Sunday, September 13, 2015

Orientation Day 12: Sexual Harassment & Kocatepe Mosque

Friday, September 11, 2015

Orientation is winding down and I’m getting excited to finally move to Antalya tomorrow (Saturday). The past two weeks have been memorable and very informative, but also so exhausting—waking up at 7am every day and participating in non-stop activities for 9 hours straight.

The morning began with two hours of Turkish lessons. My hocam (pronounced ‘hojam’ - “my teacher”) was not present so we merged with another class. We were supposed to write a skit and perform it; however I was unaware of this assignment so I quickly slapped something together with two other girls. We performed a dialogue at the market, in which Lily and I were the customers bargaining for a dress and shoes with Alexis, the storekeeper. Çok pahali! (Very expensive!) was repeated quite often in our dialogue. Our Turkish was definitely not perfect, but at least the assignment was done.

We then had a lady present to us about the “Turkish Education System: Issues and Challenges.” While the content was really interesting, the presenter was not very engaging. The slides were heavy with text and my fellow peers were falling asleep. Despite this, I was able to scribble a few notes in my notebook. I learned that it was only recently, in 2012, that Turkish government expanded compulsory education to 12th grade. Prior to this, education was required up to 8th grade. As of 2015, there are 109 public, 76 non-profit (private), and 8 vocational universities in Turkey. As Professor Ayturk had mentioned earlier in the week, Turkey has taken a huge initiative to expand access to higher education and universities are popping up like mushrooms in every town. As a result, many of these institutions are in their developmental stages. The other cool fact I learned is that women outnumber men in higher educational institutions. Yay for women power!

Sexual Harassment
After lunch, Asistant Professor Yonca Toker of Middle East Technical University spoke to us about “Sexual Harassment in Turkey.” I really liked that she started her presentation with sharing her research methodology with us; from my perspective, it gave her even more credibility as a researcher and a professor. She specializes in sexual harassment in the workplace. She interviewed 353 subjects from different occupations to learn about the different faces of sexual harassment. She asked her subjects to rank their experiences on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being “definitely sexual harassment.” There were four major categories that emerged as conclusions of her research:

  • sexual physical advances (mean 4.5)
  • quid-pro-quo – bribery, power dynamics, blackmail (mean 4.0)
  • sexual hostility – unwanted exposure (mean 3.8)
  • insinuation of interest – frequent compliments, affectionate terms (mean 3.1)
  • sexist hostility – often comes in the form of gender discrimination (mean 3.0)

Women cope with sexual harassment through advocacy seeking (filing a formal legal compliant) or negotiation/confrontation (preferred strategy). Like the United States and most other counties, sexual harassment is outlawed, and definitely taken very seriously in the workplace.

What was the most thought-provoking during Professor Toker’s presentation, however, was the cultural context of sexual harassment in Turkey. For example, Turkish hospitality and willingness to help others can often blur the lines of incidents. Similarly, the contact culture (physically touching people to comfort and support them) can complicate relations. Waiting until marriage to have sex can lead to higher incidents of sexual harassment. Lastly, the concept “benevolent sexism”—protecting women because they are fragile—was both puzzling and frustrating to me. Puzzling because sexism in any form is never benevolent, and frustrating because it inherently perpetuates gender inequality by promoting men as powerful and superior than women. I believe there are definitely biological differences between men and women, and chivalry can be a romantic, but I refuse to conform to social norms in which my agency as an individual is compromised or diminished simply because I am a female.

This lecture ended with strategies of how to avoid sexual harassment. We were advised to not make eye contact (doing so encourages men), to walk away, don’t tell the time if asked, dress modestly, and scream for help if you are in trouble.

Renewal Grantee Panel
Another panel of renewal grantees spoke to us about teaching and administrative issues they encountered in their first year teaching. There was a lot of good advice; I won’t bore you with all of it, but some of the more resonating wisdom is listed below:
  • Don’t marginalize others’ experience by glamorizing your city.
  • Be aware of what your contract permits and forbids.
  • Don’t talk about the power of dollar and how “cheap” things are.
  • Be sensitive to your colleagues’ financial situations – don’t talk about salary or your weekend travels. If you travel, bring gifts as a kind gesture.
  • As a Fulbrighter, you are privileged and are being paid quite well compared to locals.
  • Don’t gossip.
  • Always have games to play on hand in the classroom.
  • Names are important, take the effort to learn your students’ names.
  • Be realistic. Lower your expectations.

The day ended with one final activity with renewal grantees. A few of them rotated through our tables and we got to ask some more specific questions.

Kocatepe Mosque
Kocatepe Mosque, outside view.
I really wanted to see the famous Kocatepe Mosque before leaving Ankara so my hotel roommate Erika, Alex, and I cabbed to the masjid. It was a 10-minute ride, costing 12TL. Upon arriving, we gaped at the magnificence of the Kocatepe Mosque—pronounced “Kojatepe” because “c” in Turkish sounds like an English “j”.  It was so beautiful. The exterior was light blue and gold, and I could see architectural traces of the Byzantine Empire (from my recollection of photos in history books, of course). The four minarets towered the massive dome and the intricate patterns encompassed the beauty of a masjid.
I lent scarves to Erika and Alex so that when we went inside, they can cover their hair. We took off our shoes and left them on a shelf before entering the Kocatepe Mosque. I was awe-struck at the interior beauty of the mosque; calligraphy, geometric shapes, Arabic scriptures, blue and floral Izmit tile designs, and golden sheer everywhere. There was a gigantic, golden, crystal chandelier dangling from the center of the dome and captivated any tourist upon entrance. Even though I knew nothing about the Kocatepe Mosque in specific, I served as a tour guide to Alex and Erika and educated them about mosques in general: where the imam stands, how the Friday is conducted, how prayers are performed, how the Quran is read on a crisscross book stand, the positions of praying, and do’s and don’ts inside a mosque. We walked in the upper levels of the mosque quietly and cautiously, every so often taking a picture or glancing over the edge of what appeared to be a balcony. The higher we went, the bigger the view.
Inside the Kocatepe Mosque.
Another view from inside the Kocatepe Mosque.

Then, when the imam recited the azan, I decided to participate in the prayer. It was so uplifting to pray with the company of others. It was so peaceful, and I felt closer to Allah. I am not very religious, but I do take my faith Islam seriously. I enjoy being spiritual—connecting with something bigger and better than myself. I have always enjoyed going to church with my host family in college because religion, no matter which it is, helps keep us humble, hopeful, and loving. The girls and I left the mosque after the prayer, and it was already nightfall. The Mosque looked equally beautiful at nighttime, under the moonlit sky and the additional lights. We taxied back to the hotel, ate dinner, and called it a night.
Alex, Erika, and me outside the Kocatepe Mosque at night.

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