. They had to serve their bodies in 16th century, 18th century, 19th, even in 20th centuries. It’s not so different now. In 1950’s in Turkey, in the middle of Anatolia, as an actor, I was invited by men in high society up to them after the show. “Come to my table because I have money, I can pay you. You are an actor. You can be on the stage during the performance, but after the performance, you can come to my table and then to my bed. I have enough money, and you are an actor. It’s a deal, huh?”

An actress, she is sweet. She is invited to his table and then to his bed. He’s a very good man because he offers money. If she was an actor, it means that she was a sexual hooker, too. She’s doing everything on the stage. She’s kissing men on the stage. So, she is inviting the normal man after the performance.

But even if I have a bitch role on the stage, it doesn’t mean that after the performance I go on with this role. It’s only a role. 

You know, in 1994, we were in Poland with a very high level of bureaucratic people. After our stage, one minister opened our rehearsal room. Without knocking! We were naked. We cried. “What are you doing?” Can you imagine his answer? “You were doing lots of things on the stage. Why are you hiding in this rehearsal room?” We said, “It was on the stage. You are a very high level of our government. How can you do this?”

Rehearsal rooms are a private area, and we were only actors. We were doing lots of bad things on the stage but that was on the stage! Does it mean that every Cleopatra will do the same thing during her whole life? Or a killer on the cinema, does it mean he will kill everyone in the street because he’s a killer? John Travolta, huh? Natural born killers. No, no, no. He was shocked that we were escaping from him. I was very angry. I was horribly angry.

Maybe this thought is still alive. It is not easy for us to get rid of their logic and change their ideas. For so many years, it was not a good thing for you to have a bride from theatre. It’s better for her to be a teacher or a doctor or an engineer or a good housewife.

You know what else is a sin sometimes? Looking at a man or going to cinema, even just wanting to go to the cinema. It means that you’re on the way to being an actress. If you think about cinema, it’s better to kill you before you bring such a shame on your family.  

Another point, why I’m crazy about gender issues in theatre too, to some people, feminist theatre and gender issues  "diminish" good theatre education.

In Turkey, we have a good theatre education and theatre is coming from real life, from the inner side of being a human. It’s not good to criticize Shakespeare from the feminist point of view. They are perfect, Shakespeare, local writers. They are international. They wrote everything about human beings.

Sometimes I am transforming Shakespeare. Last year I studied the relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia, and I gave a voice to Ophelia and Guldunya, a Turkish girl who was killed by her family. It is very important subject material in our country: Violence, domestic violence, honor killings. Yes, honor killings exist. It’s your own right to kill your own daughter because your honor must be protected.

Here, Guldunya, she was killed by her brothers because she was raped by her cousin. It was a black sin for her family. They shot her in the middle of the street in the middle of Istanbul. She was hurt, and somebody put her in a hospital. There was a policeman in front of her door at the hospital but the brothers came, and they talked to the police, and the police let them go in to see her. They killed her in the hospital. They finished their job, and they washed their hands.

In Istanbul, a very international city, it happened. How can it be in 2004? I was in Yeditepe University. We were in a big education seminar about equality with men and women in a class. We are doing this and that day, Guldunya was killed by her brother. So what are we doing here in this very clean room?

I was a female in this country too. There was no difference between her and I, but I was there. I was free. I got on a bus from Ankara to Istanbul. I had a beer. I went to a bar. I’m free as a bird. I earn my money. I have everything. But she was killed.

Last year, I gave a voice to both Ophelia and Guldunya. I had an international performance, and I took it to Amsterdam and this year to Norway. We had a documentary film on it too. Instead of Shakespeare, Ophelia starts to talk in my performance. She said, “I wasn’t a victim. I offered myself to my Hamlet, but it was my choice. I didn’t do it as a victim. I did it because I wanted to do it.”

Everybody thought Ophelia was stupid. She had nothing. She was nothing. She didn’t have any diploma. She was not so holy in the castle. She was a servant. She was not married to Hamlet. But Hamlet, he was a prince.

In my performance, Ophelia told the rest of the world, “I was not a princess, but that’s not the point. My body is important, and it was a gift, and I gave it to my Hamlet. I didn’t do it unconsciously.” In the heaven, she met with Guldunya. They met in heaven and they start living there, and they talk. They start living. 

Some part of our Women’s Studies members criticized me because we are trying to make females alive in this world, instead of heaven.

All our members with KASAUM and the Women’s Studies department are critics in their fields, in media, research, or in cinema. Our colleagues are crazy about gender issues. They are in education, research, communication, media, politics, theatre, arts, cinema, medical issues, agriculture, and anthology departments. They are very good at their jobs, and they carry their power from their professions to society. In fact, we work like an NGO in the University and in the society.

All twenty-thee Women’s Studies program members are working for their own departments, but we are doing our Women’s Studies jobs voluntarily as interdisciplinary work. We are doing this as a second job. We are mostly feminist, and we are activist, of course. We are fighting for the equal rights for women, for a better world for people, but first for women. We are working on gender issues and sexism in our disciplines, in our professions. That’s why we came together under KASAUM.

In fact, it’s awful work. For the University, it’s meaningless. Everybody smiles and is very, very polite. But if we are doing gender issues, we are not engineers, we are not educators, or doctors. We take second place; we are in the basement. But we are trying to make Gender Studies alive.

Of course, it’s not good for them to say “No” to women's issues. Our director and the advisor of our directors said “Yes” to the department because they don’t want to take risk to say “No” to gender issues. They are very open, but sometimes we are embroidery around the other problems. Social problems are so important: Economic crisis, psychological problems. But gender issues are a very marginal thing. It’s better to say “Yes” in order to make it marginalized. “You have everything. You have your own department, so you can work. What is your problem anymore?”

Maybe this is pseudo-equality. It’s very common for Turkish people to say, “We don’t have any problem. Why are you creating this problem? Why are you creating this issue as a problem?”

But we don’t even have our own budget. We have so many glass ceiling problems. We have so many female deans in our universities, but we have very few female directors per 18 universities. It’s not a problem for our normal academic people. We have lots of female professors. If you want to be a director, it’s not written that a female can’t be a director. Be a director. It means that you are lazy because you don’t get to be a director instead of him. Be a hard-working good girl and be a director. It’s similar in parliament too. We have very awful level of female parliamentarians in our parliament office.

But we are going on with the struggle. To keep increasing the number of our female levels in every field and try to break our glass ceilings.

For many years, thousands of people have been educated by KASAUM researchers. From domestic violence to glass ceiling problems to having a job to earning money, and what is the point of Women’s Studies in Turkey? Equal rights. Ending violence and rape. LGBT people's rights.

It’s an interdisciplinary problem and interdisciplinary program and most of our conflicts are based in academia, but we are talking about real social problems. It’s very alive. But we have to be academic. So it’s a big conflict. It’s not easy to make an academic thing real for street life or life on the road. I don’t have so many hopes, but it’s where I am taking my energy.

It’s valid anywhere in the world. We are coming together; our actions are work and daily work.

Our students have to criticize gender issues. First of all, they have to be aware of thoughts of psychology, history, and then learn how to criticize. Sometimes they have to start from ancient Greek history and theology. They know Freud and French post-structuralist researchers and 20th century linguistic philosophers. They are taking lots of classes. Seven courses in one semester, and then they have to write a master’s thesis around 100 pages. It’s not easy to get diploma from our master’s program.

This July, one of our students did her master’s thesis where she compared the Torah, Bible and Quran. She studied pregnancy, birth, rape, periods of females, virginity, from the Torah to Quran, from Virgin Mary to our Mohammad. She looked at when females are dirty. When we have our period, blood is dirty, sin. She’s a bitch and she’s the devil because she has blood. It was a good thesis.

But it was not so easy. Her advisor from the theology department, she’s full of courage. It’s not easy to compare Quran with other books. The Quran is very holy. The Quran is a good book, but some people quote the Quran, saying rigidly, “It was written in the Quran this way. It’s a sin.” No, in fact, the Quran was mostly a secular book because Mohammed prophet wasn’t actually good at his job. In marrying women, falling in love with women, he was closer to real life. He got in close to a female, making love, getting pleasure from love because it’s the gift of our God. 

But minds can be dark. They add rules, interpretations: “Mohammed said this. Our God said this.” No, God doesn’t like to talk so much. He’s not a good writer, and I personally think his printing press office is not working.

Some of our students have some suspicions about what we say. It’s not easy to make their minds clear just in one semester. They are coming from patriarchy, stereotypes. Sometimes they are fighting with us. Sometimes they think the problem is us. They think that if I judge Guzin or if I fight with Guzin, it means that I will solve the problem.

Sometimes they have very concrete minds. They believe that this is guilty. The guilt is coming from this. If we solve this, the problem will be off. Sometimes they believe that if all of us will be Quran-free, without any religion, everything would be solved. Then what will we do with the long history of religion from the caveman? Can we get rid of these fifteen centuries of history? Is it possible to get rid of the word “belief”? Is it possible? Is it possible to create a new life without believing any unconscious, unseen thing? It’s not so easy.

Sometimes, they believe, if they kill all of our fathers, everything will be solved. I have to advise them that fathers can be good. Fortunately, they can be good. It’s not only the father or the Quran that is the problem.

One other problem, students who want to be a member of Women’s Studies departments are so fragile. Sometimes they think that it’s a female group or it’s a consciousness-raising group. Sometimes they were raped. Sometimes they were injured by ugly men, crude men, crude words. They are fragile people, in fact. They think they have found a very warm house. They are not aware that we are in the middle of academia. They have this expectation to get help. Even the name of the program is very warm, Women’s Studies program. Because of this, sometimes they can leave our program with broken hearts.

 

I am an associate professor. This year, I will be a full professor. For sixteen years, I have been with KASAUM and the Women’s Studies department. For nineteen years, I have been working for Ankara University. I’m a stage designer, in fact. I’m a designer, writer, and director.

Ankara University is one of the oldest in Turkey. It was the first. In 1938, we had so many female professors. They were educated in Europe or in US. We had that power.

But this is a very important point: The Turkish Republic is a young republic and Ataturk, he established the Republic in 1923. Ankara University was meant to make a very modern culture with modern men and modern women. How can you describe a modern woman? Hair, make-up and good cake-maker, good cook, smiling mother and smiling wife, educated wife, educated mother. If it’s possible, she is a very well-educated mother, wife, and woman because she will grow up the society. That’s why it’s better to send her to the school, to teach her to give an education to her children in order to establish a modern society again, a bright society with open minds, female bodies. This is the logical modern republic.

Since it was established, we have had four generations of Women’s Studies academics. The first one was very old generation. They were educated with the ideas of a young Republic by Ataturk. They were the teachers of our teachers. The second generation is still working on female issues, gender issues, commodities, violence, and education. I was educated by this second generation. I am the third generation. Now, I am 42 years old and the fourth generation is our young students. They are so fresh.

I am repeating this because it’s not so young in Turkey, Women’s Studies. We have four generations. We also have had a very, very dark history beside these good stories.

Before 1945, we were growing up, but in 1945, we had a right wing government, and we started losing a lot of our hope, a lot of our green grasses. There were so many Imperialist countries impressed on us.

Turkey is a junction point, and it’s important for British Empire and for the U.S and for Russia. The powerful imperialist countries tried to push us because we were growing up, and we were getting dangerous for the rest of the world. We were getting very powerful, so in 1945, somebody came to our country and they advised us to use petroleum and private cars, private buses, instead of railways. We had our railways but from this advice, they decayed. We tried to import from the outside, petroleum or Mercedes Benz or buses or Audi, a whole transportation system. It was very bad for our country to lose our railways.

We are 18 million and losing our railways means we cannot use our own cheap or free minds in order to pass between cities. Instead, we pay lots of money, crazy amounts of money to our Arabic brothers and sisters. It’s awful. 

So, after ’45, we don’t have good times for a period. In the 1970’s, our second generation was affected. The whole 70’s, we had lots of demonstrations, political struggles, with lots of horrible things.  We had lots of struggle in the streets, left and right, and the army thought that they were the solution. So, in 1980, they cut democracy.

Can you imagine your democracy cut?  In the middle of our brain, in the middle of our heart, we were cut by our army. If you think about an army, let’s think about it, it’s a very good army. It’s a peaceful army. At the end, it’s an army. It’s not a democratic way. After the 1980’s, we have again right-hand side politics, and it’s not good.

After the 80’s, our female researchers, they were empty and they had nothing to do with politics. Male and female were not even equal in left-wing struggles. Let’s say you are a woman, and I am a man. We are talking about Marxism, and both of us are hungry. It’s better for you to go there and cook because you are female. So females were a little bit free and a little bit empty. In fact, I am not talking about a very good or very bright thing, but this is the social condition.

Many female academics, female researchers were so close to gender struggles in so many fields, so after the 1990’s, they start to organize Women’s Studies centers in our universities. They had the courage to talk about their country and to talk about their ideas. Now, we have four Women’s Studies Master’s programs in all Turkey. We have more than 18 universities but we have only four Master’s degrees. We have 24 Women’s Studies centers, if I’m not wrong.

Almost all of us do not agree with each other. Let’s say for some of them, the Islamic head-covering is a problem because we are a modern country. Some of us believe that it’s a free life, a free choice. We are fighting with the barriers to female bodies, so how can we put a barrier to woman who believes that these kind of things, her relationship to her own God? It’s not an easy point to make it clear. We have a very big gap between us, but all of us are calling it Women’s Studies centers. This is the problem of developing countries because we don’t have many distinct rules in each part of the society.

One problem among our feminists, it’s very popular to judge, “You are not feminist because you are doing this. You are a bad feminist. You need to get rid of these things from your mind, your body, your life to be feminist.” You know, in 2005, there was a lady in London, she told me that feminism is old-fashioned. No. Feminism is not too old to die. It’s a kind of destiny to fight.

We also have lots of ethnic problems because historically, the Ottoman Empire had so many ethnic branches and Anatolia is a kind of junction point from Asia to Europe, from Africa to Europe. We have Arabic people, Caucasian people, minorities, Armenians, and being a Turk is very important for this land. Being us is very important.

Turkish people came here from very far. We came from Asia to here. Maybe still they don’t feel themselves in a secure way of life here. We have lots of war in this land, so it’s not easy to feel yourself in a comfortable life. A lot of the time we have a very big problem: Economic crisis. Lots of things: Fundamentalism or earthquakes. We have lots of natural events.

Let’s say this summer, it is one of the hottest one for many years, so it’s not easy to handle it. Corruption is a problem. Water is a problem. Everything is a problem. We have lots of black money under the table. You have a problem in your house, you have to pay lots of awful money to in order to solve your problem, if you want it to be quick. It’s not very common for our young people even to read. They forget about real books and real papers. They are crazy about Internet.

People are thinking, “If we increase our level of higher education, everything will be ok.” Everything will be wiped clean. I am not sure education is everything. I don’t believe that.

In fact, we have a very good law system, in writing. We don’t have bad words in our laws. The problem is the empty place in between two sentences. The problem is in logic.

It’s one of the important, difficult points that we have to struggle with the logic of the society. “A female can be like this, it’s better for her.” This is also a very important barrier for our LGBT people too. “No, it’s not normal. It’s harmful for them. It’s better for them to make them normal.” You know? “They are unlucky. They are our kids but they are sick. We can make them good. We can heal them.” This is the logic. “We can heal this open-haired female by covering their head.” Head-covering means they are a good woman. There won’t be any rape problem because you covered her face. So we solve the rape problem. This is very important for Turkey, the logic, the inner part of the minds.

Sometimes, the problem is patriarchy is carried by females. The first patriarchal words that I heard, I heard from my mother. It’s very important in these kinds of lands, in Arabic countries, in Pakistan or in India, in country like Turkey, your mother is carrying patriarchy to you and you are carrying it to your daughter or son with your hands. After one point, you are not aware of what you are doing. You close your bodies, close your minds and close everything to every light beam.

The other thing we have is very cruel traditions. Traditions are a mixture from Islamic beliefs to big empires, from international patriarchy to post-capitalist international system. It’s not easy to be alive in the big cities by yourself. I think Turkey is a normal European country in this question. What the British people have as a question for the gender issues, we have the same ones too: Trafficking, post-capitalism, selling female bodies, lack of work, unemployed people.

It’s an awful world; it’s not easy to be equal. And poverty. Poverty is a problem. We have a very serious development problem because we have enough money in this country. We have enough raw materials, but there is no equality. There is a very huge gap between the richest and the poorest, so it’s getting very complicated in gender issues as well. You cannot separate the post-capitalist problems from the gender issues.

Maybe we have an American dream here too, and it’s covering the mess.

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