In every social contact, in every aspect of daily life, men act as if they own everything, according to a lawyer who is also a cartoonist, adding that men’s body language “reflects a condescending attitude.”
“Male narcissism has become a societal feature. This narcissism leads to behavioral disorders that can go as far as violence,” said Meral Onat, one of the few woman cartoonists in Turkey. “Looking back at what we did [in the 1980s], I don’t think today we would be able to publish any of those cartoons in the current circumstances.”
How did you become a cartoonist?
I was 16, and someone told me about Gırgır [a famous weekly Turkish humor magazine that ran from 1972 to 1993] and said illustrators went to see [Gırgır founder] Oğuz Aral, who took a look at the drawings. I went there and saw hundreds of men waiting their turn. I think that’s the first-time positive discrimination worked for me; someone informed Oğuz Aral that a small girl was downstairs waiting with everybody else. So I was taken upstairs, he took a look at my drawings and said come back tomorrow. When I went back the next day, I asked, “What am I going to do?” He said, “Sit down and draw.” There was another woman cartoonist, Özden Öğrük; she had started a few month ago. She helped me, and even I was surprised to have come up with some cartoons. And as we were two, Oğuz Aral added a separate page for us in the magazine and we started drawing together. But then I won acceptance to the law faculty in Ankara and left Istanbul. There I became a “militant drawer.“
What do you mean by that?
That was the second half of the 1970s [when political violence between the right and left hit a peak]. The death of a student each day had become routine. I was asked to draw the portrait of the killed students. My drawings would be hung on the walls and taken down immediately by the police.
Was studying law your choice?
I wanted to go to the school of fine arts, but my family never saw being a cartoonist as a profession. And also, after the 1980 military coup, I came back to Istanbul to continue university, but I only managed to finish after 10 years; every time I left the house to go to school, I found myself at Gırgır, which was near the university. Gırgır and the newspaper which was in the same building used to be attacked, and that constantly scared my father.
So you continued to draw cartoons in the 1980s.
Yes, we started a page called “Those without mustaches.” As a small number of women cartoonists, we were approached as a group, but we had no role model, no one to take as an example and had no discussion on how we as women should approach the issues. We were just told, “As women, draw your own world; show us how you see the world.” There was no philosophy. As a result, we ended up targeting men. “Our enemy is man and his behavior.” But after a while, this started to bore and irritate me.
So your cartoons were targeting men.
Yes, and also we drew women from their perspective – 90-60-90, a woman’s ideal proportions, with a thin waist and high heels. The first time [female cartoonist] Ramize Erer drew a fat, sloppy woman, it was like a revolution.
What was the subject matter of the cartoons?
At that time, we used to target taboos, especially sexuality and sexual liberation. We used to draw issues like menstruation, and they were well received by society. There was no “this is shameful” kind of reaction. Looking back at what we did in those days, I don’t think today we would be able to publish any of them in the current circumstances. I recall drawing a few cartoons on incest. We were not debating whether we could face legal issues, find ourselves in jail or get subjected to a stoning by angry readers. We were debating whether drawing a cartoon on such an issue would normalize it or water it down.
So you did not fear a legal or political reaction but debated whether the cartoons would have a healthy effect on society?
Exactly. These were different times; Turgut Özal [a prime minister and then a president in the 1980s] would pass by on the street and yell at us, “You’re no longer drawing me; have you forgotten me?” Currently, the most difficult thing to draw would be the political elites.
When you look back, how do you think the subject matters you tackled have transformed?
There has been a time when we had to struggle against the portrayal of women as a sexual object. Tabloids started to appear with the second page full of pictures of naked women. This was after the military coup of 1980; I recall how pornographic films were openly shown in every neighborhood movie theater. Because of post-coup political oppression, there was probably a deliberate effort to channel society’s interests toward the sexuality of women.
This was definitely the outcome of the political environment of the time, and I really think there was a deliberate political decision to objectify women. At that time, we were very much preoccupied with this issue. I don’t recall, for instance, being very preoccupied with violence against women, which is currently at the top of the agenda. I am not sure whether this was because there was less violence, or because it was less visible or less heard.
At any rate, it has become really difficult to make a living as a cartoonist; many magazines have closed because of the economic conditions, and publishing a cartoon requires a lot of courage. I have had to defend cartoonists in court because of their drawings.
From what you are telling me, I understand that it was always men who determined the subject matter of the cartoons.
Yes. At the end of the day, you start from yourself, you look at your environment and all those become your ingredients. Currently, when I look at a court, I just tell myself, if everybody, from the judge to the prosecutor, from the lawyer to the suspect, were women, these courthouses would be empty.
You really think women can make such a difference?
Absolutely. The most striking point that I have been observing in court, but also in the streets in daily life, is male narcissism. In every social contact, in every aspect of daily life, men act as if they own everything. I can observe the brazen form of this grandiose personality especially in the relationship between male judges and female lawyers. Men’s body language reflects a condescending attitude. Male narcissism has become a societal feature. This narcissism leads to behavioral disorders that can go as far as violence.
WHO IS MERAL ONAT?
*Meral Onat was born in Istanbul. While still in high school, Onat started to draw in the weekly humour magazine Gırgır. Her cartoons were subsequently published in other humour magazines like Fırt and Penguen.
*She has taken part in several exhibitions both in Turkey and abroad. A graduate of Istanbul University’s Law Faculty, Onat is a member of the Istanbul bar and works as a criminal lawyer.
*She has published two books compiled of her cartoons, as well as a graphic novel.
Hurriyet Daily News