Walls Are Not Tumbling
He said “When you pay too much attention to your looks, you give a message.” I said “What message?” He didn’t clarify. I said nothing for the next few minutes, kept looking at him in jaded disbelief and asked: “Why do you think a woman wears a miniskirt?” He said he didn’t know.
For a moment, I didn’t know either. Sobs and slight convulsions up to that point during the session had fired a headache I suffer only during times like these, my eyes were so swollen that they shrank into a squint. I said “These are my legs. These are my legs.” The man in front of me was my therapist.
The night before, I was walking up Tarlabaşı Boulevard after midnight in heels, transparent stockings and miniskirt- oh please let me justify first, this was my business attire and Sunday happened to be a workday- crying and talking to my friend on the phone. The boulevard was alive, brightly lit by lamps and headlights of cars and busses, but the sidewalk was narrow, narrower with my hurried but exhausted steps. Before I could reach Taksim Square, I received leers and intrusive remarks from a handful of creeps, one of them following me closely until I threw myself into the boulevard as I quickly thought that drivers would show more kindness than this hideous man to a woman trying to walk, talk and keep herself collected after midnight in the second most populated city of the world.
I wear miniskirts to work, to clubs with friends, to a casual day in the library by myself. I grew up having to cover all my body; I am only recently coming to terms with accepting, appreciating and most importantly loving my body the way it is. It has been a slow and painfully guilt-ridden process. It means loving your limbs without letting anyone, any rotten ideology or system deciding on how to cover them properly because they will cause men to have sex with you.
My therapist suggested that I didn’t pay this time for he had broken my heart. I refused and walked out. He has done so much in the better part of thirty six years of his life, dedicated so much thought and energy into winnowing out all sexism in his makeup that I simply could not not forgive him for making a confused and uncomely remark. He has been my biggest support in my rebirth as a fully independent human being and proved how doable it is to show effort and rid oneself of the backward patriarchal bigotry hardwired in both men and women. Of all ages and ethnicities.
A dear friend of mine, born and raised sexist in Australia where his masculinity would be cruelly suspected by male peers if he didn’t sleep with a new woman every week, told me that he had been on an internal journey of enlightenment for the past six months and that he had been questioning and restructuring his definition of manhood through a complete turnaround in his approach towards women. He told me, his eyes glowing like a curious child, that he had found out about how complex and beautiful women are and that having profound talks with them with no intention of sexual advancement was a most precious thing. A few days ago, he made a thoughtless joke on prostitution and consensual one-time sex between strangers. He had no idea about what it could mean to a woman and felt deeply ashamed when he found out.
In my experience, every human being is sexist until proven otherwise. Thousands of years of patriarchal tar runs through all of us, men and women alike, and it requires a conscientious and constant effort of unlearning to eliminate. It took me a good deal of fifteen years to realize that there was something wrong with having to cover my entire body, another two years to make peace with a new self, and countless everyday experiences that forced me to rethink and question the web of patriarchy interlocking many cultures. Most often, men do not have as numerous visceral experiences that lead them into an epiphany on the status quo. And mostly, women suffer more from patriarchy than men do. When I told my friend that if you equate sex with prostitution in any linguistic register it will only serve as an underhand perpetuation of degrading a woman’s sexuality, no matter the receiver of the joke, he was deeply sorry and he accepted that “jokes” have been the blind spot in his unlearning efforts. My therapist has been working intensely on gender roles since he was an adolescent and part of the reason why he chose his profession is rooted in his staunchly patriarchal background. Ever since, he has been striving to understand himself, his sister, his girlfriends and now his daughter and to correct his behavioral patterns. He says to me, with unease and in a markedly apologetic tone, that sometimes, despite all efforts, a sexist monster from deep below pokes his head out in unwarranted ways and says something he fails to account for in a fleeting moment. At first, I thought all the walls were tumbling. My therapist and my friend, my brightest beacons of hope had also failed. But when I thought it over, I realized that it takes a while for both sexes to acknowledge the wrongness of behaviors or words on the wide spectrum of sexism. And after so much sincere effort, when we sometimes fail, a quick shake-off will be enough.