The domination over the labor and bodies of women in the business world consists of the most sinister form of discrimination. In corporations “the institutions of the older brother” which are built on invisible bonds have taken over the neighborhood gangs that swagger around. The only criterion for entering this institution is to be a man. You do not have to be skillful, clever, or hardworking, indeed, it is probably better that you are none of these. The institution of the older brother welcomes you; it does not exclude you. Since men starting from their childhood learn best how to form gangs, since being a lad or an older brother requires gangs, this institution functions naturally over this “bond”. Perhaps it is in this institution that these men vent on the gangs from which they have been excluded as kids and are accepted by and accept others to their heart’s desire.

Thomas Robson

According to the “Women in Statistics, 2018” report[1] published by TURKSTAT for the 8 of March, the ratio of women who are employed as managers in high and middle level jobs have increased from 14.4% in 2012 to 17.3% in 2017. I’d like to have a word with all the “successful” and “ambitious” white-collar women, who are included or are candidates for inclusion in these statistics about which one cannot help saying “it is not that bad” and feel a kind of secret joy.

I want to be heard mostly by the white-collar women who do not call themselves feminists but who are underhandedly pushed around like other women on account of being a woman and who knowingly or unknowingly engage in a struggle. The fact that we are not exposed to direct physical violence or no one shouts at our faces saying, “it is because you are a woman”, or the possibility that we are getting equal pay with men does not make us free of anything. We are exposed to the most modern version of discrimination and contempt, one which is done with politeness and plaza style kindness and this is not something to underestimate. It is the shaved, fit, and in suits version of the same system, this time shaped according to the plaza norms.

When assessed according to the parameters of World Trade Forum’s 2018 Global Gender Gap Research[2] which are categorized under four main headings (economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment) Turkey ranked 130th. The United Arab Emirates and India, countries which are easily dismissed by people of Turkey, are ranked above us. There is no place on earth which is untouched by the patriarchal system; however, when we are included in a not-too-bad statistics in one of the castles of the feudal order –presuming that we are able to detect it in the first place– we do not name or we tend to underestimate, dismiss or find it unnecessary to mention the discrimination that has become a part and parcel of our everyday existence.

Yet, we have to define it. It is what causes a woman to be raped, another woman to be exposed to physical violence, another woman’s life to fall apart, it is what we struggle everyday against in the business world to create a space for ourselves, it is what causes the injustices we fight against: its name is patriarchy. Every second we shut our eyes to it, it is nourished and becomes ossified.

Used in feminist literature to denote male-dominated society, patriarchy[3] refers to the system of unequal gender relations whose origins date back to pre-capitalism and in which men dominate the labor and bodies of women.

Simone de Beauvoir defines patriarchy as an order in which human essentially means “man” and woman is seen as a subordinate “second sex”; but most importantly, in this order, woman is imposed and forced to accept the position of the “other”. Given the fact that a working person is defined as a “businessman” and working hours are defined in terms of “man-hour”, I think this is a good reference. I want to discuss how many woman-hours correspond to a man-hour or what women accept from the onset for a woman-hour to be equal to a man-hour.

The domination over the labor and bodies of women in the business world consists of the most sinister form of discrimination. In corporations “the institutions of the older brother” which are built on invisible bonds have taken over the neighborhood gangs that swagger around. The only criterion for entering this institution is to be a man. You do not have to be skillful, clever, or hardworking, indeed, it is probably better that you are none of these. The institution of the older brother welcomes you; it does not exclude you. Since men starting from their childhood learn best how to form gangs, since being a lad or an older brother requires gangs, this institution functions naturally over this “bond”. Perhaps it is in this institution that these men vent on the gangs from which they have been excluded as kids and are accepted by and accept others to their heart’s desire.

In the institution of the older brother there are no reasons to ask questions such as “am I to address this person by saying ‘mister’ or should I call him by his name?” Therefore, even if the person in front of those men is a “mister”, a certain amount of hierarchy and distance suddenly disappear. It is a matter of time before they start calling each other “brothers”; men can become intimate in a second. There seems to be no need for any period of getting to know each other, getting used to each other, trusting each other. All of a sudden, you are left out just as you were excluded from a game as a kid simply because you were a girl. You do not feel alienated about it since this is exactly what you have been used to since your childhood. You have to prove yourself in order to be trusted and included in the game.

The situation is similar in corporations with foreign partners where there are no “MR.”s or “MS.”s. Important decisions are taken in the lobbying activities conducted within the “institution of the older brother”. Besides, all the important positions are almost always occupied by men anyways. Men decide whether or not a woman can work in a position which was previously occupied by men. They specify both the jobs that women can do and set the height of the glass ceiling for these positions. Fine, “she is resourceful”, “she is good” but when it comes to climbing the ladder in her career, it is men who decide how far she can move. If there is equality, there is also a limit to it, it is not like we are supposed to be completely equal.

Generally, monotonous tasks that require attention to details are assigned to women. Usually, women continue this order just as it is, and when they become the managers, they assign these boring tasks to women. They normalize their actions by saying, “women are more hardworking and meticulous” and thus do what has been done to themselves to other women. Just as boring children’s toys are for girls, and crazy and adventurous toys are for boys, the “soft” tasks that have a lot of boring details are for women and the “hard” tasks that are adventurous and risky are for men.

If both a woman and a man are employed for the same level of job, the female employer is usually smarter and more hardworking. Rarely does she procrastinate or loaf around. The woman who tries to be accepted into the institution of the older brother as a member of a second sex has to be better and periodically prove herself, of course. It is immediately noticed when she makes the tiniest of the mistakes, and utterances like “is her performance low”, “perhaps she is not fit for that position”, “is she a bit unfocused these days?”, and “is there a problem” start flying in the air. If a man is unsuccessful, lazy, or not very clever, if a man procrastinates or constantly loafs around, that does not matter since he is endemic to the institution of older brother, he will not stand out, he will not be talked about, the older brothers will welcome him.

Men often attribute the reasons for their failures to external factors and variables. I have seen a man who got angry at the shredder and say “you are a stupid machine” when he could not operate the machine simply because he was not able to place the paper properly. I was jealous of how comfortable this man was in his expectation of intelligence from a mechanical device, I envied his self-confidence. If a woman found herself in the same situation, she would definitely put a bold face on. She would keep on trying silently and by herself, over and over again, and if she still could not manage to make the machine work, she would without a doubt say, “I could not make this machine work”.

Reshma Saujani is the founder of the company “Girls Who Code”. In her speech, titled “Teach girls bravery, not perfection”[4], she said that men, even if they have written a part of the code, still show it and when it does not work say, “this code does not work, there is a problem with it”. Women, on the other hand, even if they have written most of the code, do not find it worthwhile to show it in parts and say, “I could not write” and delete everything they have written. Saujani states that when one runs the “undo” command for three or four times, it becomes clear that actually women have written most of the code but deleted and hid it simply because they do not think that it is perfect enough.

Certainly, this does not benefit women much in their business life. Although the qualifications required for a position do not seem to differ for a woman or a man (except for the military service), in reality, this is not the case in terms of career advancement. According to the online survey “Employee Profile Research: Breaking the Lock”[5] conducted with 533 white-collar employees by the company KPMG in Turkey in March-April 2018, whereas 41% of the women who are managers hold an MA degree, only 21% of the men have an MA degree. Even reaching the glass ceiling is a matter in and of itself.

If a woman, a human being who is a member of the second sex, in her struggle for existence tries to prove herself too much, if she starts to talk back, she will be labelled as “ambitious” and “cranky”. She is no longer liked. The adjective ambitious belongs to man, when this character trait is seen in a woman, that woman is labelled repulsive and impulsive, ambition does not befit a lady. A woman should be presumptuous. Where does all this ambition come from? It is probably because she is a woman that she is so stubborn. The members of the institution of the older brother also carp about their wives and girlfriends in a similar way. They say that you are like their wives or daughters. You may be more like their family members or romantic partners than a colleague, employee, or boss. Woman is familiar in the household, she fits the home space, she is worthy of unpaid domestic work.

Dame Stephanie Shirley, an entrepreneur, who established in the 1960s a software firm which employs only female software developers, in her speech titled “Why do ambitious women have flat heads?”[6] provides the following answer: it is because women are tamed by petting their heads.

To teach and explain something to women constantly is a must of the business world. Women take various explanations from men as if they are the non-factors in the game (in English, the term mansplaining –combination of man and explain– is used in these situations). Where there are older brothers, there are teachings. You realize that you are being exposed to these teachings when in the presence of many others all eyes are fixated on you even though what is said is of least relevance to you, or when you are already an expert on this issue, or when it is you who has in the first place brought the subject up. It does not matter if you have understood the issue at hand or if you already know it. Still, everyone tries to explain it to you. Indeed, they are eager to tell or show each other how much they know, but the institution of older brother in corporations is complicated; compassionate masculinity, hierarchy, and the rivalry stemming from capitalism, are intertwined. It is safer to take the path of explaining it to a member of the second sex. Her need for such an explanation and her deficiency is so indisputable that no one cares if she is well-versed in the subject or not. Since you are used to being mansplained all your life, you do not get alienated or feel the need to point at it when exposed to this form of behavior.

Sometimes, just for the sake of saying the last word, something you have already brought to the table is rephrased using a different wording or simply re-uttered by changing the location of the words (manaphrasing?). The last word in the meetings belongs to the men. And you nod to approve, as if you have heard it for the first time. You do not mind it. Prolonged meetings seems to be the only problem. Even if your idea has been taken into account, then you will not see this or think about it. You cannot say “I just said that, why are you repeating my words and taking our time, man”. Some woman-hours will of course be spent for administering man; women have learned how to manage others very well since their childhood.

The group of men, where the institution of the older brother is fully visible, would not stand out like a sore thumb, they are considered to be normal, they can even pace up and down as a group without being noticed. However, if a group accidentally happens to be all women (be it an elevator, a meeting, or a public space), then it immediately catches attention: “Oh, ladies, are you going to a gathering” or “what are you gossiping about?” or “one should be beware of you!”. These senseless insinuations about the workplace not being a woman’s place are communicated through jokes that are cracked with a flirtatious kindness and an affectionate tone. And nobody seems to think that these jokes feel out of place. I guess everyone silently agrees about the place of women.

For the same reason, you are shown a patronizing compassion as if you have accidently happened to be there. You are exposed to many irrelevant phrases such as ” dear”, “my dear”, “sweetie”, “honey”, etc. Some of our traditional older brothers who have not yet mastered the codes of plaza politeness may call you “sister”. They think that these salutes are not about inferiority but constitute forms of polite gesture. When you say “don’t you think it would be very weird if I call you ‘handsome'” to men, your remark will not register in their brain. Then, you will hear the classical answer men give to every kind of statement that questions patriarchy, “What’s that got to do with it, I was being polite” and you become a hysterical woman who does not understand kindness and compliment. You are not at all cool!

Women’s physical appearance is a matter of public discussion in workplaces. Who had her haircut, which clothing fits whom, who has a fabulous style, which performances of femininity are acceptable, who is adequately feminine, these are all matters that are open to public comments. The institution of the older brother, of course, has a word to say about all these matters.

Some women seek out the reasons for why they are not included in the institution of the older brother in themselves, and they try to change themselves too often. They want to be the plaza version of the “cool girlfriend” model. This model always works; being a woman, around whom a man feels comfortable makes women’s life easier; it is the prerequisite of bargaining with patriarchy. Moreover, it is better than looking hysterical, cranky, and aggressive. What good can looking hysterical, cranky, and aggressive do for anyone? Well, I want to clarify exactly this issue.

It will benefit us all. It not only benefits us, but also other women. When everyone sweeps the pavement in front of their house, then the entire neighborhood will be cleaned. Anyways, it is already a matter of time before you look hysterical, cranky, and aggressive for any reason whatsoever. There is actually not much that you are risking.

Gülnur Acar Savran says that “the dynamics of patriarchy and capitalism feed each other but they cannot be reduced to each other” (Gülnur Acar Savran, Feminism, 2013). How could the man, the perennial power enthusiast and the boss could separate from each other? The relative burden of making oneself heard only when the two are combined can seem more deterrent to us women who are working in the plazas compared to women who are artists, academics, or who work in other occupations. I can only find the reason as to why gender is scarcely discussed, and feminism is the least embraced in the plazas. It seems as if compliance, which is one of the requirements of being a while-collar employee, is combined with the obedience brought about by gender inequality. It becomes difficult to distinguish the chicken from the egg. Since it takes great effort and qualified conduct to be able to clamor against anything as a white-collar employee, to acquiesce and not to protrude becomes a common attitude. That is why so many educated and relatively free women do not challenge the institution of the older brother.

Let’s challenge it! Simply defining and pointing at it alone will liberate us immensely. We can start by finding it strange. We can wonder whether he would act in the same way if the person standing in front of him is a man, or conversely, we can think about how men would react if women acted in such a way. We can see it, define it and talk with each other about it. Then we can point at it and bring it onto the agenda. We can say that this is our place as well. Actually, we have nothing to worry about. Until today, we have opened a space for ourselves with our own efforts. We can keep on following this path. We are not obliged to please this institution which does not recognize us. Let them label all of us as cranky, aggressive, and hysterical. What are we to lose?

Note: I would like to thank all my white-collar friends (mostly women but there were also a few men) who valued the strange experiences that I shared with them and who shared the experiences that they found strange with me. I guess you already recognized your contributions in this piece. The decision of not including your names was a conscious decision based on the intimacy of our conversations.

Translator: İpek Tabur

Proof-reader: Müge Karahan

For the original in Turkish / Yazının Türkçesi için



[3] For a definition of patriarchy please see Melda Yaman, Eğitim Bilim Toplum Dergisi, no: 38, 2012.





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