It seems it my job of late to solely concentrate on the the men in my life. I thank the school holidays for this pleasure. Twenty-four hours a day we are together, and it’s getting a bit thin. In a houseful of mainly boys, tensions are climbing higher than the temperature outside.
Man is different from woman, fundamentally destined to be the commander of his life, his education, his career, his passions, his wife, his home, his offspring. From the time a boy is born he is encouraged to be strong, take aim, control himself, decide what he wants. Like the male equivalent of a Disney princess he must be forthright and true, fight for his rights and also know how to keep his hair in check.
Too much of anything is not good for a growing boy. Be it love, discipline or cake, it is a very fine balance that makes a pillar of society. As a mother of three such pillars-to-be, the burden is by no means small. You must nurture these beings with a hand that is just right. Too much pressure and they burst. Not enough and they run wild. And that is just my husband.
I often think of chess when it comes to men. The King, the most important piece (debatable) can only move one place at a time, in any one direction. If he falls, all is lost. You must not look him in the eye or it is checkmate. Force him to a corner and you will have stalemate. As Queen it is your main job to be in front of him at any cost to avoid such situations. This is not a responsibility to take lightly.
Manly behaviour is cultured by most as essential for a boy. Automatic suppression of crying begins early. “Shush my love, don’t cry, be a big boy,” many will mutter under their breath as they hush their little prince to sleep at three in the morning. “Rub it better, it doesn’t hurt that much, you’ll be fine!” after he falls and grazes his knees, the first of many times. They are encouraged to be boisterous creatures, naughty and wicked, allowed to freely talk back to their elders, argumentative and sulky. They learn how to be fundamentally tough almost automatically. Turkish men seem to be especially proud of their ego, re-enforcing their presence as a man at every opportunity. Whether or not they sow their oats as a young man is completely ignored. The good ones following the right path go to University and do something useful like Law, or Medicine. Or Economics. Or Tourism. All very respectable. In fact, as long as they go to university it doesn’t really matter, even if they are miserable at the subject. After this they get married to someone suitable and have a family. Any man that isn’t married by forty is a conundrum. They smoke, they like football. Or they don’t. They develop a big belly, try on a beard, read the newspaper and socialise with the other men and while they wait for grandchildren they get looked after by their wives and daughters. They are King.
On the flip side, the newborn female of the species here are treated like princesses, coddled in between fifty million pink blankets and adored by Daddy to the point where life becomes a bowl of strawberries. They are feminine, giggly and girly, encouraged to sit nicely. If they come from a well-off family, they will be dressed in good clothes and sent to ballet. Those in less fortunate families will do the cleaning with mummy and indulge themselves in the daily duties of a household. They will not, generally have dreams, and if they do, they wont know what to do about them.
Such stereotypes are typical, but as witnessed by me as a foreigner, more extreme here in general. One thing all girls seem to partake in is the subliminal training on how to be submissive. Nationally, from an early age girls are all encouraged to learn how to prepare the börek and make the ‘ikram’ ready for when visitors arrive. This training is given whatever the kind of education they are likely to receive. If growing up in the kind of family that expects their girls to go to University, it is done with the finest china and the best slippers that they can muster. If not, the skills come in handy when the best china is served to welcome the prospective in-laws that wish to marry their sons to the girl in question.
Those University girls graduate from home to begin their education. Few are encouraged to take a non PC route, such as an outspoken journalist or a fame-seeking musician. The favoured ‘safe’ careers are applauded such as Teaching or Medicine. Those that do break the mould with something out of the ordinary are endured until they give up their ‘hobby’ and do something more suitable. After some time and perhaps a little matchmaking the family eagerly await the day that their girl will be ready to ‘settle down’ and get married. Any boyfriends that occurred previously will be erased from memory and the girl gets engaged, as fresh as a daisy. Marriage often occurs within or during the precious education they are receiving, sometimes rendering it completely useless. After some time the girl then has a child, by Caesarean of course,because they are told by all to be afraid of pain. They then spend the next few years adoring said child until it goes to crèche or school by which time any university education has become a bit stale. The household duties are her responsibility, the cooking is mainly done by her. The washing and cleaning may be taken care of depending on her wealth. Outings include weekly appointments at the coiffure, shopping and socialising over Starbucks coffee with friends before she has to pick up the little prince/princess.
The roles seems very set in stone. Girls do the girl stuff, and boys do the boy stuff. Even in the ‘modern’ families. Of course, this is all part of the culture and good manners, but you don’t see many males serving you tea and getting your slippers when you visit a Turkish family, regardless of social class. The makeup of families will always change slightly but the theme will remain; there are girls, and there are boys.
“This is normal for anywhere,” says my husband upon hearing my generalisation. “Girls in your country get married and have kids all the time.” Yes but not quite in the same way. Be it right or wrong, the lines are a lot more blurred outside of the borders of Turkey. It is not uncommon for a girl to have a baby outside of marriage, or by herself entirely. There are similarities between here and the rest of Europe for example, but there are more irregularities. Girls outside of Turkey can have babies and go back to education. Some decide to change career in the middle of their lives. Stigma is reduced greatly. There is less shame in non-tradition as there would be here. Turkey keeps its stereotype traditions very much alive. Women have a role and Men know it.
But not in my house.
I am notoriously different. Firstly as a foreigner this is to be expected somewhat. During the last seven years of my personal chess game I have battled with many; nannies, nosy neighbours, well meaning passers-by, teachers, doctors. The list is endless. My motto is simple; everyone is equal therefore accountable. And by that I mean as human beings, as people, as male or female. If you take the time to educate yourself and read often, two things happen; your eyes open wider and your mind becomes more focused on what you think, what you feel and what you want in your life. I’m not saying my upbringing was exactly the same, more so that I listened to my elders, deciphered what would work best for me and refused to settle for anything else. I have respect where it is due but I have no time for sexism or over-inflated hierarchy.
From the beginning the differences became glaringly obvious. One of mine and my husbands’ first real marital arguments was about putting out the rubbish bin. Basically it was full and he didn’t want to empty it. Why? Several reasons, he never usually did it, it wasn’t a priority for him and foremost, he didn’t like to do it. I politely informed him that the bin was full of our rubbish, that bins are only really a priority for bin collectors and then came the biggest newsflash, which was I DON’T LIKE DOING IT EITHER.
This came as a bit of a shock to him. He had to have a sit down and think about it, as if the whole universe had suddenly turned on its head and this was some kind of scientific revelation. Upon contemplation of life with a woman that doesn’t like cleaning, I am sure he wanted to reconsider but as we were engaged and I was pregnant that wasn’t really an option. He took out the bin and apologised. Advantage, me.
Sometimes I wonder if men think that we are born with some kind of integrated enjoyment of cleaning which switches itself on the minute we get our first whiff of Domestos. I think I was away the day they gave that out. Unfortunately ‘bingate’ was the first of many blips in the matrix. I like doing things in the house, yes, but it is usually weird non-girly stuff like wallpapering or tiling or putting flat-pack furniture together. This probably comes from growing up with boys and a very tough father who treated me just like one of them. Also my overstretched working mother, who used to give me chores to do like cleaning the bathroom and mopping the floors when all my friends wanted to play out, probably put me off housework for life. I only do what I need to do to survive, and when I do it, I am like superwoman on speed. Once the house is clean I forget about it as quickly as I can. Nothing bores me more.
I continue to be uncharacteristic when it comes to confrontations with people in general. Whilst not rude, I refuse to accept being short changed in any situation and am determined to get what I want, whether that be an explanation for why my sons’ teacher has had the week off and not informed anyone meanwhile he is sitting in class everyday with no substitute, or why the gynaecologist can’t give me a normal birth after a caesarean if I want one (and I got one, as well). Outspoken women prepared to go into battle with men are not so common in Turkey – add to that the fact that I am blonde and foreign and the result is sometimes very uncomfortable. My husband would gladly like the ground to open up and swallow him on many an occasion.
My dominant ways are clear for all to see. The next door neighbours are often shocked to see my twelve year old son putting out the washing or taking the rubbish bags to the bin. “Sizi kutluyorum,” comes to my ears when disciplining my boisterous younger sons in the shopping centres, expecting them to holding my hand and wait as I tell them where to go, and what not to do. No, they can not bounce all over the sofas in the showroom. No, they can not pick everything up that they see. Yes, they must listen to their mummy. No, I will not just ‘sakin ol’, and give them a lollipop. As far as I am concerned, these boys came out of my body, and I own them until they are old enough to move out (of my house, not my body). And in the meantime, they better just have respect for women, people who are older than them and carpets that have just been cleaned. I am Queen in this game of chess. And until further notice, they are the pawns.
I teach my sons to be good people, not strong boys. They are encouraged to be part of the machine, not rage against it. I don’t like cleaning up after them and they know it. They make a mess, I teach them how to clean it up. I make household duties part of their day. They cannot speak back to me or they go to their room. They are on a three-strike notice. One is acceptable, two is a warning. Three and you are out. But I still love them. And they know that, as well.
My husband is in constant fear that I may be biting off more than I can chew. Here in Turkey, going against the grain isn’t easy, especially when you encounter boys and men who are encouraged to be bold, headstrong and consistently correct in every situation, even when they are wrong.
One example: I once witnessed a full-on tantrum from a four year old boy, who when confronted with his mother who had come to collect him from crèche decided that he did not want to comply. In protest he promptly smacked his mother full in the face. Shocked and rightly so, she reeled, and I watched in excited horror expecting some kind of explosion. Instead there was nothing. Daddy came and cuddled the little ****, yes cuddled him and consoled his outburst with a promise to go and get ice cream. With that, he turned on his heel with his son in his arms and not a moment of energy was spent on the mother, who obviously disturbed stepped to one side, silently packing her emotions away in an invisible box, which was probably already overflowing. I feared that no one would ever understand the look in her eyes that I saw flash through them as her baby, her love, her everything, turned on her.
In my opinion to avoid this kind of thing from happening a woman should know one thing about the vicious circle she is placing herself in, the moment she leaves her family home to make one of her own. If indeed she has had the luck of a solid upbringing by an educated, modern and well balanced father, she should find herself off to a head start. Therefore her selection of husband/partner if all goes well should reflect this upbringing. In time if she is blessed with having a son, the road to creating the perfect circle should begin. This road should begin with making sure that as that child grows, as a woman she will ensure that even in today’s ever changing Turkey, her little king in training understands that the biggest diamond of all is his mother. (Not that we would wish to create some kind of monstrous ‘Kaynana’; a woman should always know when to let go). With this training, hopefully this will then complete the circle and one more man will grow up having learned to respect women and how to take care of himself, and his home.
This of course sounds fabulous in principle but it is extremely difficult to implement; and may be the reason for the woman who received the short end of her son’s temper. Disciplining a child is hard, it never ends from the moment you make the first move towards more control. You simply can not give in, however much you want to. A constant battle of wits exists under my roof, a fine balance between wanting order and having the patience to wait for the little princes around me (and of course the King) to create the order. Sometimes after a particularly disgusting day of crying, screaming and tantrums I do wonder if it is worth it. Don’t do that, put that down, sit there, eat your food, listen to me. Tidy this up, wash your face, pick up those. And that is just five minutes worth. The temptation to let boys be boys is great, but there is just one thing I want that makes me carry on: respect. If I don’t get it from them as their mother, how will anyone else even have a chance of it?
A big motivation to instil respect in these boys of mine is to think about my future daughters-in law, and the power struggle they will face in the future as I have done trying to have it all. Wanting to be smart, patient and calm, not harassed and put down, drowning in a washing pile and fighting with a husband that won’t lift a finger to help whilst she tries to maintain a modicum of femininity. I can’t do that to her. It is harder than ever to be a female and we need all the help we can get, so I like to imagine that I am preparing them for this . I am assisting the teachers who will want my boys to sit and learn. When people meet them my boys will be courteous and humble. They will be prepared for life. When their wife is exhausted in the middle of the night feeding their child they will set aside their own feelings and be emotionally understanding. I am teaching them to put their ego away and learn to be a human.
If all the mothers taught their sons to respect women and understand them as individuals then think of the effect it would have on the next generation. I am hopeful of this when I discipline my sons. But for now, the game continues. Although I have never played a game of chess that had quite so many egos fighting for role of King, I am grateful that my husband has had the sense to abdicate and has stuck to being my Knight in shining armour.