Most people know of others who during university worked part time as a server, research poller, or bartender. But how would you react if you heard that a friend of yours who you attend classes with during the day, becomes a hostess at a night club in the later hours of the evening?
A 23-year-old nursing student in Izmir, Gonca, is somebody who was looking for work during college.
“In the past, the streets leading to college used to be full with job postings. Postings like, ‘Full wages, 7 hour workdays, server,’” Gonca said. “I was then staying at a dormitory. I didn’t have a social circle, and I needed to make money. I took the ad.
“I went to the place in Karşiyaka [Izmir]. As soon as I entered, one of the women inside said, ‘May God help you.’ Meanwhile, I naively thought to myself: ‘How hard could being a server be, why would this woman say something like that?’
“It turns out the girl was a hostess,” Gonca said. “I agreed with the boss and actually began as a server.”
Soon thereafter, Gonca became accustomed to the environment in the tavern, where women hostesses provide company to male patrons at night.
“Why wouldn’t I make a little more money by just sitting down and having a little conversation,” she reasoned.
She thought it would work for her as a student: she could spend the morning and day in class and her nights at the club.
It wasn’t long before she discovered that the job posed its own problems. And Gonca does not recommend other women take up the line of work, no matter how well it pays.
Gonca has had to keep her work secret from her friends and family. There is a strong negative stigma attached to workers in the industry.
“I was working very hard at night, always in loud noise. And during the day, you wanted to sleep,” Gonca said. “Then my absences began to rack up in school. Because of this job, I had to break up with my boyfriend. Because every night, I was having to come up with a new lie. … Because if he found out [what I did for work], he would label me as a ‘questionable woman.’”
Gonca added that her university degree dragged on, and she is currently still studying while not working.
When describing in further detail what it was like to work at a nightclub as a college student, Gonca explains that because the clubs were under government oversight, the women who worked there had to register their identities with the police. But those studying in college preferred not to have their records in the hands of police and the gendarmarie.
“When police or the gendarmerie would come, we would hide in the bathroom,” she explained.
Gonca said that the women never met with the patrons outside of work. But she learned other lessons: “I lost the trust I had in men, because married men frequented these kinds of clubs.”
Another woman, Leyla, has been working for less than a month at a club. She lives with her family and her mother thinks she works there as a waiter.
“Our expenses shot up and after the [economic] crisis we were unable to get by,” Leyla said. She adds that she does not worry about harassment and abuse at the workplace from patrons.
She shared how she once faced an awkward situation when her friends showed up at her workplace while she was there.
“I didn’t know my friends came to these places. But if you’re a woman, it becomes your fault not theirs. When I saw them, I didn’t know what to do. I went to their table. Then we went outside, we talked.
“They were very angry at me. And I said, ‘Are you going to pay our rent? I have to work.’ It was a very difficult situation for me,” Leyla recalled.
When she’s working and providing company to male patrons, Leyla said that she cannot continue sitting at the table once her drink is finished. They aren’t allowed to drink alcohol, but get served mocktails when men order it for the hostesses.
Another worker and recent graduate, Gökçe, said that all kinds of men patronize the clubs: lawyers, doctors, engineers and mechanics.
“The things they don’t have anyone else to share with, they come and tell us,” Gökçe said.
Like others, Gökçe shields from her family and friends where she works. They think she works at a luxury restaurant.
“I used to have a boyfriend. He would be suspicious because I returned home so late. So he went to the luxury restaurant I said I worked at. When he couldn’t find me, his suspicions grew and he followed me. He came to the door of the club.
“Then he broke up with me. I didn’t argue, but if I were just a waitress at a cafe, how would I get by? My only motivation was to graduate quickly, and then begin my own job.”
Like Leyla, Gökçe too said that she did not want her mother to know what line of work she was in.“If she learned the truth, she would be very sad,” she said.
Another woman, Filiz, explains that she turned to the job after a business she opened with her husband went bankrupt.
“This was the easiest place for me to make money,” Filiz said, adding “I had to start working here. Since nothing that I don’t want happens here, my husband doesn’t complain.”