[Originally published in Turkish Daily News]
This week some Turkish newspapers ran annoyed stories about a new billboard on German streets: “Mach mich nicht an, Ali!,” it read, which means, “Don’t abuse me, Ali!” The stylish blonde lady that stood beside this cold warning was evidently representative of many other Teutonic females who, apparently, had a problem with sexually abusive Turkish men.
Yet the Turkish media imagined a totally opposite — and cultural, not sexual — abuse behind this German poster. They thought this was a case of racist bigotry against Turks. One of our top selling newspapers ran the story with the headline, ”The latest crusade.” Another one defined the poster as a piece of ”anti-Turkey propaganda.”
Come on, let’s be honest. Do we really think that the image of sexually abusive Turkish men stems solely from German prejudices? I don’t. I rather think that indeed there are so many rude, aggressive, machoistic men in our nation that indulge in abusing women. A bunch of them just made the news on New Year’s Eve for harassing four young Australian women in Istanbul’s Taksim Square. (And they were freed after paying a penalty of just YTL 57!) At first, the Turkish press had reported that an Iranian was responsible for this crime. (Because we noble Turks never do such bad things.) Soon, it turned out that the Iranian guy was not only innocent, but that he had even tried to stop the bullies, who were all home-grown and pure-blooded Turks.
The Turkish Street
Of course all nations have machoistic villains who enjoy hounding women. But we Turks really stand out amongst them. Female tourists and ex-pats in Turkey constantly complain about rude guys with disgusting attitudes who look at and speak to or, far worse, try to touch them. There is a wide tendency in the Turkish street to regard Western women as easily achievable sexual objects. Even rapists argue that their victims “asked for it.”
But why is all that? I have been asking that question for sometime, and my non-academic, intuitive answer is that Turkey is a country torn, or even trapped, between tradition and modernity.
In traditional society, sexual morality had well-defined rules and limits. Most people didn’t practice, and even imagine, sexual relations outside the bonds of marriage. That’s why sexuality remained as a very private issue, undisclosed beyond the closest friendships.
Then came modernity and its sexual revolution. Hedonism replaced moralism. ”Since sexuality is fun,” the so-called progressives asked, ”why not have it unlimitedly?” This view, which peaked in the late 1960s, has been criticized since then, and I agree with much of those critiques. (Let me postpone them to another column.) But the sexual revolution led to the ”normalization” of sex it became just an ordinary fact of life that people do not necessarily crave for. The abundance of ”supply” calmed down the “demand.”
However, Turkey is neither traditional nor modern. Most Turks still believe in traditional rules of ”engagement,” but at the same time they are bombarded with, and tempted by, sexual stimulants of all kinds. While the ”supply” remains limited, the “demand” is constantly provoked. If you take look at the Turkish press, you will see that some of the serious and mainstream newspapers have pages that rival the magazine Playboy. In fact, the Web pages of those serious Turkish newspapers were recently, and notoriously, classified in some Arab countries as porn sites.
Indeed the Turkish media is truly responsible for raising a sex-crazed nation. From the 1980s on, dozens of cheap and low quality tabloids have been printed in Turkey that solely ran sex photos and stories. A popular news story in that rubbish would be a huge photo of a topless blonde tourist in the southern coast who, supposedly, expressed her burning desires for ”powerful Turkish men.” Some readers were naïve enough to think that they really were irresistible sex idols in the eyes of such Western women. One of those papers, which devoted most of its pages to photos of naked Russian ladies, was unabashedly named ”Natasha.” (I can’t imagine what we Turks would have done, if some other nation had published a pornographic daily named ”Emine” or “Ayşe.”)
Sexual Hype for The Masses
This sexual hype for the masses was a good source of profit for the Turkish media, to be sure. Perhaps it was also a tool for secularization. (As the saying goes, the fastest way to a conservative man’s secularization is through, err, well, neither his stomach nor his brain.) What emerged at the end it is a society which has lost much of its traditional religious morality, and which has not been able to develop a modern one, either. What came out indeed is a generation of psychopaths who can beat up their own sister for ”honor” — when she simply goes out to have coffee with a guy — but who can try to grab the first attractive body they see on the street.
To deal with this disgraceful culture, we first need to honestly accept that we have a problem. In lower classes, it might be surfacing as physical abuse on the street, but our well-educated and supposedly refined men can be similarly machoistic in their mindsets. After all, they are the ones who run our ”serious” papers, aren’t they?