A couple of days ago, Cagatay told me about this news story that was gaining traction, about this professional volleyball player who said that a man on the bus in Istanbul assaulted her, on my birthday as it happens, because she was wearing shorts and had stretched out her legs.
According to the Hurriyet Daily News, "A male passenger reportedly hit İbrahimoğlu's feet while walking past her and sat next to her despite other available seating. İbrahimoğlu asked the man to apologize for hitting her feet. The man in turn yelled at İbrahimoğlu, saying, 'You cannot sit on this bus, stretching out your naked legs, you are corrupting the morals of the people,' and called her 'insolent.'" When she told him that he was the one being insolent, things escalated and the man punched the volleyball player - who is only 19 years old - in the face. When she tried to call the police, the rest of the passengers told her not to make trouble. The police apparently told her she was fine and didn't need to file a report.
Frustrated that the general answer to the situation seemed to be "shut your yap," a group of volleyball players have decided to stage a protest this Saturday and will ride the same route in shorts. It's Ramadan now and while I'm not sure if that actually heightens the protest (ie scantily clad ladies out and about during the holy month), the first Hurriyet article seems to imply that the imminence of Ramadam, which started on August 1, had something to do with the initial assault - although no one will ever know since everyone let the man get off the bus scot free.
I partially posted this because it brings up a gray area, in my opinion, here which is how clothing, religion, and a secular society intersect. Ataturk modernized Turkey (introduced the Roman alphabet, adopted the Western calendar, made people take surnames) after WW2 and founded a decidedly secular state. He was a military man and since then, the military's role has been to preserve the separation of church and state - which is why it was such a big deal when the top generals quit in protest two weeks ago. As the New York Times wrote, "The decision [to put in his own guy] stamped Mr. Erdoğan’s civilian authority on the country’s military, which has long regarded itself as a protector of Turkey’s secular traditions." Besides basic puppeteering, one of the problems with this is that Prime Minister Erdoğan, in power since 2002, is the head of the AK Parti, which supports a more Islamic way of life. Tellingly, even though he is supposed to be the head of a secular government, his wife wears a headscarf. Does this vague dismissal of secularism then seep into regular society, like with what happened on the bus?
Turkey is absolutely at a crossroads and it remains to be seen whether or not they'll stay with the secular, E.U. route or opt for more religion-based laws and align themselves with other Middle Eastern countries. I think this quandry reflects very clearly on the street in terms of clothing, in the sense that you see women in all kinds of outfits. In our residential neighborhood, I often see women wearing headscarves but increasingly, burqas too. (Whether they're residents or tourists, I don't know, but it would be odd for tourists to be in our area.) I never see women wearing shorts or short skirts in our neighborhood. On the other hand, last weekend we were at the Starbucks on the Asian side's main shopping street and it was like being in Miami Beach. As a result of the typical dress in our 'hood, I tend to be more conservative and always wear long dresses, capris or pants if I'm alone...mostly because I don't want to invite the sort of attention that the volleyball player received. When I'm with Cagatay, I'll wear skirts, but I never wear shorts, mostly because it marks me immediately as a foreigner. Nothing has ever happened to me, nothing has ever been said, but again, I can do without any special attention.
So, uh, everyone still wants to come visit, right?