It’s Not Black and White


I had a recent conversation at the school I work at with two fellow foreign women that, very quickly, went from casual and polite to heated and accusatory when an issue I see way too often came into play: black and white feminism. This happened when a coworker and I entertained the idea of living together. Sarah and I were discussing it but quickly dismissed it due to what I considered to be a difference of priorities and she considered to be a difference of moral ethics. In short, I thought she lacked cultural respect and she thought I lacked my self-respect as a female.

Sarah is Australian. I am American. We both, however, have Turkish blood running through our veins. We both, also, made the decision to live and work in Istanbul for the next year. From both cultural standpoints, there are undeniable cultural nuances that pose a problem, especially for females as the majority of the population here is Muslim. I have been here enough as a child and as a young woman to recognize a few of these and how they apply to me. A big one is the taboo of premarital sex. In some areas more than others this is hugely disapproved of, and I happen to be living in one of those places. When I asked Sarah if she wanted to rent the spare room in my apartment and split the rent cost, all seemed great. Until I made sure to check and see how she felt about a few ground rules. Rule Number 1: Sorry, but no boys allowed.

When I said this it was as if I had just slapped her in the face. She looked at me with shock and denigration. I looked at our coworker for support who was firmly nodding her affirmation. For us, it was simple cultural logic: two young girls living in a house alone with boys coming and going? Olmaz: no way. The neighbors would have none of that. I felt unsure if it was fair but I held firm that an important part of living overseas is assimilating to cultural standards and respecting tradition.

For Sarah, it was all the outright proof that she needed as an excuse to fall into a weeping state of misery about how “feminism is dead.” About how the women before us who died fighting for female rights died for nothing if not to allow us to fuck who we want, when we want, and where we want, without judgment. About how I had no self-respect as a female if I resigned to submit to the pressures of society and follow their rules. “Not that I don’t respect what you’re doing and all,” she said, “I mean you’re so brave to isolate yourself like this but do you realize you’re in for a really dry year? Like, are you ready for that? You’re just going to let other people tell you how to live your life?”

I’m no stranger, if you’ve read my past posts, to sexual freedom and its benefits. It’s been QUITE the adjustment for me here. But I knew what I was getting into when I signed up for it. In her readiness to argue the death of feminism with my submission to “their rules” the irony was lost on her that she was doing to me the same thing she was complaining about: She was telling me how to live my life in my own home. I made the choice to come and make a life for myself here. Some women did not. Huge issues having to do with an outdated, religiously-tied women’s rights legislation are much more likely to find resolve through small doings and two-way conversations than through coming to a country and shouting at women for living there and choosing to live as they wish. That is black and white feminism. Not the belief in individualism that is inherent to the term. Likewise, there was no cut and dry ending to this tiff, only the agreement that we won’t be living together.