When people looked at me, they were only seeing my headscarf!

I knew what was expected from me; I’d already learned what’s right; I knew it was time, but it was my decision in the end. There were no women around me with a different look, but it was my decision. I was only 13, but it was my decision. I was feeling all grown-up. There was something else to be praised about me besides my success at school. To be approved, appreciated, and rewarded helped me keep going. 

It took a different turn during high school. The ban was still in force1: I was one of the thousands of girls who have multiple personalities due to the lifestyle suggesting “Without hijab at school, with hijab in daily life.” Besides, my high school required a very high score for admittance. Thus there were many students with secular families. This strengthens the feeling of being the “other,” pushed me to hold onto my identity harder, and become radicalized. To wear headscarf despite them, meant choosing your side in the fight to me. It was tiring, backbreaking, but my struggle was growing stronger. By the time I was attending university, the ban was over, “the new style” was taking over. My faculty was not about theology; so, there were not many students with headscarves. I didn’t even think this issue through in this vast, crowded, and cosmopolitan environment. I’ve never been exposed to negative or positive discrimination, never had a different treatment because of my headscarf. I remember that I thought, I wish it’d always be like this. 

Struggling through job applications and interviews, the feeling I’d rarely had before kept getting stronger. When people looked at me, they were only seeing my headscarf! They would take my headscarf into account for every consideration about me. I tried to dissociate myself from this. I started wearing simpler, mundane clothes – the ones you’d see on any women, except the headscarf. In order not to get lost in generalization, in prejudice, I struggled desperately. I felt the need to point out that I was opposed to the government, or I had to assure that I was not an envoy of any kind of platform. Simply, I wanted to be invisible. 

I went through the headscarf liberation fight, but the battle of “being with headscarf without being the radicalized stereotype” was much harder.

Then, the acceptance phase was there; “Political Islam” was a thing, and the headscarf was its symbol. I discussed it within myself for months. Then, there was a moment of clarity, and my decision was finally made. The February 28th videos2 circulating around for days to remind us of the freedom they let us have was my breaking point. I decided not to be a part of this. To be or be seen as a “sure vote” for them caused rage inside me. I thought I accepted headscarf with my own free will; the things I went through while deciding to take it off showed me otherwise, 10 years later. After I racked my brain until I became unhealthy, both physically and mentally, I was ready to unveil my decision. 

While you go through this, you start to see yourself in the eyes of everyone you ever encountered, briefly or frequently. Then, after all that, you remember the rock you’ve been hanging on: how long can it last anyway? Everyone will get used to it, they may even forget it one day. Maybe, I’ll forget it too.

So, I started telling my close circle.

I was lucky, there were some supporters from my close family. Interestingly, the strongest opposition came from the women of my extended family. They held my mother and cried like I was dead; some even came to our house at night for declaration. The conversations we had in my room started soft and delightful and ended with, “This house is now out of God’s path, you’re all dead to me” remarks. 

It was not 1997 but in 2018. It was not Nur Serter3, but my aunt and the persuasion was happening in my own room. How can it be justified when tables have turned, anyway? 

We’re the contemplators, evaluators, troublemakers. In reality, our courage is greater than our actions. The ones with the opposite gender, the ones from afar neighborhoods who are talking loudly, they should know that we are not just talking. Our courage doesn’t need approval. This and other articles here, they are to remind this to each other.  

  1. Wearing a headscarf in government bodies and schools, including universities, was banned in Turkey since the early 1980s. This ban is gradually removed after 2007.  
  2. February 2nd 28th 
  3. Nur Serter, a well-known figure and allegedly founder of “Persuasion Rooms”, where university students were pressured to take their headscarves during late 1990’s. 

(Image: Samer Fouad)

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