Please tell us a bit about yourself and what you do – whatever practicalities you’re willing to share with readers. Could be your inspiration for the line of career or journey as a woman in a world dominated by men.
I’m a writer really, in various forms. I’ve been in academia for several years, which I found to be a highly male-dominated area, quite to my surprise. I noticed very quickly that the most active and visible members of the university community were young women. Similarly with trying to establish myself as a journalist and editor, I found that it was consistently young, intelligent, angry and driven women striving to make a name for themselves, working for free – long and unpaid labour – to compete in an establishment which is rigged against them, particularly if they are intersectional woman.
I have felt, at various times in my career, the weight of gender hierarchies and that particularly the prestigious political institutions, think tanks to name but one example, are still, at their heart, boys clubs. So how do you infiltrate and demolish this mindset? Work harder, find your comrades from across social, gender and cultural spectrums. Work in solidarity, not in competition, and be inspired by the progressive changes we’re seeing world-wide in terms of, if not real gender equality, at least gendered debates, norm challenging and a global questioning of patriarchy, sexism and gender-based violence.
What is an accomplishment that you are proud of? Why are you proud of this particular accomplishment?
Finish my Ph.D. Not for what I imagine to be the standard reasons however. I’m proud because I struggled through and worked hard on something I didn’t enjoy or feel suited to, that I always felt like an imposter in doing. The rest, the journalism, the writing, the activism was at least in part fun, and self-motivated. This I did out of sheer bloody-minded determination, and because I was afraid to feel like a drop-out. Imposter syndrome is a debilitating and disempowering issue many people, but I believe especially woman, struggle with. Actually (and finally) finishing my PhD finally made me feel a little less like an imposter, and a little more like I belonged.
Do you feel that your gender (however you self-identify) has contributed positively, negatively, or neutrally to your current life situation?
I think probably positively for me. There’s at least a sense of identity and solidarity that comes with being a woman. Plus, I had the bonus of a fairly gender neutral childhood, surrounded by strong woman and a father who never gave the slightest indicated there might be glass ceilings for me and my sister, which I view very positively as if and when I do encounter this, I plan to dutifully and with characteristic clumsiness, crash through it. I never felt my options were limited (at least due to gender, the economic crisis is another matter), or even really thought about these issues before coming into direct contact with gender-based violence and patriarchy, first when I travelled alone at 20 and second through finally joining the professional rat race at the not-so-tender age of 24.
Can you tell us a little bit about your understanding of gender-based violence? What does that term (and what is describes) mean to you? Has it affected you and your life in any way?
Gender-based violence, I feel, should be interpreted in its broadest sense, to include structural, discursive, institutional, sexual and emotional relations of power and domination. I doubt there’s a woman alive who hasn’t experienced one or all of these to some degree.
I have tried to reduce the impact on my life, I don’t feel gender should have to be restrictive. I’ve travelled alone, hitch-hiked, come to professional meetings in tight clothes and blamed them for staring and not myself for dressing so. But I do think that even with being as flippant as I have towards safety and power relations in regards to my gender identity, I have still at many points in my life, moderated or censored my behaviour, or been damaged by the behaviour and actions of others related to entrenched and normalised gender-violence.
So to answer the below question on gender-equality ahead, this is what we’ll have to abolish before true gender-equality can be achieved. That all people, regardless of their gender identity, can feel safe. Do not have their space invaded by men and told that they were invited in, to have the luxury of the almost blissful ignorance I lived in up until 24 or so as to the impact of gender identity on your lifestyle, options and safety.
Can you also tell us a bit about your understanding of gender equality? What does this term mean to you?
As above, adding that although I’d very much like there to be a complimentary movement for men’s rights (which I think in relation to paternity rights, would be empowering and potentially more egalitarian for women), this does need to be a woman-led movement with allies, that we cannot afford to have these debates dominated by male voices. Equality then, for a time may look like women taking away men’s power. If that’s what’s needed for equality, then good.
I find it astounding sometimes that we’re still having these debates. That abortion has been placed back into the public arena for men to use, invade and dominate with. That defying all logic and reason, women’s contraception is being limited, attacked by legislation made largely by men. At what must be one of the most hopeful times for gender equality, with such a public raising of women’s voices, consciousness and debate, it is clear that this dying breed of patriarchal leader is moving to regain control over the populace, which first and foremost entails control over the means of (re)production.
I don’t think they’ll win, in regaining the hierarchy and the dominance in place before. But I think woman in the UK are in for a hard battle as politics here increasingly mimics the US in its ignorance, public lynch mobs against abortion clinics and twitter-storms of vitriolic abuse when a woman dares to speak out.
Do you think gender equality exists? If not, what are a few ways that you think your life might change by the existence of gender equality?
In some ways yes, legally largely, but obviously in most areas, no. Not to mention that everything I’ve said so far is incredibly culturally specific, and I’m speaking about the UK context in which I’ve spent most of my life, and more later in Turkey where I’ve lived on and off for the past five years. If true gender equality were to be achieved, with no structural or institutional bias, I think there would be a revolution in everything from work-life balance to foreign policy. I eagerly await the day.
Ending on a lighter note, do you have a role model who identifies as female? If so, why do you look up to this person?
There are so many names I could mention here but I want to raise one in particular, Aslı Erdoğan. She’s a wonderfully pessimistic, yet evocative and compelling Turkish-Kurdish novelist. Stepping into one of her stories, I’m instantly transported to the dark, existential bohemia that is the Istanbul I love and I feel there is a wealth of women’s experience voiced through her writing.
Aslı Erdoğan has been a tireless government critic, a life-long defender of writer’s and women’s rights. She stood strong against the men who raided her apartment in the middle of the night, has endured solitary confinement, though the loneliness she portrays in her writing must never have felt more real. She has been released for now, but exists with a life-sentence on terrorism charges hanging over her head. There are literally hundreds of Turkish and Kurdish writers facing the same fate, for what they have written on or spoken about. Thousands of people more broadly. For me this isn’t an issue about gender-equality, however it is a product of an intensely patriarchal, patrimonial and tyrannical government. Nor is this restrained to Turkey, I think leaders across the world fear a free voice, although being a female voice does attract greater fear and thus greater oppression.
The plight of women and writers should be read as a call to action, a call to question and a demand for solidarity. That’s inspiring to me and I hope to continue working with amazing campaigns like 16days, and have already worked with organisations such as Scottish Solidarity with Kurdistan, Dove Tales, UNISON – who have launched an amazing project sending postcards ‘with solidarity from Scotland’ to female prisoners in Turkey and Edinburgh World Justice Festival, through which I was able to hear about and help organise campaigns for writers and women in Turkey. To end on a quote from one of the female political prisoners UNISON contacted, who smuggled her reply out through her cousin:
“Blue butterflies of hope and freedom came into my narrow, lonely and dark cell and reminded me of the fine gardens of home. You are lucky that Scotland is free now, and lucky you are not in a dark prison like me for 25 years.”
We are lucky indeed. And we should take the empathy, solidarity and anger the treatment of women and men inspires to help where we can and work together to build the future we so desperately need.