One of the greatest satisfactions of writing this column is the opportunity to introduce Türkiye to foreigners and, in the same sense, foreigners to Türkiye. Although I grew up in California, my father was Turkish and, later in life, moved back to Türkiye, and I would visit him during the summer school breaks. So while my first introduction to Türkiye was over 30 years ago, I decided to permanently move to Türkiye after completing my education nearly 20 years ago. My mother, originally British but spent most of her life in the United States, had always envisioned herself retiring to Türkiye’s Aegean coastal town of Bodrum, which she also did over two decades ago. Now, a popular retiree expat hub, Bodrum has served as our base for the most part while we have traveled throughout the country, and I spent significant time in Istanbul upon my first arrival. And so this is the basis of my perspective as a single and foreign woman in Türkiye.
And as a foreign woman here in Türkiye, I can honestly say I have always felt safer than I did in the U.S. In Türkiye, there is a particular reverence for women, which is reflected in the culture through showing respect, being helpful, and being protective. For example, when I first rode a bus here thirty-plus years ago, men would give their seats to women; even children were left standing, and I was one of them. I had never seen this gesture before in public transportation in California.
When I went to a football game in the splendid Inönü stadium and had to use the lavatory, which meant walking up the stairs and through the crowds standing around, which were primarily male, they yelled out that a woman was passing and like the sea parting suddenly a corridor opened up for me. When a goal was scored, and the fans in the stadium jumped for joy, they all ended up falling all over the place in heaping embraces as they cheered while I was the only one left standing and without a single feather ruffled as no one had roughhoused me, because I was a woman. Helping to carry bags and opening doors are also just par for the course.
Of course, there have been devastating incidents of domestic violence and otherwise that I have read about in the news. Still, in my case, my worst experiences are being harassed and even followed by males trying to strike up a conversation. But when I felt uncomfortable walking home alone, I would stop into the local corner shop, i.e., bakkal, and tell them what was happening. They would either yell at the guy if he was still around and escort me home or both.
I have lived in 10 different towns along the coastal regions from Çanakkale to Fethiye as well as Istanbul, and to say that some of the homes I lived in were rustic would be an understatement. In my 20s, I spent up to six months living under a tree in Fethiye’s Butterfly Valley. In Çanakkale’s Assos, I lived in a home on the side of a cliff. It was the only home on that cliff, and you had to hike up an equivalent of four stories to get from the road to the main structure. The “structure” didn’t have locking doors, but I lived there for a few years, never batting an eye or fearing any intruder except possibly a snake. I have also lived in a cabin on a farm with no one around for nearly half a mile. I have never had a safety hiccup due to being a woman at any of these residences. I can’t say the same for the U.S., where I would never dream of living in such unprotected circumstances. But here in Türkiye, sleeping in treehouses and tents and now domes are part of the tourist experience. I’m not saying nothing happens here crime-wise and directed at women. Of course, there have been horrific stories of crimes of passion and domestic violence in the headlines. I am just saying that as a foreign expat residing in predominantly rural and touristic regions, I just haven’t experienced it.
I have experienced being bothered more by fellow foreign men than Turks, to be honest. On a rare occasion when I exploded at a fellow expat, it was because, in the corner of a local venue, a Turkish female friend was teaching me some oriental dance moves. We were enjoying ourselves, and our dancing was not whatsoever meant for an audience, which is something all of the Turkish males’ presence understood. None of the Turks even looked in our direction as they allowed us the respect and privacy to feel free to enjoy ourselves and for me to learn something new. But aghast to say, a foreign expat ruined the day by assuming it was okay to gawk at us as if our enjoyment was intended for observing. I yelled at the man, telling him to learn respect and awareness from his Turkish counterparts, who swiftly had the fellow exit the premises.
Thus, in my opinion, and experience, I feel safer around Turkish men than otherwise. I think they genuinely respect women, take pride in protecting us when called for, and believe they place high importance on allowing women to live as being while feeling free. And I mean morning, noon and night, as Türkiye is undoubtedly the country where I feel most comfortable being out in the late night hours. In most cities and certainly in tourist towns, the nightlife goes into the early hours with ventures to late-night eateries, and women are visibly present and comfortable and exuding the vide that our streets here in Türkiye are safe.