Day 5, 2019

I knew that we couldn’t be friends again, though. I did not want to be friends; I just wanted to do my duty to support him because I cared for him as a human being, but not as a friend any more. I wanted him to be happy, but away from me.

Strong, Resilient Women Happy Fifth Day of Thanks Everyone!
Today, we give thanks and say prayers for the many women world-wide who are strong and resilient in the face of oppression and who have learned and are learning the power of their voice and making courageous decisions to change their situations. We also give thanks for the sisterhood that so readily embraces, loves and supports them in their everyday lives.  Please enjoy this reflection of thanks  by Dilara Demir. 

Author: Dilara Demir

I am thankful for the strong women I have encountered, who gave me a sense of resilience, humility to cry out loud in difficult times and ask for help, and persistence for life. Thank God that they appear in my life much more than before and show me a sisterhood that I would have never imagined. 

Despite being written for a different history and context, Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise” moves me because I am a woman from the so-called Third world. I grew up as a tom boy, probably because I grew up in a sexually suppressed, conservative context in which men dominated and thrived much easier than women. I think I was scared of being a woman, when I first realized I had boobs. I was sexually/physically abused when I was three, eight, sixteen and twenty one years old… and emotionally and verbally abused countless times. Despite enormous mistrust against men, my best friends have always been male throughout my primary, secondary, high school and university education. I was contributing to their toxic masculinity at times by being obedient and not resisting against their aggressive behavior toward me or other women around them. I was very young and did not know better.  Although I had many “strong” women around me including my mom, my grandmothers, my aunts, they were not strong against resisting men and patriarchy; they were just resilient. In other words, they took emotional, psychological and economic burdens from their husbands, sons or any other men in their lives but still survived and grew themselves and their children despite it all. My role models were not taking a stance against abuse. 

When I was at the university, I became aware of different ideas and ideologies that made me question every part of my femininity. Why did I have the utmost tolerance for male friends, while having very little for female friends? Why did I act tough? Why did I care about football and cars and video games to make conversation with my male friends? Why did I reproduce the oppression? I lost track of my identity and my mental health declined.  This was a blessing in disguise because I started reflecting on every bit and piece of myself, my own thinking process, and the actions stemming from these processes. 

All these questions became more obvious, when my closest friend, whom I called brother genuinely, did not ALLOW ME to study abroad because he suddenly needed to stay in the country due to his mom being diagnosed with breast cancer. We took his mother into the hospital together. I tried to support him economically by buying food for him in the university, without offending his male ego. I was always there at the end of the phone or in person talking for hours to soothe him during the last year of my university education. We had the same dream of getting a full scholarship to study in the UK for our master’s degrees. We both applied, we both got the scholarship and we got into our dream schools. He decided not to accept his scholarship, despite his mom’s refusal to be the reason for him not to follow his dreams. He had an elder brother who was an addict and his father left them when he was seven and only returned when he started to earn a living. Since we came from low income families, we were both working part time and studying at the same time. So, we understood the hardships. The moment I told him that I still wanted to follow my dream and understood his decision to stay in Turkey to support his mom, he got furious and did not talk to me for months. He questioned my friendship and told me that I was not his sister anymore. I tried to explain to him that I would still be at the other end of the phone and physically visit the country every other month if not every month. He refused to talk to me. He made fun of me, saying that Skype or writing emails wouldn’t suffice for our friendship because it wouldn’t be the same as spending many hours a day together. We had nothing sensual; we never developed a romantic relationship; we were just very good friends for 6 years, spending everyday together. So, I kept saying that we didn’t need to touch each other to be close friends. He refused again. He made me feel so guilty and my sense of identity was shaken to its core. I started blaming myself for desiring to follow my education, which I would never have a chance to do again if I didn’t do it with the fellowship at that moment. He pushed my limits so much, I had to question our relationship and all my relationships with people this possessive, who treated me like an object to satisfy their emotional need of being there for them all the time. This triggered so much thinking and self-reflection on my own understanding of friendship and intimacy as well as the structural problem of his constant aggression against me in our relationship. 

I realized whenever we had a disagreement, he became verbally abusive and made demeaning comments toward me which attacked my self-esteem so I would do what he wanted me to do. These were very small microaggressions and bullying mechanisms that became a pattern and very abusive, killing my self-esteem slowly and steadily. For example, I wanted to go out with a couple of friends from another class without him once. The entire day he made fun of me saying that I was trying to be popular and accused me of being superficial for no reason. Then he added that he was my best friend, not them. When I questioned his authority of knowledge, he shouted at me in front of people so we could not get into intellectual debates, although we both studied social sciences. We should either agree or not agree. I just did not want to deal with his passive or open aggression. So, eventually, I found it easier not to deal with his arguments and just accept them. I also always found an excuse for him. I reasoned that he did that because his father left him at a young age and he had dependency issues or that he did not mean to hurt me. So many excuses in his name… 

Then, I realized something even more disturbing. I had a very similar relationship with my dad. I had to agree with his opinions, otherwise he started shouting, claiming that I was not his daughter any more or broke things.  This was the story of my childhood and youth, dealing with men who knew what they wanted or thought, while questioning everything I said, and making demeaning, devaluing comments. Apparently, I made a subconscious decision to not create conflict with men in this pattern. But, I was no longer happy with my decision any more.

After I realized that I had nothing to blame myself for. I wanted to live my own life, while being a supportive friend. My own father who has been aggressive to me wanted to talk to me, when he saw how devastated I was at having to choose between losing this friend or following my education abroad. Ironically, he made me realize that my scholarship was a once in a life time opportunity and no man in my life was worth sacrificing it. YES, my own father included himself into the dynamic and said follow what you want, not me, not him, no other men!!! My father told me that if he was a real friend, he would understand and support me even if he felt like he had to refuse this opportunity. He also added that my own brother couldn’t request this from me and he was right. I followed my dreams and started my MA in London on a full scholarship, without my friend being around, and I have never regretted this decision.

My boundaries between individuality and communality are very blurred for cultural and social reasons. It made me aware that sometimes I have had to cut people off, especially aggressive men from my life. At times, I have had to cut off my own dad. I couldn’t lose myself for someone who did not care for my well-being or my dreams. I did not talk to this friend until almost five years later when I heard his mom died of metastasis. I went to the funeral, supported him, hugged him, stayed with him until very late.  I along with another of his childhood friends were the last people to stay with him that day. I felt like I did my final duty. I knew that we couldn’t be friends again, though. I did not want to be friends; I just wanted to do my duty to support him because I cared for him as a human being, but not as a friend any more. I wanted him to be happy, but away from me. I had to let go of him because that relationship tired me so much. He made me realize that I had to let go of people, even if they were good people in their hearts. 

After that big change in my life, I met the love of my life. He is a very different kind of man; he’s not aggressive or too demanding and never dominating. We have built our relationship on mutual trust, not manipulation or passive aggression. It still remains that way to date. He has moments of conditioned toxic masculinity and we talk about it openly. However, it never gets to a point in which I go into the same pattern of obedience/aggression. I have changed a lot. I’m much more aware of my power and my voice. I am a strong woman who can cut off any man who is not making my life easier, respecting me or caring for/being compassionate toward me. 

You might wonder what this story has to do with sisterhood. Sisterhood is the reason I also feel that I am not dealing with this type of male behavior anymore. I have met many strong women, some of which are in this thread, some of which are refugee women who are leaving their husbands, despite the difficulties they are encountering as migrants in a different country, some of which are PhD students or graduates whom I have met during my graduate school years. These strong women showed me that being a woman is not just about shopping together, gossiping together or attacking each other. We are much more compassionate to each other, more caring, more understanding, less judgmental and much more practically supportive. I realized that we are much stronger when we have space for sisterhood and we build deeper connections regardless of our romantic relationships with men or women and regardless of our sexual orientation. 

As some of you know, I worked in a woman-only refugee community center in Athens, Greece and their resilience changed my outlook for life. In the name of sisterhood, if you think of contributing to my sisters over there, please consider sending donations through paypal. Their paypal account is melissa.mwnetwork@gmail.com I assure you it will be spent for sisterhood and women empowerment. 

If you dont have much money, then you can just follow them on facebook and see their wonderful events and actions and share them (Melissa Network).
Melissa NetworkMelissa Network, Athens, Greece. 8K likes. Melissa is a network for migrant women in Greece, promoting empowerme…

Note: Recently, one of my sisters, Heba, a refugee woman from Afghanistan, living in Greece was killed by her husband in front of their 4 year old son, Mohammed. I could not stop crying for several days when I learnt this news. But, I also wanted to be more active on that front, wherever I go, since it is important to ask courageously “what can I do now?” for us (women) and our loved ones around us, as Melissa wrote so beautifully in the Day 1:Courage email. I would be very grateful if you would let me know if there are any organizations on the East coast we can support that resist against femicides by husbands, boyfriends and police here in the US.

Because I am a migrant, for a long time, I learnt how to appreciate beauty in other cultures that make me feel at home. So I wanted to end with a famous poem by Maya Angelou, I am sure many of you know this poem: 

 Still I Rise

You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?

Why are you beset with gloom?

’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells

Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,

With the certainty of tides,

Just like hopes springing high,

Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?

Bowed head and lowered eyes?

Shoulders falling down like teardrops,

Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?

Don’t you take it awful hard

’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines

Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,

You may cut me with your eyes,

You may kill me with your hatefulness,

But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?

Does it come as a surprise

That I dance like I’ve got diamonds

At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame

I rise

Up from a past that’s rooted in pain

I rise

I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,

Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear

I rise

Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear

I rise

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,

I am the dream and the hope of the slave.

I rise

I rise

I rise.

Love Ya, Have a Great Day of Thanks!

Melissa Barber

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