My Dear Cancer (Part 4): Watch Out! This Room Belongs to a Woman!
When it comes to gender, we tend to think of male and female only, but did you know that the Schizophyllum commune, a species of fungus, has 28,000 different genders?
Don’t assume I’m saying that a woman is a sacred thing. In fact, I don’t believe women or men are inherently superior but rather symbols of authenticity and diversity. What’s more, they complement each other in an irreplaceable way. For instance, as a woman, whatever I say to my husband generally sounds like a symphony, yet he, as a man, can respond to me with a single note. This gives me such inspiration and unity that it’s difficult to explain. This is exactly what I mean by authenticity, and I am quite happy with it.
So, why did I dedicate this episode to womanhood? It’s actually very simple. As a woman, I find it challenging to spend time in hospitals and some other places. Almost every place can potentially cause problems in a woman’s daily life, but hospitals particularly stand out because of their lack of privacy. To fully understand what I am talking about, try watching The Vagina Monologues, an inspirational play that was written by Eve Ensler and first performed on Broadway in 1996. The play comprises scenes that illustrate how gender can cause problems in life.
We build our lives around what we consider meaningful to our existence. If gender plays such a great role in our lives, it should be accepted as something meaningful. This then needs justification that will persuade the majority. Natural justifications, which are almost divine and universal, are more persuasive thanks to their indisputable characteristics. They rely on nature rather than culture, and as ideas, they can form a collective belief. It’s therefore no surprise that gender permeates all aspects of our lives.
The basic purpose of gender in nature is in reproduction. The reproductive organs of both genders are distinct, and a bipolar environment is built based on the anatomical differences between men and women. In reality, a significant link exists between our natural and our social environments that involves marginalization, disintegration, unfair representation, and other kinds of dominance, even if it isn’t immediately apparent. Murray Bookchin highlights the bond between these two worlds with the words: “Dominance over nature has an ultimate aim: Humans.”
In today’s world, masculine power represents the bipolar understanding that continues to shape our world.
Masculine power, just like other kinds of power, clearly cannot survive without domination. Although domination has been an issue throughout history, it stands out now because it has transformed into a voluntary obedience. Individuals now submit to domination by consent rather than by force, for the sake of values to be awarded. By doing so, they don’t realize they face an abdication of reason. In everyday life, the ideological siege extends from nature to cities, streets, homes, families, societies, and ultimately our intellectual, emotional and physical existence, and there is no room for free will here.
We all witness this process in our personal experiences and relay the knowledge to future generations in the form of social inheritance. However, this doesn’t make individual examples any less significant. History proves that such things accelerate change.
I think this is what Krishnamurti refers to in his metaphor: “When one person is enlightened, the whole world is enlightened.”
I regard myself very lucky to have experienced a similar situation in my life. Moreover, I know it represents an achievement that affects not just my life but also those of many others. To express this in more detail, I need to return to my past, as well as that of my generation.
Like any other kid, I grew up in two different worlds that were labelled “home” and “outside.” During my childhood, these two worlds didn’t differ that much. Discovering your sexuality had to be done secretly, so the necessary information was provided by friends, books, and movies. We gained skill through observation rather than direct experience. During our college years, our lives were dominated by the “You’re my sister!” approach, which never made much sense to me. Therefore, the women of my generation only had the chance to wear high heels in their forties after walking in flat shoes for many years. One way or another, once we realized what and who we were, we were already married with children. Back in those days, realizing who you were required a lot of effort, so we didn’t even think about what we wanted to become.
When I look back on the past in terms of gender and sexuality, I see how it’s always possible to shape womanhood with a collective perception or make it genderless. Each dominant point of view can be supported by its own rational points, but the effort is not sustained enough, because we live in a world that favors authenticity, uniqueness, and versatility. My generation was not exempt from this.
For girls, the very first source of life education is obviously their mothers, and I had an extraordinary mother. She wasn’t just extraordinary for her time—I’m sure she would have been special whatever time she was born into. Not many can say their mother was first female jet pilot in Turkey and even NATO.
In the military as a pilot, my mother proved her presence in a male-dominated environment with her highly disciplined personality. Despite all the military training she undertook, she somehow managed to preserve her feminine side, thus creating a unique and unrivalled state of womanhood that didn’t match with the common image. She became a significant guide to me with her loving, faithful, passionate, independent, brave, devoted, strong, and elegant ways. Moreover, witnessing what the power, courage, discipline and knowledge of women could achieve changed my view of the world. By using her as a benchmark, she set the standard for being a person, woman, and mother, so failing to meet this standard would require some self-investigation. Briefly, I must admit that being the daughter of Leman Bozkurt Altincekic would have never been easy if it wasn’t for a wise father who guided me superbly.
My father was Tahir Altincekeic, a soldier, pilot, and extremely mature soul. The greatest legacy I gained from him was his unconditional appreciation of my existence and his continuous support during my years of self-discovery. I always believed he was given the nickname “Sledgehammer” because of his physical strength, but I later understood that this also applied to his wisdom (his feminine power). I always found it important to get the big man’s consent for my feminine concerns, and he watched every moment of my self-discovery with great serenity and attentiveness. More importantly, though, he taught me how to follow the path laid down by my mother. Methods that enabled me to exist in the shadow of my mother’s example included complying, revolting, and managing to be myself. My father always encouraged the third option, and this was a blessing for me.
The division of labor at home embodied a balance of feminine and masculine power, but the world astonished me. Things there were organized either in a masculine way or with no gender. Due to my selective perception, I always found the dynamics of the outside world quite strange. On the other hand, I knew the reverse wouldn’t make me happy, because I didn’t come from a typical “womanly” background.
As I grew older, I started to realize it wasn’t easy to touch life in a feminine way, because all kinds of social structures were built on a masculine understanding. Is it possible to feel, think, and act femininely under this dominant pressure? I once experienced this in an awkward incident. One day, my mother (in her colonel’s uniform) and I entered the barracks through the main entrance. As we walked along, the lower ranks all saluted their superior officers. At one point, my mom stopped and approached a private who hadn’t saluted her. Pointing to the stars on her shoulders, my mom asked, “Do you know what these stars mean, private?” The young guy looked at the stars and shrugged his shoulders before replying, “You’re a colonel, mam.” My mom then asked, “So why didn’t you salute me?” Without hesitation, the young soldier said, “Women can’t be soldiers, can they?”
Even though a male-dominated institution like the military can give a woman a rank, a uniform, and power by disregarding gender, this didn’t mean anything to this young soldier, who was probably raised in a masculine neighborhood, school, and household. For him, my mother was there merely as a woman, probably for some menial chore.
I know I dislike hospitals out of a similar masculine understanding. On learning that I had to spend time in the hospital for my cancer treatment, I felt immediately uneasy. Of course, I knew it was needed, so I would go and get the necessary treatment before returning home and not looking back. It was that simple.
When they told me I needed to stay there for quite a long time, I thought it was time to get rid of my leggings, so I asked Inan to buy some pajamas for me instead. He knows my taste, so I was certain he would find something suitable. One afternoon, Inan came in holding a carrier bag, and the rest is history.
Inan: Funda, I brought you a lovely pair of pajamas. They are both attractive and comfortable.
Me: Really? Good job. I’d better try them on.
I went into the en-suite bathroom to change. On opening the bag, a pattern of huge pink roses struck me. Despite my distaste, I said to myself, “Never mind. I can live with these for a while,” and changed into the pajamas. They were also too big for me, and I couldn’t even wear them properly. When I pulled them to my waist, the legs still dangled over my feet. If I pulled them further, the waist almost reached my neck. I had no choice but to take them off and put them back into the bag. With great disappointment, I went back to my room.
Inan: What’s wrong? Why aren’t you wearing them?
Me: I tried them.
Inan: I bought them from your favorite store. I really liked them and thought they’d be just right for you.
Me: Yes, they are. Thank you, darling. They’ll be so useful.
Inan: A lovely pattern don’t you think? It doesn’t crease either, which seems ideal for hospital.
Me: Yes, certainly. Thank you ever so much.
Inan: They’ll also be very comfortable for after your operation, and they’ll cover your entire tummy area.
Me: You’re right. They’re just right for after the operation, for hospital, and even for you, Inan. Unfortunately, they aren’t right for me at all!
Me: I’m going. I need a cigarette.
I wasn’t expecting a lacey nightgown of course, and I knew that with him being a doctor himself, he would buy something practical for the hospital and my condition, but this exceeded my expectations. Sure, I needed to suffer for a while, and I accepted the seriousness of the treatment and illness, but there was no way I was wearing those pajamas. Never!
That day, I realized the masculine world had numerous excuses for erasing all feminine signs. Seriousness is one of them. The more serious the issue, the more meaningless that feminine signs are. However, we women always tackle issues in a feminine way. On the one hand, we cry, while on the other hand, we put on lipstick. One side deals with issues like our hair and pajamas even while lying in a hospital bed. Meanwhile, the other side deals with the serious issue outside. I don’t know how this happens, but it does.
I must admit that I failed to plant roses among the cactuses during my stay at hospital. Actually, I know that whatever I did, it would bounce back to me because of i) the rules for being a civil servant, ii) the shyness typical of academics, and iii) the genderless practicalities of the past in particular. If any vengeance was needed, it should be enacted without hesitation and in an entirely feminine manner. It was my daughter, who showed me this courage.
Kardelen came into my room at her usual evening time. After throwing her bag on the sofa, she came to me and laid a bundle of paper sheets on me. The sheets were all shaped like a woman’s lips, pretty big ones actually, each around six inches wide. There were big, sexy and lustful. She had drawn and cut each of them herself, and now it looked like there were thousands of women on my bed.
With her usual excitement, she said, “Mom, your room needs some color. Let’s put these on the wall.” She then stuck them all on the wall by my bedside. I looked at this young, 16-year-old lady. Neither she nor I noticed what happened at that moment. However, when I look back today, I realize how she found an entirely womanly, ingenious, and hilarious way to overcome the hostile world we were in.
Those lovely lips stayed on the wall for almost a month. They gave a victorious message to every visitor that came in: “Watch out! This room belongs to a woman!”
On finally returning home, I had lost the most basic elements of my femininity to the surgery. After losing both ovaries and my womb, I no longer had a source of estrogen. All the functional things that made me a woman no longer existed. I experienced hot flashes, mood swings, and sweat suddenly pouring from my bald head. I needed to take off clothes one minute and put on several layers the next. My menopause was certainly celebrating its arrival.
I realized something unusual one day. Around every 28 days, I started feeling abdominal pain and aches in my legs, as well as getting spots on my face. “Oh my God,” I thought, “it feels like I’m about to start my period.” I soon identified the cause, however. It was my daughter Kardelen, the new alpha-female of the house. We had experienced instantaneous communication between our bodies before, so it was quite easy to work it out. It was different this time, though, because I was in my menopause. It meant I had no “mouth” to talk with. What would happen? I almost doubted my menopause, but all the symptoms were there, so I knew it was real. So, if it wasn’t me, who was the woman speaking with Kardelen’s body?
I might actually have an answer to this question. During our development, our bodies must have been studied so much. It would otherwise be impossible to explain how such living creatures can process vast amounts of knowledge, function in a way where every single cell is aware of the others, and repair itself so well. Although the body still hasn’t been explained completely, we know that it’s a mysterious undiscovered world. Yet it wasn’t so long ago that scientists described our bodies as simple machines.
Surprisingly, many of us still have this outdated attitude about our bodies. The spirit–body duality that features in religions and classical science’s description of our bodies both form the main characteristics of this view.
Classical science, which also shaped modern medicine, started as a way of understanding nature. According to this view, there was only one world, and it functioned according to mechanical principles and a certain pattern. If we therefore knew the reasoning behind causality, it would be possible to predict all actions. This approach was accepted in the macro world, and it grew stronger by becoming a part of our daily lives. Our bodies also experienced this point of view. The human body was described as a machine and subjected to various procedures by the medical disciplines. For centuries, numerous medical diagnoses and treatments were based on this perspective. Quick and efficient results were sometimes obtained, but many years had to pass before they realized the damage they caused. Generally, the number of failures equaled the number of successes, and this still continues in a way.
Once physics turned its attention towards the micro world, the belief in one world changed. This new world was full of mysterious particles, namely subatomic particles, moving around at an infinite pace. At first, people didn’t understand this world. A new form of physics was born, quantum physics, because it was impossible to explain this new world through classical mechanics. And so the one world was replaced with multiple worlds.
Observations from the quantum world resulted in significant rethinking of physical concepts such as matter, time, action, and causality. For example, we learned that substance was a soup where many subatomic particles boiled together. These particles travelled vast distances at an infinite pace. They appeared and then disappeared, and some were aware of others and functioned with complex interactions. Moreover, we still struggle to understand how the common distinction between matter and energy doesn’t work on this scale. Instead, they look like they come as a package, where one can transform into the other.
What’s more, what about the theory that we, as conscious observers, create reality by interacting with this subatomic universe? This brings many possibilities, although I think it’s better left to the people interested in this field.
Of course, it is not easy to understand all these developments and draw a conclusion, but almost every discipline is working with this new knowledge of reality and contributing to the collective pool of information. By making use of this common pool of knowledge, it’s now possible to view our bodies from a different perspective. Specifically, we live in an integrated world where everything is aware of everything else. Everything is related to everything else and in balance with it. This perspective brings new meaning to dualities such as the spirit-body, mind-body, matter-energy, emotion-intelligence, male-female, and so on. We can feel better, because our bodies aren’t alone anymore.
Let’s return to my earlier question: “If it was not me, who was the woman communicating with my daughter?” Let’s answer it within this context.
Womanhood, just like all my other characteristics, is a basic reality that exists in every single cell of my body. It can’t be reduced to merely my genitals, nor does it vanish when my sexual organs are removed. It makes me smile through the magnificently feminine side of my emotions, intuitions, creativity, and love. It reminds me of the things I lost and the responsibilities that came with them, but it does it in a very affectionate way.
So, here is my answer: The woman who communicated with my daughter’s body was me. It was definitely me, and without a doubt, it will always be me.