I have to be honest: I wasn't expecting it. At all. Well that's not completely true because I knew that there are inequalities here, specifically in the realm of literacy and education. And had my Turkish students not already told me (on several occasions) that women should never ever ever be compelled to do compulsory military service here (all men without a psychological or physical impediment - such as homosexuality [seriously] - must accept the honour of serving his country for a period of time)? They had. The reason? - Turkish men are by nature so romantic and chivalrous, that having a woman in the line of fire - and in their proximity - would distract them (i.e. men) from their jobs. Should that happen, I have been told, the country would be overrun by its not insignificant number of enemies. How I manage to keep a straight face in class is an act of God.
And yes, although the city I live in is a tad conservative (she writes, gazing out of her living room window at the three headscarf shops directly across the street), this is nonetheless not southeastern Turkey - that boogeyman-inhabited place where only the most backward live (according to my students) and where honour killings are not unknown.
So, to recap: I hadn't anticipated such blinkered underdeveloped backward Neanderthal opinions here. Not in Turkey. But I had dealt with it in Morocco. In Morocco I was told that a woman couldn't be a pilot because she wasn't physically strong enough - to which I responded is there any part of a pilot's job description which includes carrying the plane? Do pilots actually lift a 747 and lob it into the air during the take-off process? But Morocco is ... and Turkey isn't ... and Morocco isn't .... and Turkey is ... well, no matter. Isn't it fun to be wrong from time to time?
So, when I was assigned the onerous task of conducting a 1-hour "conversation" class - a Dante-esque punishment for teachers as Turkish students normally refuse to speak during conversation classes - I didn't cringe as I usually do at the topic: gender issues. This could be interesting, and at least I wasn't in Morocco.
The so-called upper-level students who attended the class were a mixed bag of students and professionals; all men, save one working single mother. The demographic could have been worse. And this is what I learned:
1) A woman cannot be a soldier (well, I knew that one already and I was tired of highlighting Israel, with its female conscription, as an example of gender equality. Given that my students frequently advise me to stay clear of Starbucks as it is owned by Jews, I saw little point in flogging that particular and very dead horse any longer.)
2) A woman cannot be a taxi, bus, or tram driver. Especially not the driver of a dolmuş - a veritable stuffed grape leaf on wheels - that farts about the city. And definitely not a subway driver. The reason?
a) a woman cannot drive.
b) a woman is too easily distracted and would cause an accident.
c) a woman cannot handle stress.
3) A woman cannot be a mechanic. Being a mechanic requires strength (does Turkey not have hydraulic lifts in its repair shops?) and women simply aren't strong enough.
4) A woman cannot be a repairperson - as in telephone or washing machine. See point number 3.
5) A woman cannot be a surgeon (see point 2 C).
6) A woman, however, can be (although it's still not advisable) a pilot. Since there is no traffic in the air, therefore she will (probably) not crash the plane (the world's air traffic controllers will be relieved to know that there is no such thing as traffic in the air).
7) A woman should be not be paid the same wage as a man.
... after which I wrote on the board, in big bold red letters 2009. And then walked out of the room.