I have had a headscarf on my head for six years, but it’s not in my heart.

My family is very oppressive and they made me start wearing a headscarf when I was 13. I had to comply especially because my father persisted so much and his side of the family kept saying that I was about to start high school. I’ve had it on my head for six years, but it’s not in my heart. My mother is an open-minded woman who listens to me but she herself is not free. She’s very nice to me but there’s nothing that she can do. My father, on the other hand, is the opposite. It was him who asked me to wear a headscarf and I had always objected. Then, one day, he beat me up and I finally succumbed. We lived in a small, bigoted place—a small Anatolian city where everyone committed every kind of sin but denied it because they were “religious.” I hated this city. The things that I have been through had made me ever so ambitious. Violence against children is, obviously, very harmful but it seemed as if it had almost the opposite effect on me. I devoted myself to my studies and I got a very high score on the high school placement test. My middle school principal, my teachers—everyone advised me to go for high schools in metropolitan areas but my father didn’t listen to them.  He, instead, chose to listen to his relatives. They told him that if I were to leave home at this age I would become a wh*re. I cried, begged, and pleaded but he didn’t hear me out despite my mother’s efforts. My father selected the schools from our area and prepared the preference list himself. I ended up going to the nearby science high school.

I started to read a lot and slowly grew distant from my father. Every step I took away from him came back as another slap or a fist. I didn’t have any prejudice against anyone but I gradually distanced myself from my school entourage because I didn’t want to hurt anymore. I never cared about someone’s gender, be it a guy or a transgender person. My father, however, was obsessed with even my male teachers. One evening, for example, we had left school and been walking together as three girls and two boys. My uncle apparently saw us and later asked my father what I was doing wandering around with men at that time of the evening. This mindset made me suffer so much that it became the main factor guiding my life. Since I was afraid of getting hurt, I isolated myself and got away from my surroundings. I just couldn’t bear to hear any more shouting.

In grades 11 and 12 I was practically living in my bedroom, talking to almost anyone and researching on the internet. What I’ve been through could have driven me into the abyss, but I chose to resist. I resisted by reading. It may sound funny, but I gave myself to books, to philosophy, to history. I read about the struggles and victories of people who fought for their rights. One day, I thought, I would take off my headscarf, swing my hair against the sea breeze, and smell the saltwater. I graduated from high school magna cum laude and I got a very good score in the university placement test that year. I wanted to go to a medical school in Istanbul but my father’s relatives objected again. “If she goes to Istanbul, you won’t be able to control her. What kind of a reputation would you have then?” they said. This time, however, I pushed back. Eventually my father accepted with one condition: I would go to Ankara instead of Istanbul. When it became clear that I got into the school in Ankara, I told him that I wanted to take my headscarf off. I just didn’t want to look at a face which wasn’t mine. I had a life and I wanted to live it. I wanted to live believing in and loving Allah, not in fear of hell. I respectfully told my father about my decision. He listened until I was finished but then started yelling and my mom had to step in to take me away. He said that he couldn’t allow me to go when I had this kind of thoughts and told us that he decided for our family to move to Ankara together. And we did. Maybe you think this was good, but it was a disaster. First of all, my father’s job didn’t allow it. Moreover, Ankara is a more of a “conservative” Anatolian city compared to Istanbul. And my father chose a neighborhood that he liked where “virtuous and chaste people” lived and which didn’t hold a single cultural or artistic activity. It was also really far from my faculty. The commute was an hour and a half, both in the morning and in the evening. This three-hour journey, my disliking the faculty in Ankara, the difficulty of med school itself, my father’s ever-increasing oppressive attitude with his “You started university and what, are you going to embarrass and dishonor us now?”… I was so tired of all of this. I wanted to feel like I was actually living in the country’s capital and go see plays at the state theatres. The first play that I decided to go see was supposed to end at 10 PM. I told my mom beforehand who I was with, where I was going, and how I would get back. We were about to leave the Cüneyt Gökçer Theatre when my father came crashing through. He pulled me from my arm to put me in the car in front of my friends and everyone on the street. “Are these the people who want you to take your headscarf off?” he shouted to my friends. “Theatre, cinema… These are all devil’s job,” he said and brought me back home. I was so mortified that I couldn’t go to school for a long time. That’s when I realized that you had to be really committed to be able to succeed in med school. I felt as if I somehow brought this upon myself, too. I was in love with science, studying, and books. However, I wasn’t able to brush everything aside and give myself to my studies and I failed my classes. I didn’t want to study in Ankara anymore and waste more time. Besides, I was constantly at odds with myself. I still believed in God and was still committed to my religion but did I have to live this way?

Every once in a while, I would take off my headscarf to sit on the balcony in the dark and let my hair loose in the wind. My father eventually caught me and dragged me in by my hair. I just couldn’t bear it anymore. All of this was to keep me from straying from “the good path of religion”. Yes, I was being subjected to violence in the name of beauty and kindness. The summer following my first year, I applied to the Medicine School of Ege University, the only faculty I could transfer to. I kept it secret at first, thinking my family wouldn’t let me do it. I was right. My father saw red when he found out my plan. He took everything I possessed, thinking that I could sell them to run away from home: My ID, my cellphone, my laptop, even the little gold stud earrings that I wore since I was a child. My application was accepted but I couldn’t enroll, couldn’t go to another city by myself. I already loathed myself because I couldn’t take my headscarf off and I hated myself even more now that I couldn’t go.

I was forced to take my first-grade classes again this year. I didn’t have many friends, anyway, and I felt dead inside. I was barely holding on. Eventually my mother noticed the change in me and secretly took me to a psychiatrist. I started taking antidepressants. It soothed me and helped me lose some weight but I still wasn’t the old me. I just couldn’t concentrate. I’m going to fail this year, too, even though it’s my second time around. Nobody knows about my situation except for my mother. My father doesn’t care whether I study or not. His relatives still keep saying that studying made me want to take my headscarf off, that their daughters wouldn’t dare do such thing, and that studying is a sin. My mother suggested that I apply to Ege University again but it’s unlikely for me to be accepted this time since I would be on the waiting list.

I’m ashamed of the person I see in the mirror. I don’t want to look at her face. Every time I see that I have gained more weight, I ask myself what I have done to deserve this. I didn’t hurt anyone or commit a crime. On the contrary, I deliberately try to treat everyone with respect. I ended up paying for it with more and more pain and suffering. I feel sorry for everything that I have put my mother through but I don’t want to be like her either. I don’t want to resign the control of my life or my income to a man. I used to fantasize about to future but I gave up doing that, too. If I have to enroll to first grade again in Ankara, I will go mad or maybe even drop out. I don’t want to give up studying or researching. I don’t have any money and I want to work but I don’t know if I would have the time to go to my classes then. I can’t apply for a scholarship since I don’t fit the criteria and my parents refuse to give me any many, fearing that any resemblance to economic freedom would make me stray from “the true path.”

My father says that I have to get married if I drop out. I keep praying that he doesn’t marry me off without my knowledge with a religious ceremony since it’s possible to conduct it without the bride and strip all of my rights or whatever is left of them. Am I being punished solely for not wanting to wear a headscarf?

My only wish is to go to Izmir and start a new life there. I want to be friends with people who have never seen me wearing a headscarf and who wouldn’t shame me for taking it off later in life. I never actually lived my life. I am just 19 years old and I worked so hard all my life but I was so intimidated by insults, rumors, beatings, and torment of hell that my mental health deteriorated considerably. I’m caught between a rock and a hard place: Do I take the risk of being married off or do I struggle to study without any income. And I’m worried about going to Izmir by myself. What if my dad finds me and everything becomes worse? What if he hurts my mom in a momentary rage? Don’t I deserve to work and lead a life with dignity?

(Image: Edvard Munch)

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