Woman Has to Confront and Thus Become Free

As Meltem Arıkan’s most recent book “The Body Knows” hits the bookshelves, Arıkan recounts woman’s self confrontation and issues with this book. Meltem Arıkan, who at the same time wrote the play “I’m Breaking the Game” and see the play through staging says, “In the play, we are not acceding to the quotes fed to us, the roles assigned to us and the concepts that was deemed suitable for us by the perverted patriarchal mindset that has actually been governing us for several millennia.”
16 03 2008 | Birgün Newspaper, Interview by Gülşen İşeri

The one who opposes the patriarchal culture, Meltem Arıkan: “We have to bring forth another mode of life”

You have published your seventh book: “The Body Knows.” At this point, I want to ask you whether women not know their bodies for real?

No, they really don’t know. On my previous six novels, I have always written about true life experiences, the truth about women as well. Meanwhile, I am also a woman within my life, and I interact with many women of different social and cultural backgrounds. Especially when I was writing “Undressing Herself,” I had been talking to women solely on this subject. The outcome was indeed horrific. Women have a body, and genitalia, and these two have not been banded together. Other than that, their bodies do not belong to themselves once again, they have something, but this thing does not belong to them. I have always been appalled at that, and I sometimes feel like I’m repeating myself, but women do not know their bodies, at all. They are not acquainted with, do not touch or establish a communication with their bodies. Henceforth how can this woman experience love, experience sexuality, properly bear a child or how can she be at peace with herself?

Can these factors be derived from fear?

Fear too has a share in this… But it also derives from the upbringing style. For example, compare the aftermath of birth for baby girls and boys. The boy is born, and as a baby, the photograph of his genitalia is taken; you know the picture, the one that every boy has in his photo album. So is it the same case with the girls? No way. Upon approaching puberty the girls are brought up with the words “Be wary, you’re growing up now!” As if growing up is a gruesome thing for girls. She is growing up, disasters are to befall. And from whom these disasters may be coming from? From men. Why? Because of her body… It is quite hard for her to communicate with her body with this conditioning, anyway. “Be wary, be decent, do not expose your legs, or else anything might happen to you…” is what’s being taught. And than beliefs add up to this, when you take a look at religion, unfortunately you see that all the restraints are brought upon woman’s body; and this keeps on being built up and is transferred genetically. So, what should this woman do? She has only one thing left to say, “Enough!” She has to start at some point, wherever that might be. Just get in front of a mirror and take a look at yourself, touch yourself… Than one starts her metamorphosis.

When we think about Turkey, with the women being brought up in such an oppressed way, does that metamorphosis you’re talking about seem possible?

I know that it is possible. My books are being published for ten years now. There have been lots of personal messages sent to me, making me so much exultant. Because they say: “You, Meltem Arıkan, are the woman who changed my life. Or they say “I had so many problems in my life until now, but after I met you, I saw that I could actually change. There are so many women like that, we may talk for three or five hours when my intention was only one. It is not even close to easy, actually taking a step. Not easy at all. It is a process after all, and it is not going to be easy. But it is possible, I know and have witnessed that.

You wrote books that depicted women leading an urban life. Yet, it is the ones in the East who experience the greatest of problems, or so we know, is that not right?

The problem is the same. Let me point out something interesting, I wrote about the urban woman in all my six novels, that is true. Yet my largest fan base is from the East and the Southeast, did you know that? The women there know, love and embrace me. The premiere for my play “I’m Breaking the Game” took place in Zurich, and while my readers in Istanbul and Ankara do not know about it, the ones from Diyarbakır does. They talk about the critics on the play. Yes, it is true that they live in a bitter reality… They are between life and death. For this reason, the words in the play reach there in a different way. In the question and answer sessions we have, they say, “You understand us.” Yes, I do understand, for I am a woman too.

We make the distinction between urban and Eastern women, but this alienates the women into factions among themselves as well.

Alienation is yet another weapon of the patriarchal culture. And this is how it all starts: The patriarchal culture, when building up this mentioned culture, makes alienations using ethnic and religious elements. And they present this as cultural diversity and difference, but the subtext here is creating alienation among people and preserve the fear culture by creating hatred.

How can that be overcome?

We have to rule out ethnic and religious elements off the social life and a new understanding of culture; That is what women need to do. Us, women, have to build up a novel mode of life And there is also the idiom I have always argued against, “Woman is a wolf to woman.” Is there not a reality within this saying? There is. But we shouldn’t be the ones putting this reality into words; We should be the ones that change it, because there are cases contrary to this. We have founded a company in the construction sector with five women, to prove this wrong. In such a harsh field… No, when women really exist, they support each other tremendously. But women who do not exist, who can not lead lives of their own, take their acrimony out on fellow women. If we could only analyse this accordingly, then solidarity would replace alienation, in my opinion. This is the reason I look upon this subject in that manner.

Your play “I’m Breaking the Game” is being staged. Do you think that the game will be broken?

In the play, we are not acceding to the quotes fed to us, the roles assigned to us and the concepts that was deemed suitable for us by the perverted patriarchal mindset that has actually been governing us for several millennia. And for this reason, we are breaking the patriarchal mindset’s game with this play. We are saying, “We are not going to take place in this game anymore. Women, let’s rebel.”

Are you being heard?

How wonderful it would be, if millions would march out to the streets when we say it. But it will happen, I’m full of hope…

You say that “A change in the world is only probable with a change in women.”

Absolutely… Men are mutated females, therefore changing the world is only possible by changing women. When the women change, the world will change. I’m quite sure of that. After all, my intention is support women in their existential journeys and show that it is possible.

We have mentioned that we live in a patriarchal system, how can women change within this system?

By saying “No,” by saying “The only thing that is sacred is my body,” by saying “This is my body” and by staking a claim on their bodies. It is not possible to exist, without your body. The system indeed keeps rolling on women’s body. When a woman is able to take it back, say “No,” and make her own choices, than she will change. But it is not easy, I’m telling that as well. I’m leading the path to those who ask me and help, but this path is no rose garden, and we, women, have to face up to dealing with thorns.

You stand for women undressing themselves, but there’s also the issue of freedom to veil oneself, what is your point of view in this subject?

All my books are on undressing yourself, I say that you can only set yourself free by undressing. You can only become free by undressing from all the concepts and beliefs imposed upon you. Therefore, I believe that becoming free is not possible by either veiling you body or your mind. We all might have a belief, we may believe in anything, but belief is a highly personal thing. It is not something to be made public. Then why are we conveying our belief into a communal platform; saying “This is who I am!” Then I start thinking, is that you who is existing, or is there a template behind which you hide while believing that it is your existence. Because you can only speak of your existence if you can stand on your own, without your defences, after you undress from all of this. But if you are hiding behind a religion or ideology, and claim that you are free this way; this indeed is not an existence, but taking cover after those ideologies and running away from responsibilities. When I ask someone why she did something in some way, I’ve always received the response “Because of my beliefs.” When beliefs come into the picture, there can be no discussion or reasoning… So, if there is no space for discussion against belief and there is no intelligence involved, then I do not know how there may be freedom.


You talk about traumas in your book… You say that the problem has got nothing to do with being urban or being Eastern… Than what is the difference between the urban woman and the Eastern woman?

We automatically assume that the gravest things take place in the East. But in actuality, the same events happen in the city as well. There is only one difference: The city-dwellers can not speak these out. They mostly happen discreetly, and are commonly ignored. But that problems do not pertain to a region. The city dwellers too suffer from incest and harassment. The rates of these cases are actually quite high. We have to acknowledge this fact. Everything should not be kept in the family. As people establish a communication with their bodies, as they advance upon their fears, lots of things start to uncoil. You start to see where you get blocked, and your body is giving up so many clues on this…

The suppressed women wreak their anger on children

There are more women in the parliament this year, what is your take on that subject, and are you hopeful?

Quoting from my book “Hope is a Curse,” such a hope in nothing but a curse for me. I examine myself, examine what I want to change, and I fight to the last drop of blood for this cause. There are women who have tangibly devoted themselves to changing both themselves and other women…

We say that the women are being suppressed worldwide, and there is a violence culture that keeps on spreading; what would you say upon the correlation between this violence culture and women’s suppression?

This system consumes me up to such a degree until I become a mother that, I inflict this pain and lack of experience to my children. I’m talking for the other women here… Even after she gives birth, the women is suppressed, for thousands of years, and she wreaks this anger on her children. This chain of violence keeps going on in this manner. Women have to put a break on this and break the game, it is the only way to change it all.


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