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Dr Eylem Atakav Headshot

'Once is a Shag; Twice is a Relationship and Three Times I Better Marry the Guy!'

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Whenever I try to write an academic piece on feminism in Turkey or the women of Turkey I remember the image of the women on top of the tractors, with their hand-woven beautiful headscarves, baggy trousers, and the cracks in their hands for having worked hours and sometimes days in fields. Hardworking women who did not come across an occasion to talk about feminism.

It was a few years ago on a very warm summer day in Izmir, as my mother and I drove by the fields, that I realised theorising about women and feminism in Turkey without acknowledging the image of women I describe above is not sensible.

Back in 2005 a dialogue took place in an interview I conducted with a 68-year-old woman, who at the time came to the free reading and writing classes offered by the local education authorities in Izmir:

I asked her, "Why did you wait such a long time to start learning how to read and write?"

She replied, "Oh, my father! He did not let me go to school."

"But, when you got a bit older, what happened?", I said.

She answered, "My brother did not let me learn."

"Didn't you get married?", I asked.

"I did", she said, "but then, my husband did not let me learn how to read and write."

I was amazed by her answers and I could not help but ask: "How come you managed to come to these classes now, then?"

She answered in tears: "All three are dead now!"

These two anecdotes, these two images made me realise that I needed to come to terms with reality and not make generalisations about the women of Turkey.

As academics, for the sake of analytical purposes we may tend to generalise so that we can theorise. However, I learnt there and then that I should always remember that 'the typical Turkish woman' did not exist. In my work, I realised I have alluded to the distinctions and differences between women of different classes, backgrounds - urban or rural, or from different regions.

Why did I remember these anecdotes now? Because I thought of how there are so many different types of womanhood simultaneously exist.

Sunday 4 March 2012, I was zapping through the TV channels and came across a programme on Really entitled Sun, Sex and Holiday Madness. The programme is a documentary about young British holidaymakers in Magaluf - a place where they can "get away from the realities of life in the UK". These young people stay there, work during the week and party at the weekends for as long as they can, with not much intention of coming back to the UK.

One of the people interviewed is a twenty-something woman with a drinking problem. As she puts it she feels 'depressed' without sufficient vodka intake. She does not remember herself being sober much and her main reason of being in Magaluf is to forget a bad break-up back home.

What was interesting about this woman was not only her apparent drinking problem, but the way she verbalised her sexual choices: "One time is a shag; twice is a relationship; third time I better marry the guy!" I was captivated not so much by her sexual independence, but rather the vulnerability she revealed as she talked about her life dependent on alcohol.

I turned the TV off feeling puzzled and thinking about the many women from around the world - dead (as a result of violent acts like being stoned for falling in love with the wrong person) or alive (yet still not able to be heard or seen).

I then remembered the recent news story about the two sisters who cut off their younger sibling's hair as a punishment for kissing a white man. A quick look on the website of The International Campaign to Stop 'Honour' Killings made me remember how unique and distinct women are and how varied women's relationship with sexuality is.

Let us do a bit of Amelie (from the 2001 film by Jean Pierre Jeunet) and sit on the roof top, think of how many women are doing what at this moment as the world celebrates womanhood: at exactly the time I am typing this blog, worldometer.info shows that within the first minute of Monday 5 March 2012, 258 women gave birth in the world. It is perhaps a rough number but every single time the figures fascinate me.

Perhaps, then, some women are on their computers, some women are having sex, some are fighting, some are scared, some happy; some being beaten; some working; some in pain; some not...

There are so many reasons to celebrate womanhood and so many reasons to think about women. As I finish typing this blog the time is six minutes past midnight and the figure on women who has given birth within the first six minutes of the new day has already gone up from 258 to 2,035.