A Woman Standing Near the Fence overlooking Bosporus and Istanbul

What women want: Millenials’ goals in male-dominated Istanbul

Text by Friederike Kunz

Young wealthy women in Istanbul can have it all it seems: good education, love, fun. With all the possibilities, they know really well what they look for in life – and what they want to do differently than generations before them.

Istanbul is a metropolitan city, buzzing and full of life. Women dress stylish, take care of themselves, and enjoy their lives. But Turkish romance movies suggest that with all their self-fulfilment, what they really long for is something – or better someone – else: a loving partner to complete their life. One that makes the world their oyster. But the women on the street or in cafes don’t seem exceptionally lovey-dovey and open, not even smiley to men. Do women in Istanbul have to be more reserved towards men? Is it a cultural thing, a thing of conservatism, of not attracting unwanted male attention? And if they aren’t lovey-dovey with everyone, don’t they search for a partner to complete their life as the romance movie suggests?

“Marriage is an important thing of course, but I think it’s not absolutely necessary. I got my power: power about money and my career. My next goal is to do my Master’s Degree in Milan.” Kamuran Keskin says. The 21-year-old studies to be a journalist, works at a nationwide news channel, plays handball semi-professionally and enjoys a colourful social life. “With men, I don’t look for money, I look for physical appearances, taller guys, my ex-boyfriends are basketballers. I’m tall myself so that’s what really is important to me”, she laughs.

That marriage becomes less important also shows in clear numbers. According to Eurostat, in just the last ten years marriages dropped from 8 in 1000 in 2010 to 5.8 in 1000 in 2020 while the divorce rate stays the same.

“I’m acting like I’m an ice woman”

But how about finding a partner? Or for that matter: avoiding one? “When I’m in Turkey and I am around men that I don’t know, I don’t even talk. I’m just acting like I’m an ice woman. Men here think that you saying ‘Hi’ to them directly translates into you liking them and wanting to talk further and build a relationship. You say ‘Hi’ and he starts thinking and thinking and overthink his next steps.”

It seems women here have the upper hand when it comes to relationships. She chooses him and then he is the lucky one. “If a man and a woman love each other, he doesn’t cheat and is devoted.  But the movies: I don’t think they are true, they are really just movies. I have many friends that have been cheated on by their boyfriends.”

Istanbul women are metropolitan, as individualistic as any city-people are and look for a fulfilling life. For most women that we talked to this means establishing a career, having an active social life in the community and at some point creating a family of their own with a loved partner they can build their life further with.

“I can’t see myself marrying only for security”

Melek Kargesi is at that point now. The sparkling ring on her right hand shows it to the world: the 26-year-old will marry. “He’s a lovely man, and that we finally will be married makes me the happiest.” Melek’s husband has supported her with learning for exams all through university since they met in second semester. He’s a doctor now, she studied law and started working in a law firm in late 2021. They agreed early on that they are serious about their relationship leading to marriage and started talking about their vision.

“We will have a shared bank account and keep our separate ones as well. Money has been a problem between partners in both our families way too often, we don’t want to risk that.” While she enjoys making her own money, Melek isn’t delusional about the reality women are in when it comes to economic means. “I can’t see myself marrying only for security, but the lifestyle we want for our family needs two good incomes. Our future children deserve the best and we want more than just one, so that will be expensive.”

Fact is, women in the Istanbul area become pregnant later and less often than 20 years ago. Statistics by the Turkish Statistical Institute show that compared to other Turkish regions, women on average bring 1,59 children into the world. And while in 2001 the peak of fertility age was between 20 and 24 years of age, since then it changed to 25 to 29 in 2020.

Sociologist Mehmet Fatim Aysan of Marmara University Istanbul sees the reason for the lack of effective strategies to support working women. Turkey did, unlike western European countries, not implement any pre- and post-natal incentives so that working life and family are easily combined, he tells TRT World.

So what do women want? They want to feel safe, Yagmur Özgün says. She sips on her cay after ranting about how men misbehave on the streets of Turkey. “Imagine you want to go to the ATM two corners away. It might just happen that you get three comments just for walking down the streets. And don’t get me started on the assaults we try to prevent ourselves from experiencing.” They want to educate themselves, to be more independent. And after all, they want what all girls want according to Cyndi Lauper: to just have fun(damental rights).