TRIGGER WARNING: This article contain information about sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering to survivors
On February 11th, Özgecan Aslan, a 20 year old student in Mersin, Turkey, was taking the bus home from school. She was the only one left on the bus when the driver took a different path. She got scared and started arguing with him. He stopped the bus in a deserted area, and when he attempted to rape her, she resisted and sprayed pepper spray in his eyes. (In Turkey it’s the number one purse item for women.) He got mad and took his knife and started stabbing her. She scratched his face trying to resist. Finally he used a crowbar to hit her until she died. He took her dead body to his father and his friend. The three men took her to the woods, cut her hands off so that his DNA would not be found under her fingernails burned her body to destroy the evidence and left her there. I’m nauseous from anger.
I’ve grown a new habit of cracking my knuckles when I get angry. My fingers struggle to type. I’ve been a feminist for 29 years, and a feminist activist for one. And people who laugh in my face when I say I’m a feminist are mourning for Özgecan today. I want to spit in their faces.
48 days of 2015 are past us. In these 48 days in Turkey, including Özgecan, 37 women have been murdered by male violence. Nobody knows their names. Nobody protested their murders. For none of them has social media been “shaken” with worldwide trending topics. I’ve lost my voice from screaming about the femicide in Turkey and those who have questioned my screams with “don’t you think the wording women massacre is a little strong?” are now shedding crocodile tears for Özgecan.
Men and women who are embarrassed to call themselves feminists, hypocrites who play house with society’s gender roles, talk about Özgecan today. I want to puke. When they have done nothing up until today for all of the other women who have been victims, now they rub their show of sensitivity in our faces. How is Özgecan different from the 13 year old girl sold for a “bride price” who gets raped by her 50 year old “owner” every night? Who knows that girl’s name? Who talks about her? Nobody. Because that girl is not an educated member of the middle class. Those who take offence at imagining themselves in that girl’s shoes have no problem with empathizing with Özgecan though. Even corpses have class in this system. And murders are categorized by the level of attention they receive. The more savage, the more horrific, the more attention the violence gets. It’s not enough to be raped and murdered, your body needs to be cut in pieces and burned on top of that to get enough attention for people to actually talk about you.
When Özgecan’s murder was first revealed, the news was shared on the third page, yet once the social media attention increased, they pulled it to the headlines. Not because they cared about Özgecan, but for the “clicks” it would bring to their sites as a hot topic. The last time a femicide was featured on the front page of a mainstream newspaper in Turkey was when the chief editor of Habertürk, Fatih Altaylı, published the photo of Şefika Erik, naked and dead, with the knife that her husband stabbed her with in her back. It was published as murder porn. Come on, let’s be realistic, everybody condemns femicide in Turkey, but nobody really gives a damn about it. Our sensitivity just moves along the current of the daily news, whatever is the hot – or horrific – topic. I saw the photo of Özgecan shared on Twitter when she was missing. Somebody shared it and said they were looking for her. One scumbag commented to say “Why are you making a big fuss about it? It’s been only a day, she probably just hasn’t woken up yet.” In other words: “She’s sleeping in the arms of some man, relax.” The man who commented on the news of the women who has been raped by her husband by saying “But it can’t be rape if it’s her husband” now says he’s in solidarity with Özgecan. The man who said “But you’re only talking about it to get attention” when I talk about street harassment now says he’s crying for Özgecan. The man who asked “What, so you’re going to invent a new language?” when I said I was uncomfortable with swear words that imply sexual violence now says “Stop femicide!” Excuse me, but how are we going to stop femicide? Without changing the collective perception of the society, the norms and the de facto acceptances, do you think we’ll say “Ok everyone we’re stopping femicide” and poof, femicide will magically disappear? Without understanding the correlation between the man who says “f.ck you” and the man who physically f.cks you without your consent, how are we going to solve this problem?
I had a big breakdown 3 weeks ago. In between e-mails coming from different women asking for help and the stories of harassment, rape, violence, murder, the question “But what can I do on my own?” echoed in my head and I couldn’t swallow my sobs. The articles that I started writing and could not finish, the women I wanted to help but couldn’t collapsed on top of me. I wanted to buy a rifle and form an armed patrol unit. One task force that hunts down those who commit street harassment, another one for those who beat women, another one to track rapists and one more for those who kill women. You might think I’ve gone insane, but I’ve come to the point where I think that insanity itself was invented by patriarchy.
So if you’re the sane ones then I have to ask you, you think we should wait for government – which is men from head to toe – to free women? Especially in Turkey… You think a president who defines gender equality based on creation (using an Islamic term I won’t use here) and says that men and women are not equal will help stop femicide? Maybe you don’t know, but in Turkey there is no ministry for women. Women issues are dealt with under the “Family and Social Politics Ministry.” And the head of this ministry that defines existence of women only within the family, Ayşenur İslam, says “It’s unnecessary to make a fuss about femicide in Turkey, it happens everywhere.” Will this “woman” minister who refuses to meet with women associations solve the problem? Will this government who pays for each child born, as if women are breeding animals, solve the problem?
The government who turns sacred mothers into house workers? Really? You think lawyers will solve this problem? The lawyers who claim that if the government makes monthly payments to single men so that they can have sex with sex workers they will stop raping women? This is the reality of Turkey. And now people are saying they want death penalty back in Turkey. As if they don’t know that in countries run by Islamic regime, women who have been raped are seen as a part of the crime and are murdered by execution as well. Let the death penalty arrive and you will see how the sultan of Turkey will implement it.
It hurts to think about it. Özgecan resisting the bus driver Suphi Atındöken as he tried to rape her. Spraying pepper spray, scratching his cheeks. How could he have enough knowledge to remove the DNA evidence from under his fingernails; yet no acknowledgement of a woman’s right to not be touched against her will? Of course there should be deterrent punishments, yet who will give these men deterrent consciousness? The Daddy state? Schools? Or collective perception of society?
You will give them this consciousness. We will give it to them. A society that has adopted feminist ideology will give it. A community that fights for women’s rights will give it. The people who should have reacted against the man who kicked a young woman on the bus the other day in İstanbul just because she was crossing her legs will give this consciousness. The street will give it. Continuous protest will give it. The We Will Stop Femicide Platform will give it. The support and donations we give to this platform will give it. The people who have the courage to react to the men who catcall women on the street will give it. The people who do not define people according to whether they have a vagina or a penis will give it. The men who can be “like a girl” and the women who can be “like a boy” by saying that what matters is being “like a human” will give this consciousness to our society. Özgecan’s slaughter is no different from any other woman’s slaughter. We cannot complete this fight without showing equal support to every woman who has been murdered, raped, harassed, belittled or left behind just for being a woman. This is not the fight of women but it’s the fight of the whole society. My heart goes out to the women who were and will be on the streets in Turkey, yesterday, today and tomorrow. This will be the new turning point of our resistance. I invite all the women of Turkey to talk about the harassment they have faced, the sexist moments they had to fight. They’ve already started with the #sendeanlat (you tell too) hashtag but the sharing shouldn’t stop here.. I invite all the men in Turkey to say “I’m a feminist” without being embarrassed. If you really are in solidarity with Özgecan, it’s time to finally take real action!
(Special thanks to Abby Comstock-Gay who helped to edit this article. She’s a woman from the US living in Turkey and she contacted me saying that she wanted to translate my article. I had already translated it by then, so she helped me with the editing. This is what being in solidarity is like!)