That Pink Elephant Mystique: A Celebration of International Women’s Day, in Istanbul and Beyond

“Silence is the worst. Whenever a thick cloud of silence descends, the yapping voices inside me become all the more audible, rising to the surface one by one. I like to believe I know all the women in this inner harem of mine but perhaps there are those I have never met. Together they make a choir that does not know how to tone down. I call them the Choir of Discordant Voices. It is a bizarre choir, now that I think about it. Not only are they all off-key, none of them can read notes. In fact, there is no music at all in what they do. They all talk at the same time, each in a voice louder than the other, never listening to what is being said. They make me afraid of my own diversity, the fragmentation inside of me. That is why I do not like the quiet. I even find it unpleasant, unsettling.”

― Turkish writer, Elif Shafak

Pink Elephant Mystique

When I was a small child, I was convinced I wanted to be a boy. I made my mother chop all my sun-streaked and tangled hair off, wore nothing but denim overalls and T-shirts from my brothers closet, screamed bloody murder anytime someone dared try and stuff me into a dress (especially if said dress was, horror of horrors, that nasty colour pink), and even went so far to change my name to “Teddy” in emulation of a preschool friend named Ted, who undoubtedly I thought was cool. My parents, being the progressive hippy types that they were, let me experiment with my new-found gender fluid concepts, and eventually, a few years later I grew out my hair, secretly began playing with pink-dress-attired Barbies, and began cautiously embracing the other side of the gender coin, and what it exactly meant to be “female”.

I have long pondered over how, 30 years later, I still have a convoluted grasp of what gender is, and still find myself uncertain of what it means to be feminine. I, like most women I know, often seem to unfortunately define the female experience by what negative trials and tribulations we have to go through. The statistics are staggering and overwhelming, in regards to sexual assault, discrimination, and generally daily subtle misogyny; despite all the progress of the past 50 years in various parts of the globe, it would appear that we still generally live in a world where to be male allows certain privileges simply not afforded the average female. I am not speaking of the right to work or wear pants or laugh in public, but the simple right to not be treated as a precious pretty commodity or subtly inferior object. Worldwide, 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. 1 in 3 will be raped or sexually attacked. In Turkey in 2014 alone, 335 women died, and 789 were officially reported as injured as results of domestic violence and abuse, while the rates of honour killings in the Eastern part of the country has skyrocketed in the past decade.

These figures are depressing and irrefutable. Nearly every woman knows a woman who has experienced violence firsthand, and in all likelihood, to meet a woman who hasn’t experienced some form of misogyny herself is about as likely as finding a parking spot near Kadıköy’s bar street on a Friday night. Like the pink elephant in the room that all women are scared to talk about too much lest men think we are bitter or damaged, our collective experiences often go unheard, mitigated, diminished or outright ignored. Its all fine and well to “support women’s rights”, as a man, but to truly be an ally requires slightly more accountability than that, and perhaps, if anything, that is what I would love to see this March 8 for International Women’s day – when feminist hashtags like #heforshe can move outside the screens of our phones, and into practice. We can all support Kesha via Facebook shares, or applaud young heroines like Malala, but what about actually supporting the women who are present in our daily lives?

Pink Elephant Mystique

If you are a man and live with your girlfriend or wife, it could mean thinking about little things like unspoken emotional labour. Who does the bulk of the housework or childcare, makes sure the living room looks nice if you have friends over, plans weekend activities and invites friends over in the first place? If you are dating a girl and she complains of a lack of communication, is she really being clingy or is there something you aren’t communicating?  If you are in the wooing phase and lavishing constant attention on a new crush, is that attention being used to manipulate her in some way, or are you being honest and genuine about what it is you actually want? These are the types of things that will truly lead to equality between the sexes; a respect that both genders are entitled to, a respect that is universally a part of feeling dignified as a human. Beyond things like this, I challenge everyone out there to think about their own attitudes to what they uphold as “feminine traits”. Do you expect women to listen to stories, and men to be the funny ones? If you are male, do you find yourself acting different around your male friends, than around your female ones? Do you expect your sister to uphold different behaviors than you your yourself adhere to? Like Elif Shafak’s quote above, women often live with a thousand different voices in their heads that make up their “female identity”, and it can be an extreme struggle to know how much of each voice to show, for fears that we may frighten men away in our strength and quasi-masculine edges. Most men I know are decent humans, as equally outraged by violence against women as a female would be, and yet, the seeds of misogyny don’t exist in a vacuum. We plant them and sow them through our subtle, daily habits and enforcing of harmful societal conditioned gender roles.

Pink Elephant Mystique

There are certainly many amazing men out there who already are conscious of mainstream misogyny, and fight it on a daily basis; I hope that on March 8, they use International Women’s Day as an excuse to buy a bottle of wine or a box of chocolates, and share it with a lady in their life – be it a coworker, friend, sister, mother or partner. You are doing a great job and most certainly deserve a toast for your part in slowly changing the world, and making it a safer, more appreciative, better place for all us girls.

Happy Women’s Day everybody.

All images courtesy of Julia Totino.

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Julia Totino
Originally from Canada, Julia has spent the past several years in and out of the Middle East, living in both Cairo and Istanbul , a city she affectionately refers to as her "Achilles heel" (whatever that means). Passionate about a variety of creative pursuits, she can often be found wandering alone in the more decrepit parts of the city, digging for inspiration while drinking coffees and talking to the cats. She is currently writing her first book.

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