'She wants to be scared when you yell at her' - Turkish men on domestic violence

Turkey has set a new record, ranking first in the world in gender equality four years in a row. According to reports, this year only two Turkish women went to the police because of male violence. Civil society organizations around the world have decided to visit Turkey to study Turkish society and learn about women’s rights.

How nice would it be to read news like that? 

Nov. 25 marked the United Nations’ International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, but we still need to talk about increasing violence, murdered women, and the gender inequality that Turkish politicians continue to encourage.

The motto for this year’s Nov. 25th women’s march in Istanbul was: “Men have many excuses for violence; we have no intention to keep our silence.”

So what do men think? Has violence been normalised because we stay silent about it? Or are they confronting their past violence against their wives and girlfriends with a new level of awareness?

We talked to several men across Istanbul. Most viewed violence as their right, and few felt any regret.

Şafak Keskin is a 46-year-old lawyer living in the Eminönü district. He has been married for 23 years, and he told us quite frankly about cheating on his wife hundreds of times, but said that she had no right to object. We asked him if he had ever hit her.

“There’s some hitting, yeah,” he said. “It’s pretty clear in my culture: our women stay home. In my home, life goes on in the way I frame it, and my wife happily accepts that. If we both accept it, it’s no one else’s business. She’s a lawyer, too. I hit my wife, but I never beat her - it’s not violence. It’s more like a warning. When we first got married, I was really jealous all the time. I might have backhanded her a couple of times, but even when I look at it now, I think my wife believes it’s my right.”

We asked Keskin if he interferes in his wife’s life, and he looked at us as if we were crazy.

“Of course I do,” he said. “What could be more natural? She’s my wife. There are just some things I know better than she does. If I make food and she interferes, that’s fine, too. In our parents’ time, no one ever talked about these things. People were so happy. Of course there’s some ridiculous violence against women, but you can’t kill a woman just because you’re jealous. I don’t think it actually happens much, though. They’re exaggerating. The family is sacred - not even the state has the right to get involved in the family, the law either. I don’t know about any Nov. 25, but I know March 8 (Women’s Day). I don’t celebrate it, though.”

We left Eminönü and took the tram to Kadıköy, on the Asian side of Istanbul. Along a street full of coffeehouses, we joined a table of young people. Hamit Işık is a 25-year-old university student who waits at tables in a café. He explained the psychology that leads to violence against women

“Look, I love my girlfriend,” he said. “We’ve been together three years. There’s no ‘me-you’ with us. She’s going to be my wife and she has to act like it. What she wears, the people she talks to, the places she goes: she has to be careful everywhere. It’s not bad or demeaning. Neither of us believes in equality anyway. There are a few things women are better at, but all women want to see men as men. I know all her social media passwords. If she doesn’t do anything wrong, there’s nothing to hide.”

Although Işık is young, he is not shy about the fact that he is violent and says his girlfriend accepts it.

“I hit her once, yeah,” he said. “But I was sorry after. I apologised, and she apologised for putting me in that position. Forget all this male violence and courts and whatever. You should come meet her sometime, ask her yourself if it bothers her. Why did I hit her? She didn’t answer her phone. I couldn’t get hold of her for an entire day, and she wasn’t at home. I wondered what she was getting up to. Later I found out she was at her grandmother’s. I understood her and she understood me. There’s no problem, so don’t worry.”

In the Kadıköy bazaar, we sneak in a quick chat with 35-year-old fisherman and shopkeeper Ertan Sakman. Sakman is single and does not want to get married. He told us that violence makes women love men more.

“A woman wants a strong man,” he said. “She wants to be scared when you yell at her. Don’t look at those who are against violence. This is nothing to do with education. I have these neighbours - they’re very educated people, and I hear them every night. But it’s obvious the woman is very happy. These people against violence are just trying to destabilise Turkey, but they don’t know what our women want. I was really kind to a woman just one time in my life, and she didn’t see me as a man. But the ones I was rough on and the ones I hit, I kept the upper hand with them. Things like Nov. 25 and March 8th, these are stupid. Everyone should just move on and forget about it.”

Hilmi Arslan is 81-years-old. He introduced himself as a leftist. He was a high school history teacher for many years, and when he retired he moved from the European side of Istanbul to Kadıköy’s Moda neighbourhood with his late wife, Mehtap. He was one of the few who expressed regret about his past.

“At that time, a long time ago, I mean, we didn’t know anything about this,” he recalled. “Even the leftists of the 70s were the same - no one talked about women’s rights. My father beat my mother. I was really sad for her, but it didn’t seem strange. I don’t know. I guess it was normal - everyone experienced it. There wasn’t any debate about it because we didn’t know. Unfortunately, and I say this with sadness, I hit Mehtap a few times, and there were a lot of other times I was bad to her. I truly loved her and I accept that as an excuse. It was out of jealousy, like, why did you look at him, that sort of thing.”

Hilmi and Mehtap never discussed this, and it has always been a source of bitter regret for him.

“I never apologised to her properly,” he said. “I’m so ashamed. The men of my generation were so wrong. No, not just wrong - we should have been judged. How can I not know Nov. 25? I share about it on Facebook. I write in all capital letters, and I post about exemplary women in history. The younger generation, they’re not like us. They’re more aware. They know men will be judged.”