08 Mar 2021
Life gradually reveals hidden talents of women …
An old newspaper interview shared by Dr. Duygu Aysal Cin from Istanbul Technical University Rare Books Unit takes us on a journey about the role of women in our society in the first years of our Republic before March 8, International Women’s Day. As İTÜ News, we present the interview made by Peyami Safa with Melek Erbul, who was newly graduated from the School of Senior Engineering, in Cumhuriyet newspaper dated March 31, 1933. Hoping that you read with pleasure the remarkable messages of Ms. Melek, one of our first women engineers, about the role of women in social life…
News: İTÜ Media and Communication Office
Can Women Be Equal With Men?
First woman engineer Ms. Melek’s answer:
“Until now, women’s staying within the boundaries of family has prevented their talents hidden in their nature from emerging”
Interview by Peyami Safa
Yes, we have women engineers, too: Mss. Melek and Sabiha. They have just graduated. I called them immediately and found Ms. Melek in her apartment in Firuzağa.
There are many who want to be lawyers among our young girls. Ladies make up forty percent of the students of the Faculty of Law; those who want to be a doctor are not few, there are a lot of girls in the Faculty of Medicine. This is no wonder: Justice and compassion are the custom of women; but the involvement of women with a profession such as engineering, which is completely mathematical and mental, and unrelated to human emotions in terms of its subjects, was stunning for me. Indeed, only four ladies entered the School of Engineering; two are still studying and two have just graduated.
Ms. Melek responded to me with a strong objection hidden under a great politeness:
“No,” she said, “please excuse me for not doing the interview, I have just finished school. I wish that I could give you answers with positive ideas enriched by the experience of a few years.”
However, I insisted on her. I couldn’t have waited for the engineer Ms. Melek to build beautiful roads or concrete bridges to get one or two answers to my interview.
“No,” she would say, “it can’t be, I will tell you, but please do not write, it can’t be, it won’t be…”
Don’t think that this was a contrived and skillful escape to increase the importance given to her; no, Ms. Melek is a very simple and sincere young girl.
I didn’t promise that I wouldn’t write with the usual journalistic trick, I plainly said that I would write and started to ask:
“What engineer are you?”
“Roads and bridges...”
“Where and how do you plan to work?”
“In Anatolia. But I am obliged to work as a civil servant first.”
“Very nice. Do you see any difference between women and men?”
“There is no difference in this area. Until now, women’s staying within the boundaries of family has prevented their talents hidden in their nature from emerging. But life gradually reveals these hidden talents. Women are not incapable, they are people who did not develop because their abilities remained hidden.”
“What do you understand from ability? (…) Do women have all the abilities belonging to men?”
“They do in many areas. I don’t think that physiological differences are strong enough to make the big difference today. Actually, today the view that sees men superior has started to change. Women are going through the first experiences of competing. How justified is she? Time will show that...”
“Let’s take the example we repeat a lot: Can women be soldiers?”
“They can and they can’t... I mean, there are military services women can do: They can work in medical corps. Don’t Hilâl-i Ahmer [former Turkish Red Crescent] nurses already work in military hospitals? Likewise, our women doctors try to heal those wounded in battle. How becoming this compassion is on the line of fire, isn’t it? And women can also work in quartermaster. Quartermaster is like the home of the army. Women become there, too. But I think that women can’t take a rifle on their shoulders, can’t shoot bullets, can’t do bayonet thrust.”
“Wouldn’t women’s beginning to work weaken the family?”
“This is not known. At first this will be a little difficult… But remedies will be found in time: Daycare centers can be opened, some arrangements can be made to compensate for the absence of women at home… In my opinion, it is after people started to form families that women were left behind in life. Women took on the duty of raising their child and were locked up at home. Since there was no advanced society life at that time, their child was not placed in the arms of the society, and women were gradually obliged to put all the burdens of external life on the shoulders of men because of this duty of humanity, and they were left behind with a head stuck within four walls. Therefore, today’s society recognizes women as mothers, only as mothers.”
“For example, what will you do when you get married?”
“I don’t know, I don’t know anything, I’m not thinking about it now, please don’t write these …”
I didn’t stop saying that I was going to write and I asked for a photo of her. She said that she and a friend had their photo taken at a photo studio, but she didn’t get it yet. I got the photos of her and her friend from that photo studio and I am now putting these names and what we talked about in front of your eyes despite Ms. Melek’s wish. The first condition for being equal with men is to unveil both faces and opinions. What is there to be embarrassed about, Ms. Melek?
March 31, 1933, p. 3