State of Manhood: A Comfort to Void Confrontation When You Let Yourself Go

The things that you think that you have transformed and accumulated so far can also become void very quickly. In other words, there is no such thing as ‘I have overcome it’. It is a reality that needs to be confronted everyday over and over again.

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“Hi Fatih. Maybe it has come to your attention. Bianet has initiated a series of articles year round. The series is called ‘52 Men Are Writing on Masculinity and Male Violence for 52 Weeks’. The articles have been published since new year. I am the coordinator of this series.

“The purpose of this article series is to record ideas, opinions and in fact experiences of the men, who are prominent in their fields, about masculinity and male violence. I’d very much like you to write an article for this series”.

I first stopped when I read this e-mail sent by my dear friend Şenay Aydemir who I worked with for long years. I was reading that series. I also found it important with respect to it urging men to confront themselves.

However, from my point of view, sincerity and authenticity of anything that I signed for is of vital importance to me. If I would write such a piece, I should have been totally honest or shouldn’t have written at all. Playing safe with vague sentences that don’t indicate whether one criticize or praise himself or herself doesn’t suit me.

I feel that I am a person who has overcome the nervousness of confronting myself in public space as well but the social contexts I am in worried me in terms of how the things I’ll tell affect people in my life.

When I started to think “Should I write?”, I thought that I needed to consult my ex-wife, who I lived with for seven years and broke up with eight years ago, as she has very deep meanings in my life.

By the way, I haven’t gotten married later but as I couldn’t find a more correct expression, I express it as my “ex-wife”. She encouraged me for this article so I took her permission to talk about the period I spent with her.

In fact, childhood period forms the striking part of this story, however, since it doesn’t seem possible to obtain approval from my siblings and mother, I decided to write those parts by taking these facts into consideration.

Here I go.

Like many of us, I was born into a family in which patriarchic relations are determining. My mother and father immigrated to İstanbul from Erzurum 52-53 years ago. Even though I was born and raised in Turkey’s biggest city, introversion caused by immigration has influence in shaping me since my childhood.

My father was a supporter of the Justice Party and he determined the family’s political and psychological map until we three siblings grew up. Then he lost this authority.

Due to the aforementioned reasons, I cannot go deep into the saddening levels of my father’s attitude towards my mother.

But still when I look back, attitude of my father, who I still respect for his other traits, against my mother is a childhood wound for me.

My childhood passed in Eyüp. During my childhood years, what drew me away from joining a gang was my passion for sports and reading. In those years, I was mostly reading Teksas, Tommiks, Red Mask, Zagor, Bonanza, Mister No. I was constantly buying these books with the pocket money my father was giving and finishing them in no time.

When I look back after years, I realized that all those heroes that I read with admiration were all men and this was reproducing the relation formed between masculinity and heroism again and again.

Perhaps the biggest contribution of those books to my life is the never-ending passion for reading. Reading was like a door of a meaningful transformation for me who was born in a slum.

I’ve always thought that Emile Zola’s “Germinal”, which my teacher in English course I attended during my high-school years recommended, was a leap for me. Before that, I’d started reading Yaşar Kemal, Aziz Nesin, Rıfat Ilgaz but Zola took me further.

Later on, two teachers who contributed most in me intellectually deepening were women. Eser Köker and Meral Özbek. And many young people who leaned towards socialism step-by-step, I was considering confronting myself as the first step of development.

When I was reading socialist writings, I also read a lot about women’s struggle for independence and “confronting patriarchic relations” was one of the main subjects of our talks with friends.

In our family environment, there was no such thing as division of domestic labor. In this sense patriarchy was in effect and involvement of me and my brother in domestic labor took some time.

I realized the effects of this in home environments too during my university years.

My flatmate Baki gave me a photograph of mine as a gift; it was showing me in those years while doing cleaning and on the flip side of the photograph, he wrote, “This snapshot is a sign that revolution can also come true one day.”

I have had male friends who are more skillful and participating than me when it comes to doing the household chores. The attitude towards housework is definitely one of the measures in terms of male-dominated relations and a self-assessment that a person makes cannot remain limited to it. I am mentioning this part just to confess one of my flaws.

I can say that, in the following years, the transformative part of my process of confronting ‘the dominant state of manhood’ falls predominantly on the period when I was married. I have always called the impact of my wife on me as an ‘activity of licking into shape’.

When I wrote to her before writing this piece to get her permission, she told me, “Let’s not call it licking into shape. But, of the men who are with feminist women, the ones who have a tendency to transform undergo a transformation. Actually, I was just trying to explain myself to you”.

Though my wife, as a graceful and understanding woman, describes the situation in this way, I still think that this process was an activity of licking into shape as well as an activity of ‘filing and grading’ in the sense which was taught to us in my vocational high-school period.

My wife is one of the architects of the current graded state of mine. I feel that her being a sociologist has also had a positive impact on this transformation process.

Seven years after we got divorced, at dinner that we had together and drank raki, we talked about our married years and one of the things that we dwelled on was my first experience of wearing sandals in the city, in the daily life when I was not on holiday.

I think that among the leftist and organized men, the ones who have gone through a similar history like me tend to choose clothes with dark and dull tones. It is at least the case for the ones from the same generation as me. I don’t know if it is one of the ‘serious man’ attitudes, but it is like that.

It was within those seven years when I was married with my wife that I showed the courage to wear clothes with more vivid colors.  

Let’s turn again to the sandals. We chose the first sandals that I wore in the city together and she encouraged me to buy a pair of sandals with a more modern style falling outside the established patterns of manhood.

Even the color of these sandals was somewhere between gray and black. I was going to buy a pair of sandals with more vivid colors in the years to come. So be it, it was a step. And my wife told it to me years later on that dinner.

When I got back home from the newspaper, I said to her in a nervous (!) manner, “The grocer looked at my sandals.” I cannot tell you how much we laughed at it years later.

It was in fact a way of lamenting that ‘the grocer treated me as if I was effeminate’. When looking at it from the other way around, it was also a donnee in terms of reconsidering the reality that the women in this country experience more serious and traumatic things than that every day.

I will move on to an example that has remained as a wound inside me and that I have to express.

At a moment when we quarreled and our voices were high, I remember having said to my ex-wife, “Stop nagging”. It was actually one of the ill-treating and sexist statements about women that we have acquired, learned and maintained through generations within our world. I am also associating it with the the fact that both of the two women that shared my life told me, “You are not listening to me”.

I was claiming that I was listening to them; but, this fact which was expressed to me twice shows that I am not a good listener to the women that I lived together and I try to evade with the help of sexist statements such as “stop nagging” when I have my back against the wall.

And, the women that I have worked with have an important place among the ones who have made an effort to how much I have managed to transform so far.

Working with competent and strong women both intellectually and professionally for long years keeps a person awake in that respect as well. I should also give credit to my women friends in my continuing organized life as well as the life experience that we have accumulated together.

In the meanwhile, no matter how much I think that, in the places where I work, I prioritize a democratic functioning as a basis, as a man who has long worked as an executive, I am sure that the notes my women friends would give me in that respect would reflect the reality better.

Because, since the state of manhood, together with everything that it comprises, is an official ideology, I think that it can be seen more nakedly when looked at from the opposite side.

In the last analysis, that a man confronts the male-dominated relations is something that needs to be reconstructed everyday. Because it probably provides men with such a comfort, which we sometimes do not even notice, that the moment when you let yourselves go, you see that you again return to that comfortable state of manhood.

The things that you think that you have transformed and accumulated so far can also become void very quickly. In other words, there is no such thing as ‘I have overcome it’. It is a reality that needs to be confronted everyday over and over again.

And there is also the ritual of ‘serious man’ that I should not pass without touching upon in terms of the history of a socialist man. It actually sticks the male-dominated values on us quite easily, sometimes out of personal reasons and sometimes in a way nurtured by the social environments where we live. Easing off a little bit does not bother anyone. (FP/ŞA/APA/TK/SD)


Introduction - Haluk Kalafat

#1 I Must Have Gone Crazy - Murat Çelikkan

#2 Woman - Mehmet Eroğlu

#3 Sur-Karşıyaka-Cebeci-Sublime Porte - Tuğrul Eryılmaz

#4 Middle East – Ümit Ünal

#5 Yes Pain, Rocky – Hakan Bıçakçı

#6 I’m Afraid of Confrontation! – Yekta Kopan

#7 An Evening in the Country

#8 3 States of Male Violence

#9 We Men Are Very Insincere About Women

#10 Magnificient Manhood

#11 My Son Should Know His Father

#12 Situation of Women Reporters Not Different Than That Report

#13 My Name is Hatun

#14 'We' Weren't There But 'We' Were More

#15 Curse of Being Man...

#16 State Mindset is Against Women

#17 It's Really not an Accident, Men Kill Women

#18 Men are Etc.

#19 Find My Defense Attached

#20 Spiral of Violence

#21 False Paradise

#22 World of Thought and Masculinity

#23 Growing Up As Boarder, Tribune Boy

#24 Tram of Lust

#25 Confession, Confrontation As Well May be Masculine Show of Strength

İstanbul - BIA News Desk

04 July 2018, Wednesday

Fatih Polat