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Note from the editor
One of the most frustrating and sometimes alarming things I’ve discovered about women’s behavior in recent months is our unwillingness to invest in ourselves. We buy our kids the latest and greatest phone, sports equipment, and clothes. We hire tutors and soccer instructors. But when it comes to investing in our own personal advancement and preparation for what’s next, we fall short. I hear this even from friends who run businesses designed to help women reenter the workforce after a break. These are women who really need to brush up on their tech skills, for example, but hesitate to lay down a couple hundred dollars to hone their Outlook skills.
Yes, women have a history of taking care of others before caring for themselves. But if we don’t break these habits now, we risk putting ourselves and everyone who depends on us in jeopardy. Remember that in 1900 the average age of mortality for white women in the US was 49. In 2018, life expectancy for all female infants in the US was 81. It only makes sense that both you and I will need more education, more coaching, more exposure to new exciting ideas and opportunities. We will need a professional tune-up or two and will most likely need to invest in that update.
And I will share another observation: women who invest more in themselves do better. They get the promotion. They get the next job offer. They find their way to a profession with purpose. I recently asked an uber-successful entrepreneur, who relies a lot on coaching, how much she has spent over the years on those services. Her answer: $60,000! I’m not saying coaches are the answer to feeling stuck, passed over, on shaky ground or frustrated about funding your start-up. I’m saying investment in your advancement is. And that could mean paying for a course at the local high school to get your reinvention going as a side hustle. Or it could mean footing the cost of a move across the country to hit your next challenge. Skip the new pair of shoes or the next Botox injection. Just please don’t be so stingy with yourself and your future. Invest in your potential first.
To get you started with that thinking, you must read Kathryn Sollmann’s “Hire the Right Career Coach (And Don’t Get Ripped Off).” Sollmann is an executive coach herself and she helps us navigate the good, the bad, and, yes, the ugly. Debra Borden’s “Can You Cook Yourself Happy?” is a fascinating look at a new kind of therapy that uses cooking as a doorway to improving mental health. And Fariba Nawa reports on a former war zone in Turkey where it just so happens girls are kicking boys’ butts in “The Post-War Zone Where Girls Outachieve Boys.” Tamara Lytle’s “After Parenting: Asking Myself Whom Am I?” prepares us for that moment when you lift up your head and find you’re totally, hilariously, out of touch. Mel Miskimen’s “Dad and the DNA Kit” will make you chuckle as her 90-year-0ld dad reacts to unexpected findings in the family genetics. Amy Sunshine turns us onto a new fab tool for fixing fine or flat hair in “Fine Hair: From Flat to Fabulous — in Seconds.” And Virginia Gilbert’s “Sex or Sexlessness in Midlife” is a therapist’s insightful discussion of a trend she is seeing among her clients that is sure to get you talking.
Enjoy the issue! Don’t forget to leave your comments at the bottom of the articles. We want to hear your voice!
Libido either ramps up or slows down in midlife. How to handle the change
As an age 50+ therapist specializing in sexual issues, I’ve observed that midlife women settle into one of two camps: the “A”s, who experience a precipitous drop in sexual function and libido, and the “B”s, who undergo a sexual renaissance, sometimes enjoying sex for the first time ever.
According to a 2009 AARP survey, only 43 percent of older Americans report being sexually satisfied. Sixty percent of singles aged 45+ enjoy robust sex lives with dating partners, as opposed to 52 percent of marrieds. However, a University of California, San Diego, study of 800 sexually active older women found that satisfaction actually increased with age.
I’m a clinician, not a research psychologist, so my own findings are purely anecdotal. But after talking with upwards of 200 middle-aged women, I’ve noticed certain factors separate the “A”s from the “B”s.
Both As and Bs experience the physical changes that menopause, or other health conditions, bring: lower libido, lubrication problems, thinning vaginal walls, difficulty climaxing. However, the A ladies seem to get hit the hardest. Sometimes hormonal, herbal, or sex toy remedies alleviate their symptoms.
But some report that nothing reboots their sexual hard drive. These women mourn the loss of their sexual function and are frustrated by the lack of effective medical interventions.
Menopause doesn’t seem to encroach as much on the Bs, who are often in better physical health than the As. B ladies are more responsive to corrective measures. Lube and longer foreplay remediate their mild symptoms, and hormone replacement therapy (HRT) soothes more severe ones.
Puzzled by the disparity in midlife women’s sexual response, I asked a gynecologist for her thoughts. (Note: she referenced heterosexual women.) The real culprit, she told me, isn’t menopause; it’s the quality of women’s relationships with the men in their lives. In her words, “after 20 or 30 years, women get tired of being treated like penis receptacles.”
This doctor had witnessed many midlifers undergo a sexual metamorphosis after jettisoning arid marriages and finding more progressive mates.
The conversations I have with midlife women reflect this same learning. Many say their lackluster sexual response reversed itself with the right new partner. They become easily aroused, lubricate naturally, and climax powerfully — sometimes better than before. They’re proof that female sexuality often ripens in middle age.
Midlife women who have fulfilling sex lives while in long-term marriages have two things in common. First, they and their partners successfully navigate the shifting tides of desire, which tend to ebb with the physical and emotional demands of child-rearing, and flow when children require less hands-on attention.
Second, they evolve sexually with their partners. Domesticity can leech erotic energy out of a marriage, so it’s important to ignite desire through an exploration of different kinds of sexual expression.
As long as it’s consensual, pushing sexual boundaries creates both emotional and physical intimacy as you experience yourself and your partner in new ways.
Unfortunately, many women absorb the toxic cultural message that we’re only desirable when fertile and cellulite-free.
Implicit in this propaganda is the notion that women’s sexual expression should focus on what men want. While the desire to please one’s partner is important, true erotic fulfillment requires stepping into one’s intrinsic sexual power.
A sexually empowered woman knows she doesn’t need a twentysomething body to be sexy. Her life experience and comfort in her own skin fuels her libido. She shifts from performance-driven sexual behavior — I’ve gotta act like a porn star or he’ll be disappointed! — to healthy entitlement: this is what I like and what I expect from a sexual partner.
I’ve spoken with women in their 40s, 50s, and 60s who are having hot sex with men in their 20s and 30s. I’ve also heard from women in their 60s and 70s who report that they’re having the best sex of their lives with partners of the same age.
What, then, to make of some midlife women’s claims that middle-aged men want only younger women? The age bigots are out there, for sure. But I’ve talked with plenty of older men who prefer being with their female contemporaries.
Unlike boy-men, who feel emasculated by strong women, mature men desire women their age. They’re less attracted to body parts and more aroused by the erotic pull of confidence and life experience.
These men also accept their own age-related physiological changes: less reliable erections, decreased sensitivity, and a longer time achieving climax.
It’s not that the B women don’t feel the impact of age. It’s that they’ve embraced a different narrative. They believe their chronology is an asset.
Younger women often have a hard time identifying what they like in bed. Many think of sex as a performance to please a man. If a man is into them, they’re desirable; if he’s not, they’re not.
Mature women are motivated by their own pleasure, not a performance.
They know what they like and are more comfortable asking for it. They believe they’re sexual creatures with or without a man telling them they are.
An older woman’s sexual power is enticing — but only to partners who are evolved enough to handle it.
Not every midlife woman grieves the loss of sexuality. Some A women report feeling relieved that they’re no longer preoccupied with sex. Others tell me sex was never a core part of their identity, so they felt midlife gave them “permission” to define themselves in nonsexual ways.
The camp-A women who flourish shift their focus elsewhere: career reboots, creative endeavors, volunteer activities, deepening friendships.
These women share a similar outlook: they don’t measure themselves by the cultural yardstick. They don’t buy into the tiresome notion that women’s worth is tied to sexuality and fertility.
Not caring what others think of them enables many A women to embrace the loss of earlier sexual function and move on.
Are you an A hoping to be a B? Or a B determined to stay a B? Here are some key steps for nurturing your midlife mojo:
Acceptance is the key to sexual pleasure after 40. Navigating inevitable changes can spur you to get creative, focus on sensuality, and be grateful for the gift of sexuality.
Our usually level-headed writer discovers, yes she can — have volume
I am the last person who should be giving you advice about hair products.
My style is wash, tousle, go — and hope the results look intentional. Here’s the long and short (see what I did there?) of my hair history: I wore it down to my behind through high school, permed in the ’80s (of which no photographic evidence exists, for good reason), cropped above my ears as a young mom, straightened and, finally, naturally wavy today. Except for the perm-that-must-not-speak-its-name, every style left me with fine hair and no volume. No foam, gel, or implement gave me any lift for more than a couple of hours. I accepted that fate.
And then, two weeks ago…an ad popped up in my Facebook feed for a volume-increasing crimper called Voloom™. The video showed dozens of gals with just-OK hairdos that the crimper morphed into lions’ manes.
I had to try it.
I figured I’d order one and return it if it didn’t work. (At $129, I wasn’t about to commit.) I chose the “petite” version, which seemed easier to handle than the full-size, and waited for its arrival in the mail.
The package that arrived was promising. It included a generous-sized carrying pouch with Velcro closure, a long-tailed comb for separating layers, and three large hair clips to keep inactive layers out of the way. The crimper itself was pink and adorable.
When I first turned it on, the temperature gauge went rogue, with numbers zooming all over the place. Turns out I had no idea how to set the heat ⎯ apparently, you set the + and – buttons to the temperature you want and then let the device do its own thing until it reaches the desired number. Or something like that. I haven’t had any problems with setting the temperature since then, so I’m assuming it’s all good.
The crimper was super-easy to use. And the results? Brilliant. In minutes, I had the volume I’d always wanted. I could pouf it out, smooth it down, even get caught in the rain. And the results lasted until my next shampoo.
The next morning, three near-strangers in spin class complimented my new “haircut” and another asked if I’d changed the color. Nope and nope. Everywhere I went, people told me I looked great. My boyfriend didn’t notice, but then again, he doesn’t notice when my hair looks like shit either, which is one of the reasons I love him so much.
Of the 350 films in this dataset, 105 are listed as female-led and 245 are listed as male-led in Studio System. On average, female-led films lead global box office revenue at every budget level for 2014-2017....Films that passed the Bechdel test — where two female characters have a conversation about something other than a man — made more revenue at the box office at every budget level than films that failed the test.
Yes, you need a career coach. But how do you find a good one?
You’re trying to navigate the political waters to get that next big promotion. Or you want to find a better job at a new employer. Perhaps you’re a high-flyer who just wants to take things down a notch and find something more flexible — or more meaningful. Or maybe you’ve been on hiatus for many years and you don’t want to return to the work you did before. In all cases, you might be stuck in your own head and have absolutely no idea what kind of work is truly right for you.
When you’re not sure which way to turn, is a career coach your best resource?
The answer is, it depends. Today personal development coaching is a billion dollar business — with career- and life-coaching representing the biggest chunk. Almost a 7 percent annual growth rate is expected until 2022, when there will be an estimated 25,000 coaches working with senior executives and the rank and file.
That’s a lot of career coaches vying for the business of vulnerable professionals in various phases of transition.
Though there are excellent coaches who can help you get from confusion to clarity, the cost is significant. On the low end it is about $100 per hour, and at the high end, you can be quoted an hourly rate of $500 or more. Is it worth it?
The best coaches give you the confidence, strategies, and tools to get you out and talking right away to influencers and insiders who are well within your reach — the practitioners who have real knowledge of the work and work structure that interest you. Steer clear of coaches who want to squirrel you away in a long series of inward-looking sessions designed to help you find your way. The data you gather out in your desired field is your best map and the highest value coaching you’ll find.
Kathryn Sollmann is the author of Ambition Redefined: Why the Corner Office Doesn’t Work for Every Woman & What to Do Instead. She is a pragmatic, no-nonsense career coach and speaker on a wide range of topics that help employers retain talented women. Her mission is to help women blend work and life at every age and stage for long-term financial security.
Chopping manages anger. Stirring teaches patience. Meatballs can start a meaningful discussion.
What if you could do it all in your own kitchen and for no more than the price of a meal?
What if, in your busy day, you could get that entrée of grilled salmon with a side of self-esteem?
In these days of tablets and tech, emails and electronics, healing through food may be the new Prozac. So, ice the hot yoga, delay the detox, kick the kava to the curb, and explore this trendy new way to improve your life. Cooking therapy is my jam (pun intended), and as a therapist, I’ve been cooking with clients for years. In food terms, this experiential therapy gets five stars for ambiance, affordability, and customer satisfaction. And the clinical evidence is mounting.
At www.culinaryarttherapy.com, Julie Ohana, an MSW and pioneer in ‘CAT,’ uses her cooking therapy sessions to help clients gain insight and increase communication skills. She writes, “…cooking can provide the opportunity to be mindful, aware and learn how to make good choices for yourself and those around you.” Washington Post reporter Jeanne Whalen, who until 2018 reported on cooking therapy for the Wall Street Journal, describes the modality as “…a way to focus your mind on something positive, curb negative thinking and boost confidence.” And an article in the Huffington Post goes even further, exclaiming that “Culinary Therapy can change your life!”
Confidence? From cooking? Yes. I notice the pride boost at the end of every cooking therapy session. It’s an easy way to script mastery into every day. Many of us give so much mental airtime to our failures that we offer surprisingly little applause for our triumphs. I still remember the time I lost an election in middle school. But multiple accomplishments since then? Not so much. Often, women especially report feeling that self-celebration is egotistical or unladylike. The concrete mastery in cooking therapy is tangible and not easily dismissed. So, sift flour. Add water. Stir together.
We might end up with bread. Or a sense of ourselves. Maybe both.
But what if you hate to cook?
I hear you. Some of us may already have a spiritual connection to the process. Buddha said, “When you prepare your own food you give to the food and the food gives back.” But if you’re not feeling it, take heart. You need not be a foodie or the next Bobby Flay to love CAT. You can do it while tossing together a salad or scooping ice cream.
Think of it this way: I can’t draw. Everything I draw looks like it came from a four-year-old. But I can do art therapy because I can draw my pain, frustration, or joy. Cooking therapy works the same way.
This video demonstrates a session using five ingredients — watch for the surprise at the end.xt
As you’ll see, CAT employs a liberal use of metaphor, equal parts purpose and process, a pinch of mindfulness, and a full cup of mastery. Similar in creative expression to art therapy or equine therapy but less expensive and more accessible, cooking therapy is one therapy you can and should try at home!
What is a Sous Therapist?
I first stumbled onto cooking therapy while working for the state, delivering counseling to clients in their homes. These clients were frequently unwilling to engage face to face but became self-reflective while playing games, walking, and eventually, while cooking. Studies now show that experiential modalities don’t replace, but can augment traditional talk therapy. In fact, the entrepreneur Steve Jobs preferred “walking meetings” to sitting across from employees or colleagues at a desk. He discovered that everyone was more creative and solution-focused without eye contact. He wasn’t alone. This method was endorsed by Aristotle, Freud, Dickens, and Harry S. Truman.
Now entering the mainstream, cooking therapy is being incorporated into treatment centers for psychiatric and substance disorders. A May 2018 story in the New York Times called “The Doctor is Cooking” reports that physicians recognize “…the kitchen may also be a way to encourage self-care, through the mindfulness inherent in food preparation.”
At CRC Health, a national mental health and addiction organization, cooking therapy is used to treat anxiety, depression, even autism. They assert, “Cooking can be therapeutic for a diverse group of people (and) can provide stress relief, improved self-esteem, and an increase in planning and organizational skills, among others.”
Most celebrity chefs acknowledge the Zen of food preparation. Rachael Ray states, “You know, food is such — it’s a hug for people” and Wolfgang Puck compares cooking to writing or painting. Thomas Keller advises young chefs, “Patience and Persistence. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something.” Seems like more than roasting is at work. In her article “Cooking Up Mental Health” for Psychology Today, Linda Wasmer Andrews reports that culinary therapy can also help couples. “Cooking together can spur communication and cooperation.” For another example of this, view my recent appearance on The Scripps Network show, The List TV.
Every Mistake in the Kitchen is an Opportunity for Growth
Cooking therapy treats situational issues as well as emotional ones. My clients sometimes identify the source of their deepest feelings accidentally. That’s where I can draw on the techniques of cognitive behavioral therapy such as mirroring or reframing, to reflect, highlight negative self-talk, or elicit insight. For example:
Jenna* was a teen who was struggling with her parents’ divorce. Her dad and his new wife had just had a baby and Jenna was acting out in school and at home. Despite my best efforts she continuously expressed that everything was “fine.” Then, while using her hands to blend ground turkey for meatballs, she blurted out, “this is what I’d like to do to my new baby sister!”
My response? “Tell me more.” Meatballs became an unlikely tool for opening up our discussion.
Donna*, a middle-aged woman experiencing a persistent malaise she couldn’t name, accidentally added flour instead of sugar to the butter we were creaming for a cake. Trying unsuccessfully to scoop it out and obviously frustrated, she suddenly looked up and announced, “This is exactly like my marriage. It’s terrible and I can’t fix it.”
There are no failures in cooking therapy. That bread that didn’t rise? Might make some damn fine crackers or pita. Cookies too hard? Crumble them over yogurt! Just as the Chinese sign for CRISIS is made up of two smaller signs, Danger and Opportunity, you too can turn a setback into an opportunity that makes reinvention not only possible but exciting.
Four Basic Analogies
Titles Do Matter
Naming the recipes is an essential part of cooking therapy. The process helps cement the session. You are more likely to remember “You are NOT an Icebox cake” than “refrigerator roll.” And “Tune-in and Talk to me Tacos” says it all. I’ve also used “Life is Sweet and Sour Meatballs,” “Masterbaketion,” and lately, with a nod to the #metoo movement, I’ve been chopping up a lot of sausages for “Girl Power in a Pan.”
The Power of Unplugging
Cooking therapy is versatile; you can do it alone, as a couple, with kids, or with a group of friends. Don’t underestimate the benefit of the disconnect. Therapists are seeing anxiety and stress in record numbers. FOBO (fear of being offline) and OCS (On-call syndrome) are real and have negative effects on our internal sense of peace. PAS (partially aware syndrome) describes being physically present but only partially aware (you know, it’s that family in the restaurant, all on phones, or concert-goers videoing the band rather than enjoying the music).
Cooking therapy can be an antidote to our over-wired brains
"In order to change skins, evolve into new cycles, I feel one has to learn to discard. If one changes internally, one should not continue to live with the same objects. They reflect one’s mind and psyche of yesterday. I throw away what has no dynamic, living use."
Parenting is a heads-down, all-consuming job. Then one day we look up and realize the world has changed
The all-consuming storm of early parenting has blown over.
The boys are tweens now and not needy in a 24-7 kind of way. It’s time to pick through the wreckage of that storm and snatch up pieces of my former life. Time to read a book while we travel, because they are more than happy to lose themselves in a video game on the plane. Time to throw an occasional dinner party, as long as they get their due in mac and cheese first. And time to reconnect with hobbies that once were part of who I am.
In a despairing moment amid twin toddler chaos, I threw out most of my golf shirts, thinking five hours on a Saturday morning would never be mine again.
And it’s not, still. But two and a half hours to play nine holes, stolen from a Wednesday morning, can be. (Even if it means editing stories at 10 pm to make up for it.)
But it turns out the world wasn’t standing still for the 10 years I’ve been out of the hobby loop. Those old cotton golf shirts are passe now. New, higher tech fabrics and cuts have replaced them. The 100 books that have piled up on my shelf during the past decade? An oddity to all my friends slipping Kindles into their carry-ons.
I headed into a ski shop to buy a new sweater for my first mountain jaunt in ages. The twentysomething duuude waiting on me at an outdoor gear store looked at me blankly when I asked for the ski sweater department. “That would be for….?”
“To wear under my coat,” I replied.
Suddenly, as if translating from Middle English, he replied: “Oh, you mean a mid-layer.”
Apparently, that’s what I meant. So I bought a high-tech jacket-like thing and told my sister the story, explaining I needed something thin to fit under the overall suspender straps of my ski pants.
“You’re not actually going to wear overalls are you?” asked my horrified sister, who has apparently skied during this century.
So, back to the store, which of course had no ski pants left, seeing as how it was January and bathing suits were taking up their floor space. Luckily, this thing called the Internet found the last pair of ski pants in North America.
Even goggles have changed since my last iteration as a skier. Apparently, bug-eyed goggles aren’t bug-eyed goggles anymore. Now everyone wears helmets, so the goggles are constructed differently to fit around them.
I’m not saying all this change is bad. Certainly, the popularity of helmets is a terrific improvement. And those golf shirts made of fabrics with genetically re-engineered names really do help when it’s 95 degrees.
But it’s hard to keep up, especially after a parental sabbatical. Some of the change is driven by better technology. But some seems more a product of marketing teams with overactive imaginations and a penchant for separating people from their disposable income.
I’ve never been one for redecorating my house every few years just to be on the cutting edge. And so with hobbies, I can rent whatever skis are available and throw on something warm. (Though not, I promise my sister, the overalls.)
Because the heart of what I love about my hobbies hasn’t changed: Walking through the rainbow of green shades on a golf course with birds singing, curling up with a good story whether it’s on paper or on a Kindle, and standing at the top of a mountain seeing the stunning majesty of the world below.
And each time I do, I love my children no less, but I reclaim a small piece of myself. And soon, they will be borrowing my e-reader, out driving me on the golf course, and beating me down the mountain.
In Turkey, there is a spotlight of hope for girls of a minority group
Tunceli, Turkey – Bengisu Kilinc is a 12-year-old girl with a mission — and a soccer ball.
She is the youngest of five girls in her family, with good marks in sixth-grade, a toothy smile, and beaming confidence. Bengisu’s favorite subject is English, but more than anything, Bengisu loves sports, especially soccer, even though most of Turkey says it’s a boy’s game.
“Some high school boys tell me it’s not a girl’s game but I tell them there’s no discrimination. It’s for boys and girls. It’s fun,” she says as she walks to her neighborhood soccer field with her classmates.
Bengisu’s mission is to go to college and become a gym teacher. But first, she’ll have to overcome her family’s low-income and the discrimination against both her Alevi religion and her gender.
Alevi girls, a marginalized minority in Turkey, have been confronting these challenges with hard work and the results show a dynamic shift that the Turkish government has noticed.
Bengisu lives in Ovacik, Tunceli, an Alevi province in eastern Turkey where girls are outperforming neighboring provinces with the same socioeconomic status. Girls and women in Tunceli have higher test scores on school exams, a lower rate of child marriages, and lower birth rates among all women.
In 2010 Tunceli ranked 64th in university entrance exam rates, but in 2015 it became the 10th-highest-scoring city in the country, according to government statistics.
One-third of marriages in Turkey involve child brides, say women’s activists. But the average age of marriage in Tunceli is 26.
What makes Tunceli different?
On the way to Tunceli, a lush region engulfed by snowcapped mountains, armed Turkish military officers stop passengers in a public minibus at three checkpoints. For three decades, members of the leftist Kurdistan Workers Party or PKK, labeled a terrorist group by NATO, have been fighting the Turkish government in the mountains.
But down in the valley, an uneasy peace allows families to carry on with daily life.
In the Ovacik district of Tunceli girls are thriving, says Fatih Mehmet Macoglu, the only elected communist mayor in Turkey.
That is because the Alevis have made women’s empowerment part of their identity.
“In Turkish geography, Alevi Kızılbaş culture accepts equality between men and women. Men and women aren’t segregated. They sit together in gatherings; they’re an equal part of the community,” says Macoglu, whose office has an image of Karl Marx on the wall, Che Guevara on the desk.
The other reason is that their Tunceli community of 82,000 has had to work hard to succeed as a minority in Turkey, he says.
“I guess education is our one way out. Since the past, the system has been harshly against us. The culture and socialist politics present here have raised consciousness about the importance of education,” Macoglu says.
Alevis are a religious minority who make up about a fifth of Turkey’s 80 million people. They are spread throughout the country but Tunceli is their historic home. They include ethnic Kurds and Turks, and some consider themselves Muslims while others say Alevism is a separate belief system outside of Islam. They worship God, Prophet Mohammed’s son-in-law Ali, and revere nature. Their houses of worship mix genders. Drinking alcohol is allowed. Women are generally free to wear what they want and don’t have to wear headscarves. Many women work alongside the men in the fields.
The majority of Turkey is Sunni Muslim and men and women pray in separate quarters of a mosque.
In 1938, Alevis in Tunceli, then known as Dersim, led one of the first uprisings against the Turkish Republic and its nationalist project. But the government crushed the rebellion, killing 13,000 to 17,000 people. Images of the aftermath of that massacre are etched on the walls of the road that leads to Tunceli’s town center.
In the 1990s at the height of the conflict with the PKK, the government burned down villages and displaced thousands of people. Bengisu’s parents Nazim and Figen Kilinc say they lost their family homes in the mountains and were forced to move to the valley.
But in 2011, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was the first Turkish leader to issue an apology to the Alevis.
Relations warmed for a short period, but after 2016’s attempted coup against Erdogan, hundreds of teachers and activists have been either jailed or fired.
Amidst the unrest, the girls continue to excel.
Bengisu’s parents host a dinner in their cramped home. The couple makes their living as cow herders. Their oldest daughter Ebru, 27, having finished university, works as a teacher. Eda and Gamze, next in age, are living in a neighboring province, one in college, the other working. The two youngest daughters are still in school: Yelda, 13, is a shy honor student in eighth grade, and Bengisu has sports medals on display on the living room wall.
Bengisu shows me the medals.
“I won these for running. This one’s for the 2.5k race. It was very hard,” she says, smiling.
This is a female-dominated household and the father Nazim, quiet and reserved, seems fine with that.
“Girls, l love them. It doesn’t make a difference if there is a boy. I like girls better,” he says.
The family gathers over local organic honey and homemade cheese to start the dinner. They laugh, telling stories about their daughters and the pursuit of a better life.
The gregarious mother Figen, 48, says she and her husband Nazim, 50, were runaways who rushed into marriage. Figen married at 17 and didn’t have a chance to finish her education. But she wants to make sure her daughters finish university and find jobs to support themselves.
“When a woman gets married and sits at home, there’s a lot of pressure on her. She cannot be independent. I want my daughters to study, to go abroad, to have stable jobs. I don’t want them to be like me,” she says.
But it’s only in the last few generations that education for girls has become a part of the Alevi identity. Many of the older women like Figen say they had a primary school education because that’s all that was available to them. So they married young and had several children.
Since the leftist movements of the 1960s, a gradual change in ideology fostered new thinking: fewer kids, more education, more acceptance and jobs in mainstream Turkey.
Raife Yılmaz, a teacher at a Tunceli school, says a class size of 15 has also helped girls and boys in Tunceli score higher academically. The average class size in Turkey’s secondary schools is 28. Tunceli girls stay in high school, while in other parts of Anatolian Turkey girls often drop out after the eighth grade.
“The population of Tunceli is low. Families are also conscious of the birth rate and they have one, two, or three children. There are very few families who have four or five children. Because the population is low, the number of children in the classes are low as well,” Yilmaz says.
But Tunceli is no matriarchal haven. Men dominate public space, cafes, and restaurants, and outnumber women any time of the day or night. Women who work outside the home also do the housework. Nazim Kilinc sat as his wife Figen and daughters served us dinner.
Burcu Dogan, an Alevi doctorate student at Istanbul’s Sabanci University who did her thesis on gender equality in Tunceli, says Alevis have a long way to go before they declare equality among the sexes. She thinks the narrative that they’re equal works against women because it leads them to think there’s nothing to fight for.
“This is just a discourse that was made up by the patriarchal mindset. They relatively position themselves as more advantaged than Sunni women,” Dogan says.
For example, few women acknowledge that domestic violence is a problem in Tunceli. “They cannot show the inner problems. They cannot show we are beaten by our husbands because Alevi people are equal,” says Dogan.
And after girls graduate high school, few stay in Tunceli because there are not many jobs. Like the Kilinc women, the majority migrate to other cities and may face discrimination as Alevis.
They hit a glass ceiling despite all that effort invested in education.
“If we talk about being a high school teacher, it may not be that difficult or impossible for them. But if we think about higher positions in government or a municipality, I still think there’s a discrimination that is backstage,” Dogan says.
But for the energetic Bengisu, who is playing another game of soccer with older boys this time, she’ll grab onto whatever opportunity she gets.
“Goaaaal,” she screams as she runs to congratulate her girl teammates.
All photos by Ozge Sebzeci. You can hear Fariba’s radio interview about this piece here.
Navigating the Sandwich
In which I try to explain to my 90-year-old dad why there are Neanderthals in our genome
I phoned my 90-year-old father at 11:00 am, the usual time.
He lives in a snappy senior apartment. It’s a very nice place. Active. Lively. His only complaint? Too many women.
It’s a sad fact. Women outlive men. Which would explain the heavily woman-centric scheduled activities — shopping excursions, theater, tours of notable mansions. I would have thought he’d be a natural for the Murder Mystery dinner, being a retired police officer, but he declined. “I’ve solved enough murders,” he said.
He turns a lot of fluffy gray-haired heads whenever he walks into the dining room. He’s a catch. Widower. Full head of hair. Still drives.
“So, I got my DNA results back–” I said.
“What DNA results?” he said.
“I took one of those tests–”
“You know . . . spit in a tube, then you send it to a company and–”
“Because I thought it would be interesting. Don’t you want to know where you come from?”
“I already know where I come from. Sixth and Becher Street.”
My father had always been a man of science, or at least interested in it. He had been all over the space program, dragging the TV out to the garage so he could grill and see the first man walk on the moon. Our bookcase shelves bowed by the weight of National Geographic magazines, so of course, I thought my father would be interested in my haplogroup.
I paraphrased from the report. “There were these groups that came from Africa — basically we all came from Africa…”
“Wait. But, I’m not from Africa. My Grandfather was born in Poland!”
“Yes, that’s true, but, thousands, hundreds of thousands of years ago . . . Dad, remember? National Geographic? Louis B. Leakey?”
I recalled the photo of a slightly paunchy, gray-haired gentleman in khakis, lying on the dusty, stony ground with a spade, sifting through grit for traces of our earliest ancestor.
“What about him?”
“All those fossils? The first humans?”
“It says here that if you could trace your maternal line back thousands of years, everyone would be from a single woman in Africa.”
“She must have been very busy!” he said.
“No. I mean . . . she wasn’t the only woman,” I said.
“But, you just said.”
“Yeah, but there were other women too. It’s just that her DNA. . .”
“So . . . where’s Adam in all of this?”
“In New York,” I said. I thought he meant my nephew Adam, who gave me the DNA kit as a gift, but he meant, Adam. As in The Garden of Eden’s Adam. I didn’t want to come off as dismissive. I tried to explain the migration of tribes, movements of peoples across continents.
“No, no, no. You had Eve. And Adam. That’s what I was told.”
“And I was told the reason why women have labor pains is that Eve ate the apple and now we all have to suffer.”
“Makes sense,” he said.
“As much sense as Noah’s Ark,” I said.
“What’s wrong with Noah’s Ark? There was evidence of a flood . . .”
“Okay, sure. Maybe there was a flood, but . . . every species? Polar bears, penguins? Antelopes? Come on! Maybe every animal Noah had. Or maybe every animal that he knew of, like goats and chickens, cows.”
“What about Mary Magdalene?” he said. We were talking cows, goats, floods, Adam, Eve, how had Mary Magdalene got on board? “I always wondered about her.” He sounded a little wistful like he was remembering a first kiss, a secret crush.
“You know, Dad, they say she was Jesus’ girlfriend.”
“Could you blame him? That red hair!”
“Did she really have red hair? Or was it because she was supposedly a tart?”
“Makes no difference to me!” he said.
I was going to bring up Neanderthals, specifically how I had 327 variants, higher than 98% of all the other people who have spit into tubes but . . . I didn’t want to go down that rabbit hole. I was tired. My head hurt. “Basically, I’m 100% European. Polish. German. Irish.”
“I could have told you that!” he said. “How much did this cost you?” I explained it had been a gift and I didn’t know how much it had cost. “Boy, somebody got taken!” he said.
This is the sixth installment in a series Mel Miskimen is writing for TheCovey about the drafty empty nest she shares with her husband, who is on the fast track to sainthood. Miskimen is a writer based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and author of Sit Stay Heal. Her previous articles for Covey include installment Breaking My Family Holiday Traditions, Dreams from Her Mother, No Guns for Old Men, Call Me. Maybe, and Divide and Conquer?
Debra Borden, The Sous Therapist, is an LCSW in NY an NJ and the author of Cook Your Marriage Happy, the first in her Cook Yourself Happy series, as well as two novels, Lucky Me and A Little Bit Married. Visit her at www.cookyourselfhappy.com and www.randomhouse.com and follow her on IG @debraborden.
Debra welcomes emails from readers and always writes back! Debra@cookyourselfhappy.com
Virginia Gilbert, LMFT is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Los Angeles. She specializes in sexual issues and divorce (although not necessarily at the same time).
Tamara Lytle is a Washington, D.C.-based writer for magazines, newspapers and web sites. She’s also the mother of twin boys.
Fariba Nawa is an Istanbul-based journalist, speaker and author of Opium Nation: Child Brides, Drug Lords and One Woman’s Journey through Afghanistan.
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