We Conversed with Men

Nil Mutluer

… “but” these are men that aim to fight against all the attributes to manhood that are filled with violence and sexism. Our chat with Dağhan Azaklı, Kürşad Kızıltuğ and Yavuz Atan, who underline that they have started a war with the manhood inside themselves and that this is a long way turned into a bilateral telling of grief as may be expected. We have made cordial chat with the members of the Biz Erkek Değiliz (We Are Not Men) İnitiative, BEDI on manhood, authority, and interaction and common points with feminist and LGBT movements.

We first got to know you as an iniative with the historic effect you made on İstaklal Caddesi on April 19. How did a group of men come together under the statement “we are not men” and decide to walk together?
Yavuz Atan (YA): It came about after the murder of Pippa Baca. We were all interested in such matters already; we had relations with feminist groups and discussions on gender. This event was in fact something that triggered us. This question was asked all the time. Radikal made an interview with me at Pazartesi magazine, and someone from Pazartesi said to Ayşegül Oğuz “Ask him why now” without looking in my eyes, with an ironic tone. Ayşegül said “I have already asked and got my answer.” My answer was, “This could have been after something different than that, after a honor murder in Turkey. Partly coincidence partly the fact that sensitivity and reaction was high triggered and pushed us too. And also, we thought our presence or expansion, our publicity would lessen violence. We have discussions in ourselves; we are not free from these. They happen inside us too, but then something else happens; our friends who have committed verbal or physical violence are more deeply shaken. There is also a preventive side, because there were people that our friends met both from inside and outside the group. When they raise their hand, they ask “What am I doing?”. There was such an effect and if this is spread –this will not happen with the militant and missionary-like efforts of a few people and we do not adopt such an attitude- probably men like Hüseyin Üzmez would decline.
Kürşad Kızıltuğ (KK) : It is quite composite, but in terms of organization principles BEDI is an anti-authoritarian group. Lately there has been a stir in events and actions. Actions fort he arrested conscientious objectors, an increase in anti-militarist initiative meetings, different practices of various feminist groups, actions taken for Tuzla… We have been affected by these. The last straw could have been the murder of a woman in Denizli instead of Pippa Bacca. Moreover there seems to be another point that is accepted when I think of our appearance: Sexism is more and more a matter of discussion both for anarchist, anti-militarist, anti-authoritarian circles and the left-wing and opposition. I suppose that is something that has enabled our existence, that is, an unconscious hearsay and increased sensitivity…

You made use of a veil for your action, and thus got criticism from some feminists as well. How did this criticism affect you?
Dağhan Azaklı (DA) : Pippa Bacca was in fact the only reason that we used the veil. It was her veil, yet this is a black one. Like an inversion. But we did not use the veil fot that reason anyway. We did not attribute anything else to the veil. We were criticised by virtue of the fact that veil is the symbol of marriage.
KK: This sort of criticism does good. Because we went out for a particular purpose in mind using a particular indicator, and then we burnt it for we did not want this indicator to turn into a symbol for us. This is more like anarchists’ burning a black flag. It is also criticized for sure. Even if you burn the flag it has already turned into a symbol for you. Let me refer to feminists here forthright, like purple has clung to them… This is not a criticism of course. Such a thing was done with such an influence, yet to be understood by others, or to burn, to destroy… There were discussions anywise, but these discussions were transferred to us not in the imperative but appropriately as should be. It was done face to face, or through mails. There was method-providing side to it both during the organization of action and our own iner operation, and the discussions we had on our mail group. Besides, how could exchange of ideas or feedback between women and BEDI men be established? To which degree will we get the feedback?

Did this kind of feedback go on?
KK: Let me jump to an example from the second action. We shouted various slogans in the action that we took after the murder of Ahmet Yıldız. “If hatred of homosexuality is manliness, we are not men”, “If homophobia is manliness, we are not men” , “If making life unbearable for women is manliness, we are not men”, “If honor/custom murder is manliness, we are not men”…

Let me guess, you received criticism for the word “custom”…
KK: Yes. They said, “You use custom, yet that custom is a concept used by those in the point of view of othering, attributing it to a culture. We feminists do not use custom when we go out on the street, we only use honor murder.” Then we discussed that we should not make lunges that would cause the feminists’ acqusitions or important nuances on the way to the same goal, ultimately the life where there is no gender-based discrimination. What we do cannot get a blow in their deeds and acquisitions so far. We said then, “Ok, from now on, we will only use the concept honor murder.” Yet we have evaluated this decision according to our own reasoning and we bear its responsibility. We cannot say “We made this decision due to women”; it is ours.

You are engaged with the issues of abuse and rape. Nevertheless, both as much as us, you also have the potentiality to be the object of these originating from the fact of being men. What did this cause to you inside? How and when did you start to fight against the definition of manhood within yourselves? And do you have a certain definition?
DA: Practically yes. People expected met to be the guardian of my women relatives for instance. And I had a conservative family. When I attempted to learn how to cook and clean I was told not to be engaged with these ‘distaff’. My mother told me the same thing, plus she was afraid I would turn out a homosexual because I was “among women, aspiring to do distaff, you see”. She was trying to make me a ‘full man’. It is the mother who brings up the child in most cases anyway. It is also she who imposes the gender codes on the child to a large extent.
YA: My point of departure about manliness is that: I have trouble with the things attributed to a sexual, social form by society. What Dağhan says does not quite explain what I have in mind, that is, it is not something like blondeness or brownness. To me, there is more to the difference between being a man or a woman than blondeness, brownness. My trouble is about the roles encumbered upon us. For all someone knows, we are expected to commit honor murder and everything as according to where we live. Such as “You should shoot your wife if she does this; you should do that if she does this”. We are more free of these on account of our own choices and the social environment we live in”.That is, that is something chosen by us; we’ve been dealing with this for a long time. Of course there is something else I’m busy with: I am among the first generation conscientious objectors. Consequently, I already had a problem with maleness and male identity. In those years I have discovered the violence within myself and could not recover from its effects for years. I faced with myself. They expect you to perform a role with issues about family, lover or wife, and encounters with family. For example, once my parents visited me..They are not very conservative people compared to the majority of the people in the society, but stil they have a certain understanding of culture and tradition. Then, when my girlfriend back then came home at four in the morning, my father said something to me. I told him “I don’t mind it; you cannot mind as well. She comes home whenever she wants”. I guess this was the hardest encounter I’ve had. Yet it still was not that diffucult to explain for I had good relations with them. They say at least “Ok then, we are not used to that, but this is the way the generation after us lives” and they concede.
KK: I cannot date it exactly because it is hard for me to speak of a conscious awareness. I guess it was like I was not able to recognize and name it. But on the one hand maleness settless in while getting aware as well. On the other, it is not fully constructed, not quite settled. Its main source in me is my father. He is, how to say, one of the toughest and violent examples of the patriarchal and hard guy type and had a very destructive influence upon our lives. This is domestic violence; this is his heavy oppression to bring me up as a “hard guy”. I could easily say that I have grown up experiencing the fact that “patriachy first crushes men” myself. But when my mother and father got seperated when I was 16, I started to live with my mother and sister. This was a great chance for me. In this way I escaped the influence of my father and violence, which I already wished to escape, more quickly and I grew up with the influence from my sister and mother. Because I had witnessed violence so closely, I began to develop reaction against violence as I was very young. It did not leave any permanent marks, yet still it was a traumatizing experience. Secondly, breaking the cliche of possessive male, who are in search of ownership drawing boundaries to the lives of their partner sor wives, who show their affection through jealousy was possible due to the same reason as a reaction to my father, and also because my mother and sister presented me with very good examples. I became friends with my sister’s lover. I was 19 and a friend of my mother, how to say, -we used to joke calling him ‘boyfriend’- often came to our house; they made love and so on. We never protested against her about how that could be without marriage. Then, when I had a lover, my mother established the circumstances so that we could be togeher. And I never had problems. My mother provided a great sphere of freedom for me. In time, I developed such an awareness: If could not provide my child with one step further freedom than my mother provided me with when I was 20, let me break down within a certain political critique, politization and so on… Those days, when we argued about this issue with my lover, I was telling, “One day when we have a child, s/he must absolutely experience freedom in the largest sense. S/he must experience the freedom we more or less had and go beyond that.” It started out like this; we did not have the ownership mentality, and of course I will add my lover to that too. She was not someone to enter the service of a man leaving all the authority to him. She taught me very much, and in time, -mine was a long relationship- we learned much from each other. I learned a lot within my relationships. Then all of these turned into a kind of ‘science of life’ let us say. It is a little later when this became a political knowledge. My adopting an anti-authoritarian political stance had a much greater influence on me. But then my your own attitudes begin to disturb you.

What kind of attitudes for instance?
KK: One has a period in life when s/he can say “Ok, we are done with those. We do not have such concerns any more. We are not sexist anyway. Woman is equal with man.” One thing is really easy. Meanwhile I will reverse something a femisnist has said. She says, “We have seen many of these men; let us see them at home once. Let us see how much of the housework they undertake.” That is the easiest. I have always ironed my own shirt since my childhood; this does not mean anything. You can cook, you can clean the toilet too; it is easy. Of course it could not be that easy for many men. Yet, after these, it comes again to overcome the sexist mentality, treating woman in one way and man in another in woman-man relationships, in friendships shall we say, intersexual relationships, that is, to be or not be homophobic for instance in face of love relationships. In all of these and in how you find a solution to problems, sexism becomes apparent… Material practices are important, but everything does not stop there. I became aware of that during a phase when I was thinking “Ok, I am done with it.”

What kind of issues do you argue during your meetings? And in fact, let us come to feminism: Women argue very much about whether men could be feminists; what do you think about that?
DA: There is noone among us who says we have transcended it. Yet, I think we do not have to create an alternative. I do not want to be ‘this’ and I try to eliminate what is imposed on me, but I find it very artificial and dangerous to show up as “I will be an alternative to that.”
YA: We make use of feminist analyses of course. Other things I get support from are AntiWar, conscientious objection and the like. I was greatly influenced by anarchists, and I contributed to that as well. Anarchism does not have a project of the ideal society, or if there are any anarchists who claim it has, I am not one of them. There is no ideal society; we could only deal with the evils that we see and eliminate them. Then, a free life would determine itself, that is to say, I am of the opinion that we could not have the option to determine it beforehand. We departed from this point at first too when publishing the other Amargi journal. We knew anarchism has a negative discourse. Widening our own sphere setting off from the those things that we are against, removing the obstacles in front of a free life: that is all we can do. And we made use of the meaning of the word Amargi: freedom, a return to the mother and the source. As we also thought about the class struggles in our leftist history and observed its inadequacies and as we dealt we various domination and exploitation mechanisms, we blended them.
KK: There was a side to BEDİ which got support from feminism about gender issue, and another side which got support from the homosexual movement about discrimination concerning sexual tendency. Rather than an approach which renders feminism special, there are individuals who incorporate both or who participate in both, who carries the personal contacts that they have established with them, or who are directly in them and participate in this too. Therefore, it gets support from both. But we do not have the conception that we must adopt something which will be everyone’s point of view. We still have friends who say we could be feminists and those who say we could not. I personally am for the contruction of an identity not on the basis of what we are, but what we deny… For me, the problem is not whether we are feminist or not anyway. We deny certain things and do not try to create an ideology as we focus on certain problems and try to do something about them… We are not men…I always approch this with an opposition. That is, I heartily aim not to be a man, but I mean the societal masculinity, the manhood that tries to question the manhood that is imposed on us. I do not say “ I have questioned masculinity and transcended it.” I try to question it and have an openness to carry it out. This is a huge system of course, and there is thousands year old, deep-seated culture. It is not something that one could quickly get rid of as a piece of clothing. Therefore it is important to question it. Yet, we do not have the opinion that the actual objects are women concerning gender and we are the supporting men.

Apart from the feminists and LGBTT movement, what kind of reactions did you get from the leftist circles? Gender issues could be transferred to “women” without even mentioning their names within these circles…
KK: Very true. While women are mentioned that way, most of the time homosexuals are not part of organizations. And besides, there are really good enterprises. In Canada, for instance, there are men against abuse, rape and violence. It is good to have such groups who focus on these issues specifically. Yet, gender is such a block, huge issue that it would be deviousness of men to approch it as women are responsible to take over the historical burden of it as its objects. Men are also the objects in it and as long as they do not struggle against patriarchy, debate it and question the given masculinity, it would not be enough or meaningful when women alone, LGBTT movement or sex workers debate these. It would not be enough because men, the source of domination, have to problematize themselves here.

How do you plan to move forward?
DA: In our system of operating, very large groups are not feasible. Therfore what we want is appearance of various groups like us. We do not aim to multiply and reach everywhere.

Have you considered what could be done together with women and LGBTT movement?
KK: We want to work together with women and LGBTT movement, let us say. We want it really much. For instance, we wanted a simple practice as such: we watch a film together and debate it as a kind of reading, as film analysis from which issues could spring forth and several languages could appear. So that consciousness could be further enriched. We have planned this in one of the last meetings but could not practice it yet. Besides we find it important to support each others’ protests and plan common protest or practices.

BEDI standing for “We Are not Men”.

From Amargi- Issue 11

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