It’s very well known that the Muslim world clearly enforces gender roles between the different sexes. I must be honest that, as a man, I don’t notice it very much in my day-to-day life. I’m able to walk on the sidewalk and remain somewhat invisible, or sit and drink tea without anyone giving me a second thought. But as I entered a mosque and watched as the female members of the group wrap scarves around their heads, I realized that it’s a topic that should be addressed to the best of my abilities.
Turkey is probably one of the worst destinations to go to for a feminist. While London or Florence are probably as modern and equal as the United States, Turkey is a far cry, especially if you’re not accustomed to the norms of a more conservative society. On our first day, we were warned about what might happen. Turkish men can be very rude to women, especially foreigners. Women not accompanied by men can be stared at, cat-called, followed, or worse. While men don’t tend to make physical contact, even small acts like accepting an item can be misconstrued as being “interested” in taking a relationship further. This can be very problematic, as a fellow student writes in her blog: As Miranda Sees It.
When a woman is with a man, chances are she won’t be bothered. It’s incredibly rude to address a woman before addressing the man here. While the act can be considered as reinforcing male dominance, this particular societal norm offers females a safety net on the streets, particularly at night. That’s not an excuse, however. It would be much better if this was not a topic I needed to write about at all.
Within our university or dorm, there are no issues. Men and women hang out together all the time, you can talk to a female before saying hello to the male, and so on. The students are all very well educated and just like any group of Americans (except for a higher smoking rate).
The obstacles one faces on the streets make the dress requirements for mosques seem trivial. Yes, women have to cover their hair, but it’s not like men get away with anything either. We cannot wear shorts in a mosque, and short sleeved shirts are discouraged so long as the temperature remains reasonable. And yes, prayers have to be made separately, but the separation is the only requirement. Men and women can be in the same room, just on different halves (women are not required to come to mosque except for the Friday noon prayer, anyways). An Imam told us that if the women outnumber the men, they get the main floor, while the guys get sent to the balcony!
Again, for a better (female) perspective on the matter, check out Miranda’s blog.