From where I stand, self-care is not limited to getting a manicure, taking a bath; it is more about learning and practicing life skills such as saying no to things that make us feel bad, drawing healthy boundaries, asking for help when necessary, and clearly expressing our needs.
One of the best things about social media is that it has granted us access to perspectives regarding women’s bodies that are often excluded from mainstream narratives. Despite those who present women’s sexuality and sexual health as a black hole, we share our discoveries about our bodies and sexualities on these platforms. Gizem Onay, whose Instagram account and blog posts we follow, is a sexual consultant who has been working on breaking the ground to talk about, share, and discover our sexualities. In 2016, she has founded Luna – Wise Women’s Life Cycles in Ankara. In recent years, she has been sharing information regarding the relationship between women’s bodies and health that go way beyond the common knowledge, correcting false facts through her blog, web site and social media channels. She underscores that women having access to information especially about sexuality and bodily health emancipates and empowers them. Hormonal cycles such as menstruation and menopause ask of women to pay attention to their bodies, contemplate and understand despite the ongoing presence of male dominated information and practice in sexual health. We conducted an interview with Gizem Onay, which might be considered an introduction into this field, for more you can follow her social media accounts.
Do you think women have access to information regarding healthy menstrual cycles (period)? What do you think is the biggest obstacle to healthy menstrual cycles becoming widespread and common knowledge?
The biggest obstacle is the lack of conversation about the right information we all need in this area. We are not familiar with our bodies’ functions. We can’t follow our own cycles.
On the other hand, women’s pains are not taken seriously. Evidence shows that when women go to hospital with menstrual cramps, their pains are taken less seriously. A common misunderstanding is that menstruation is supposed to be painful, and women “exaggerate” it.
Nevertheless, we see that women are becoming more and more conscious of their bodies. Especially when somebody posts about these issues or talks about it in social media, a lot of women write “so, I wasn’t alone in this”. The fact that these things are now being talked about also increases women’s motivation to seek help.
You’ve been saying that getting to know their bodies, experiencing their sexualities freely and as they desire empowers women. Why is that?
The woman who sexually discovers herself and finds means of sexual expression is no longer “passive”; she can be “active”, she can be emancipated. Naomi Wolf has a great theory about this; she argues that dopamine is a feminist chemical and women who freely experience their sexualities can release a good amount of it, which increases focus and motivation. A woman who is sexually satisfied and expressive is now even stronger, determined and ready to take action with the support of dopamine. And this is a role model the patriarchal system fears!
Sex positive approach also opens up space for asexuality. What do you think about this, is sexuality a must?
Actually, sex positive approach involves all activities that aim to change the sex negative culture we have grown up and continue to live in; it refers to adopting a positive sexual attitude. This does not necessarily mean “everyone must and should have sex”, this attitude rather emphasizes the importance of mutual consent, and roots for the acceptance all kind of sexual activities and identities as long as the parties involved feel secure.
Asexuality is a sexual orientation that is often unacknowledged and considered strange by society. Sex positive approach primarily requires acceptance of all individuals’ sexual identities, orientation and lifestyles without any moral judgment.
You hosted an online event for women about masturbation, almost 5000 women participated in the live stream, later the recording was viewed many times. What were your observations during the event?
The first thing I thought was how much we all needed it! The fact that 5000 women watched the live session of a private Instagram account with lemons in their hands, and the recorded version was viewed by almost 90,000 women reaffirms the immense need for sharing such issues.
I’m sure there are exceptions to this, but most of us weren’t provided with the relevant, much needed information about our bodies and sexualities while we were growing up. Nobody told us how to make love to a partner, not even how to touch ourselves. On the contrary, we grew up thinking that touching ourselves is shameful, forbidden, sinful and dirty. Coming together in a safe space and having an intimate conversation; laughing out loud while talking about sex; hearing about important information regarding our bodies in a non-didactic, non-medical language, a discourse of our own; sharing our discoveries about female sexuality really excited participants of the session. We received wonderful feedback. Thinking of masturbation as a natural and enjoyable way to explore ourselves instead of a guilty pleasure always makes us feel better.
You have a lot of followers and you mainly interact with them on Instagram. These platforms provided us with new spaces to organize and come together. What sort of interactions do the relations you build over these platforms, or the community of 5000 women you’ve been referring to allow for? What are the limits and possibilities of these encounters?
My Instagram account is a private space where women can be present without feeling shameful, uncomfortable or worried about being seen, judged or harassed by others. I scrutinize each follow request and only accept users that appear to be safe- as much as I can. Since it is a private and monitored environment, women feel more secure to freely share their experiences, ideas, opinions. As I mentioned previously, one of the most enjoyable parts of this practice is seeing how people find the strength to make positive changes in their lives once they realize that they are neither “alone” nor “weird”.
The limitation is that we are not physically coming together, interacting face to face. Obviously, I don’t get to respond to everyone who writes directly to me, asking questions. But now we started moving from live Instagram sessions to closed online meetings. We keep talking about similar issues in a space where we can see each other’s faces, hear one another’s voices. Thus, we overcome the limitations of Instagram to a certain degree.
Self-care has been a popular topic for a while, especially on Instagram. We are encouraged to practice self-care through various formulas and recommendations. Why do you think self-care has become so popular? How do you position this movement within your own approach?
Self-care is also one of the matters that is never taught to us. Our mothers taught us that we were supposed to suffer, prioritize our children, partners, jobs over ourselves. We also saw them going through these processes, we grew up like that. But nowadays we learn and experience that this state of exhaustion does not help but hurt us. Even though the model of a woman “standing on her own feet” seems empowering for women, it can also be detrimental in the long run with its exclusion of care and support from the process. It is true that we should learn to take better care of ourselves. At this point, I do think that women’s solidarity, and remembering that we can have and seek support are vital.
When we take good care of ourselves, we often tend to feel selfish and bad. It is not easy to overcome this tendency. It is a learned behavior, that has been practiced over the years. I think self-care is important since it affirms our value as individuals. From where I stand, self-care is not limited to getting a manicure, taking a bath; it is more about learning and practicing life skills such as saying no to things that make us feel bad, drawing healthy boundaries, asking for help when necessary, and clearly expressing our needs.
Your broadcasts and posts support women’s personal empowerment. When you consider the current crises we’re going through, what do you think is the relationship between personal and collective empowerment?
Personal empowerment is crucial; however, it won’t be enough without collective empowerment and solidarity. Nevertheless, ideas such as “you should learn to stand on your own”, “don’t trust anyone but yourself’ have been passed down from generation to generation. But now we know that life actually never allows us to stand on our own, we need each other. We were taught to consider needing others as a sign of weakness. Yet, we need each other and there’s nothing wrong or lacking about that. Women are learning more and more about building solidarity, supporting one another. They see the positive changes within their own lives once they feel stronger and feel more motivated to support others and ask for more help and support for moving ahead.
You just launched a new web site and Instagram account. You already have a lot of followers, why did you feel the need to do so while continuing your workshops and posts? What kind of upcoming projects do you have in mind?
Aside from my Instagram account, I’ve been sharing my writing on my blog. The subjects I’ve been learning and tackling with are very specific, but extremely layered. Meeting with women and identifying their needs makes me even more motivated to share my knowledge. Thus, we started a brand-new online platform, and imagined turning it into a ‘Digital Red Tent’ which will serve as an extensive resource on topics such as well-being, pleasure, feminism, parenthood… etc., a space for women to come together and support themselves and each other. Preparations for our web site Yuvaluna.com is still ongoing. Our Instagram account @yuvalunacom where we have been sharing various content since November 2020 is open to everyone and already quite active. As a team we are planning on creating video content, podcasts and hosting online meetings −for now−, things are going even better than we imagined and we’re very excited!
Finally, you’ve been carrying out your activities in Ankara, how is it like being in Ankara while working in this field?
After being in Istanbul for nine years, it’s really great to live in Ankara! Not having the constant rush that is present in Istanbul is an advantage, but when it comes to meeting with big groups the scene has its own limits which can be considered a disadvantage. However, it seems like the circumstances brought on by the pandemic rendered such differences almost irrelevant, now there is not much difference between cities when it comes to organizing events. But I can say that being able to slow down here in my daily life −compared to the pace in Istanbul−, helps me and my work.
Translator: Gülşah Mursaloğlu
Proof-reader: Müge Karahan