Tricky Terms of Endearment

Conservative and Liberal are terms I don’t like to use. They blanket out the true facts that stick to the many-faceted characters of real people.

Friday evening started talking with the parents of two teenagers I agreed to help tutor in English for the SATs. By external measures they are conservatives: they hail from a closed town in Eastern Turkey; the wife wears a headscarf and shapeless gown outside of the home and has never worked. But their kids have explosive ideas with insight to rival students at my open-minded alma mater, both parents obviously place a lot of importance on their children’s education, and the father is courteous and respectful when talking to women (even if his wife won’t shake hands with members of the opposite sex…).

We then had dinner at the house of a former coworker of E’s. By all external measures this man is a liberal.  From the facade he is near-indistinguishable from E: educated in a western city, ten-plus years of experience as an engineer in large or multinational firms, speaks several foreign languages, not a drop religious, wears clothes you could find at any popular store in the states, has a foreign wife who isn’t even culturally Muslim and wears jeans around the house and high heels when she goes out. But he’s one of the most discourteous and inconsiderate people from Turkey I’ve ever come across – especially in regard to his attitude towards women.

When I noted his nature in the car, E simply said, “He does whatever he wants and thinks that it is right; he says whatever he wants and thinks that he is right

Because as the first son following seven daughters (all now housewives, not one of them working outside the home), in a family like that, he would have never been told no, his parents would have never scolded him, reprimanded him, made him give up his share or stop to consider those around him.

So they’ve produced an as*hole, a man who has not once stopped to think how his actions affect others, or place importance on the emotional takes or physical states of people around him; a man who, despite the liberal looks of his lifestyle, will never see women as equal to men. Who will watch Hollywood movies and emanate American styles, but scoff at the idea that a woman could be an economic equal, or even be a manager over men.  The type who idolizes and identifies himself with the men in blockbuster foreign films, but would forbid his wife to resemble even a shadow of the women.

His Ukrainian wife is pretty, intelligent, and good-witted. But she also does not work, and did not enter into their relationship on equal footing. Like her two sisters (one married to a small town in Canada, another to Israel), she married out of the country as the only opportunity to leave behind the absolute poverty and lack of economic possibilities in the northeast Ukrainian countryside (the part currently contested). She entered their relationship seeking something that he had to offer.

As Candan said about his choosing a wife during his years in Ukraine, “There were many contenders…ah, those were great days”. He may have cried when he lost communication with his wife after the hometown she had returned to in order to give birth to their second child (a son) fell behind Russian lines of attack this past summer. He may have asked E, “What did you do on March 8th?” (to which we just looked at each other, ‘What did we do on March 8th? Was that last Saturday or Sunday? Or Monday? Were we supposed to be doing something?‘), and declared that, “To me, March 8th (International Women’s Day) is the most important day of the year”, pointing to a basket of fake flowers till wrapped in cellophane and sitting on top of the refrigerator. But he also sought out a Kyrgyz girl barely past puberty within an hour following his unmanly cry, and after dinner last Friday he had us drop him off at Retro Metro, a sleazy nightclub notorious for Russian pick-ups, on our way home. Because for him, for the man, there is no contradiction. He’s a liberal-living modern misogynist (can I stick that label here?) with no one to tell him he’s wrong. Not that he’d be keen to listen anyway.

So I’m not very fond of looking at people’s dress and labeling their ideals. They’re tricky, these terms, and they tell us very little about the people we actually know.


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