Mary Lou O’Neil: “Project feminism is a problem and it is a problem because somebody else is setting the agenda…"

"I think 'project feminism' has very colonizing effects to be quite frank about. It is the reproduction of a very particular approach to gender studies, a very particular understanding of gender, and I think in the long run it is again just reproducing a very elitist, the very white, a very western oriented kind of approach and that is going to be a problem."

10 Haziran 2021 11:20

GÜLŞAH TORUNOĞLU: Hocam, hoş geldiniz! Gender and Women’s Studies Research Center at Kadir Has is probably one of the fastest growing centers in Turkey. Can you tell us a little bit about the history of the center? When was it founded? Please tell us what you did to make it grow this fast.

MARY LOU O’NEIL: When I started, I didn’t want it. İstemedim. But the previous rector Mustafa Aydın came to me and basically said, “You are going to start this center” and I wrote a long long e-mail, saying no, because I said, I know how this works. Tabela asacağız benim odamın dışında, tabela asılacak, al işte merkez! So I said no, no, no, but of course, he is the rector so guess what! İşte merkez!

I mean for me personally it turned out to be a very, very good thing, and I have no doubt that it made my career here in Turkey. I mean whatever as much of a career as I have, definitely having the center, building the center were definitely instrumental in helping me be successful too. To be honest with you, I think it is almost the same everywhere that centers usually revolve around one or two or may be three people and that is how they get going and get built and it sort of becomes either someone or some groups’ life work, because otherwise it does not work. We have our own struggles, we have our own disagreements like everywhere. But I hope that we have built a center that has an open-door policy, democratic, has a fairly flat structure in terms of hierarchy and but at the end of the day somebody has to be appointed as the director, it happened to be me. It continues to happen to be me. I mean we are really lucky we have a lot of people at the university who do gender interested or gender studies in some way. So there is a good awareness among faculty so that we had something to build on. We had a great rector, Mustafa Aydın. I mean great in the sense that he could see that this was a good direction for the university to go in. Now was he pure of heart when he made this decision? I do not know, it does not really matter to me to be honest with you. But he made sure that we started the center. He gave us a lot of support, but not always a lot of money. I’ll be honest about that not always a lot of money, but we were able to organize, and nag and beg, and plead and knock on his door a lot. That was me mostly, yell at him and he put up with that and not a lot of chairs will, I’m well aware of that, and we were able to get some success. We had some success before we got our first EU project and our first EU project was SAGE (Systemic Action for Gender Equality). I think SAGE is the thing that allowed us to institutionalize better in the sense that it gave us something to really organize around. We created a Gender Equality Plan, we set targets. We created policies and procedures, and we went in and knock on lots and lots and lots of doors. We made allies. We convinced people. We got a sexual harassment regulation. We got a prevention unit. We worked really long and hard with the head of HR to develop a really decent solid anti-discrimination procedure to help against discrimination and raised a lot of awareness there. The head of HR was a big factor in helping us and of course we collected a lot of data. We had no gender desegregated data. I had to go to basically every administrative unit in separately. I had to go to HR, a lot of it was in HR, but I mean I had to go everywhere because we didn’t collect that data, they are much better about that. They collected data. I can get the data. We have a unit for that now called Kurumsal Araştırma ve Değerlendirme Direktörlüğü. They are in charge of all the reports basically.

But I really think that SAGE Project was very helpful in narrowing our focus too. We always had the idea from the beginning of the center that we had two projects: education and research. We also were very contentious of the fact that we had lots of work to do at the university, we could not go out and tell other people what to do if we ourselves had a messy house. So from day one we have been trying to clean up the house and I mean we have done okay, not great in my opinion, but we have done okay and we make progress and I would like to see us make some more progress and I have things still on my list but again, you know EU funding helps like nothing else really. You can hire staff, it is a lot of publicity. You know it just makes a big difference in the neo-liberal university and that’s where we are at, but state universities are not very far behind. You know that what speaks to be honest with you. That is what gives you more voice if you’re one of the people who can bring projects, especially you know more money, more prestigious like HORIZON 2020 or whatever is coming next. I guess HORIZON Europe or whatever. But if you can bring those, then you know you have more voice. You have more profile. I think that’s the reality, but that really helped us a lot. I mean it also because of that we built an international network. We made alliances with Sabancı and with Özyeğin and with İTÜ and with ODTÜ and with ANKARA because we were all the schools that had had these gender equality planning projects over the last ten years. Once you start making those connections, then things just grow from there.

GÜLŞAH TORUNOĞLU: Some scholars have critiqued this heavy reliance of EU funded projects as “project feminism”.

MARY LOU O’NEIL: But there are some really fundamentally important problems here. Absolutely “project feminism” is a problem and it is a problem because somebody else is setting the agenda. We hear as women in this geography are not setting the agenda in terms of projects for ourselves because the calls are more and more narrow and we have to get the money. We have to stay alive, so we have to fit into that mold. I mean so far at Kadir Has we’ve been very fairly lucky because the couple of projects that we’ve been able to get, we haven’t had to really cram ourselves into something else. We haven’t had to be something else, so we’re pretty lucky in that regard. But there are other organizations who are not going to fit and in that regard, I think it has very colonizing effects to be quite frank about. I think that its the reproduction of a very particular approach to gender studies, a very particular understanding of gender, and I think in the long run it is again just reproducing a very elitist, the very white, a very western oriented kind of approach and that is going to be a problem, it is a problem. It is going to continue to be a problem.

I’ll just give you a quick example. I went to a evaluation meeting in Brussels for our SAGE project and after the evaluation meeting, there was a kind of get together and mixer if you will, you know meet and greet kind of meeting for all of the gender focused projects that the EU was funding at that time. So there were like 50 projects represented. So pretty big group of people. May be there were 100 people in the room, one or two people from every project, something like that. It became very clear very quickly that almost everybody in the room knew each other as people got up and introduced themselves. Hi my name’s Mary Lou. I’m from Turkey, I started out on ABC project and then I went to CBE project, then I went to BEF project… Just project to project… Basically what it is, is “yap-boz” of partners. The thing is this, I’m doing the same thing. We got into SAGE and out of SAGE, the five projects we applied for last year were all with one of those partners or connected to one of those partners. Our new project we’re going to start in January, has one of the partners from SAGE, although she is at a different institution, but again it’s just all network, but it is a fairly closed circle.

I think the real issue with project feminism is that there are fundamentally important areas that are not getting funded because they’re not “sexy” or they’re not “moda” or they’re not “fashionable”. Whatever it is and I think that is a serious problem. I mean, it is personal to me because it is something that I do a lot of research on but there is very little or no funding, certainly not in Turkey and not much outside of Turkey for things related to sexual and reproductive health. I mean with the exception of Hacettepe’s demographic survey, (because it gets funded every five years, it gives us some data but it is not exactly the same thing) but other than that you know it is not like you can apply to TUBİTAK for that. It is not like you can. You know there isn’t a lot to be EU the problem and EU funding is that with the exception of the ERC, most of it is not actually research oriented. They have a research piece sometimes, I mean the project we were going to start January stipulates that research funding within the project can only be 10 percent. So it is really about doing activities, outreach, education and toolkits and great. I’m glad we’re going to do it but it is not the same thing as research and I think that is a problem. Now the place where this can get solved and for a long time Kadir Has was very good at is BAP Projeleri: Bilimsel Araştırma Projeleri. Schools are required to have a research fund that they give out to their faculty members as part of YÖK clause as far as I know. For a long time, a lot of our faculty members who are doing gender work were getting funded. Now they’re not. It was not big amounts of money. 10.000, 20.000, 30.000, the last before they cut it off at Kadir Has you can get up to 100.000 lira, and you can do a lot of research with that money but our current rector, and I’m not gonna hide from this because I think this is the wrong decision. We can no longer individually apply to BAP at school. I think these are really important things. To fund people for things that they can’t get funded anywhere else. I mean it was a kind of mini TUBİTAK application. There was no call, no specificity of topic, just had to be a decent project.

GÜLŞAH TORUNOĞLU: Does she provide any reasoning as to why she made that decision or not?

MARY LOU O’NEIL: No, I don’t know why. I suspect it is because we are now fully ensconced in neoliberalism and there is a very clear expectation that we are supposed to bring money. It is such a clear expectation that there are numbers given to us. You are expected to bring X amount of money and faculties have targets too and as a faculty you are supposed to bring X amount of money and as a faculty member you’re supposed to publish X amount of, I think it is 1,4 articles a year. I don’t know how that works, and of course we have performance related pay rates, and well and that is where it becomes, how should I say “acılı”, painful. It can be very profitable for people who are better publishers, have a different set of circumstances. The problem is that the system that we have a system does not recognize, for example, “alan farkı –differences in academic fields”.


MARY LOU O’NEIL: One of the major issues is that there are not a lot of high impact journals in the field of gender studies and yet the expectation is that we publish nearly exclusively in these journals. This is again part the problem of gender related work in a neoliberal system. I think that is going to be hard going forward because if you can’t bring the money as a center, or as a faculty member, if you can’t get published in high enough ranked journals, how are we going to survive? I’m lucky, I’m not going to move up, I don’t want to be a dean and I don’t want to be any of that so I’m done but still the pressure is on and we get the stick pretty regularly.

I don’t know if this is the case, but I feel like it is like the welfare argument in the United States. If we make it too easy, then they won’t try, which of course I find deeply insulting and I also find terribly naive. It also just not doesn’t recognize the very real constraints that we are operating under. Okay, you want us to go out and do that, but you have to create the conditions of possibility; you have to reduce the course load and reduce the number of students that we are dealing with. You have to reduce the administrative load. If we make this about centers, we need the administrative support. You have to invest in order to make money. You cannot. But I cannot do everything and the only reason that we have been able to produce as much as we have at Kadir Has is because we don’t do a lot of faaliyet. That is a very conscientious decision on my part. We do not do a lot of conferences, işte panel, işte film, bilmem ne. I do not do that and we do a few every year for important days. It just takes too much time so we can use research or we can do that. We made a conscious decision to be a research focused center as opposed to the “uygulama” part. I just forget about that most of the time.

Some of the women’s and gender studies centers are “uygulama” or “faaliyet merkezleri” too, which is great. I think we need a little bit of everything. I mean I’m sure a lot of people would fall to us because why don’t you do things you know everybody can participate in and well if there were 10 people in the center, okay, but there is not, there’s a limited number and I am the only faculty member, I guess the board also gets a few points for being on yönetim kurulu in the performance system but that’s it you know it is that we don’t get any money. We don’t get any course reduction, so anything that people do related to the center is in addition to everything they’re doing in the faculty.

GÜLŞAH TORUNOĞLU: So the work done at the Center is mostly voluntary.

MARY LOU O’NEIL: Yes, that is true for me too! I get 10 points in the performance system for being merkez müdürü.

GÜLŞAH TORUNOĞLU: Do you have a paid staff member?

MARY LOU O’NEIL: We have one paid staff person provided by the university, one idari kadro. We have one person that came up in like year number five of the center, the first five years there was none. Any project we got we could pay somebody a little bit of money. I was getting BAP projects from the university and I would usually put a little assistantship money in there and you know try to pay people from that and now this year I’m paying people out of my Bireysel Araştırma Fonu (BAF) and that is related to our performance. So if you have a good year publishing and getting projects, you get a pretty big piece of money. Of course this year we couldn’t go anywhere. Usually BAF was used to be for going to conferences. That was all we could spend the money on but the new rector, Sondan Durukanoğlu Feyiz, she’ll let you spend it on any kind of research related activity so I funded whole projects out of mine but because we can’t really do anything this year. I’m just paying people. I’m just paying my assistants basically because I mean I need the help more than I need anything else, so I just pay graduate students, pay assistants. It is not very much money but it is some.

GÜLŞAH TORUNOĞLU: Do you have an MA or a PhD program?

MARY LOU O’NEIL: We have no MA, just PhD. Bu sene açıldı. I hope going forward it is going to make a big difference because you know that is a problem we have projects but we don’t have students. Definitely for us, it is research and education. They are the two main focuses. Again, we usually do something around the 25th of November and the 8th of March, and that’s about it. But that is my choice.

I think the problem here is that we recreate ourselves. I noticed it as we went through interviews, especially PhD programs because you usually take PhD students based on what they’re gonna study. Then you try to match them with somebody. Okay, but that again, you’re just recreating yourselves, unless you can hire people who are, quite in a quite different field or have a different perspective so you know, for me, for example, it is always very clear to me who is coming from ODTÜ. There’s a very particular perspective there. That’s very clear. So I think we recreate ourselves.

GÜLŞAH TORUNOĞLU: Turkey does not have a Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies that offers education at the undergraduate level. Some scholars have suggested that this would be a good idea, others find it unnecessary. What do you think?

MARY LOU O’NEIL: I think maybe gender studies, at least in Turkey makes more sense as a graduate program. Let the student go to sociology or political sides or whatever, and then do a graduate study in gender studies. Because for one thing, I mean in the Turkish system they don’t choose at the undergraduate level, they really don’t. The exam chooses for them and that’s no way to do gender studies in the particularity that is the Turkish system I would probably say graduate studies as well.

GÜLŞAH TORUNOĞLU: What about the institutionalization of women’s and gender studies at the universities? You know, many universities in the U.S. have a Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, sometimes a separate Center for Women’s and Sexuality Studies, a University Health Center, Counseling and Psychological Services for emotional support when necessary, etc. In the absence of such services, many research centers in Turkey had to shoulder all the gender-related issues that the students face in addition to gender related research and teaching. For example, if someone breaks up with their partner, they come to the center to seek consultation.

MARY LOU O’NEIL: Evet, her şeyciler!

MARY LOU O’NEIL: In my opinion, yanlış, especially when we’re dealing with issues of harassment or legal issues or psychologically delicate people. I mean were lucky at Kadir Has because then we you know we have psychological counseling and we have staff psychologist and we have a strong psychology department that is different but they have been very active in ensuring that the staff psychologists are the right choice, that they have a certain set of awareness that they are gender sensitive. They are sensitive to LGBTQI rights so that they have a certain mindset to be able to deal with a wide diversity of students. But that’s luck because we have a really strong good aware psychology department that is very helpful in that regard. I think three years ago now maybe four years ago we were able to setup the sexual harassment and sexual assault prevention unit so that if somebody has a complaint, they go there. So when people come to me I always say, I’m really sorry that you’re experiencing this, I have sent your email to the prevention unit and somebody will get back to you. And that is the last that I deal with it. We were very particular in separating the two that particularly I wanted that, but also sowed it one of our, I mean, we were very involved in writing yönerge. It has a very, very progressive approach to gender-based harassment, sexual harassment and sexual assault and includes all of those things. And then it has a prevention unit. But for example, anybody who’s the head of the gender center cannot be on the unit committee. So there’s a real divide between those two. I think it is important because at the end of the day the unit is tied to the rektörlük and appointed by the rector. So who knows what’s gonna happen there. At some point may be it will be necessary for the Center to say, hey that unit isn’t doing anything, that unit is off in the woods or whatever so but I think we needed the independence and the separateness to be able to say that. To be honest with you, I don’t want to deal with those issues. Those issues are hard and messy and painful and horrible and I’m not qualified to deal with them.

I think of the research center as a think tank even more than I think of us as an NGO. Although I have been known to describe us as “küçük esnaf” as well because it feels like that. I swear the only thing that keeps me up at night sometimes is worrying about how I’m gonna pay people. Certainly, when I got my PhD, I never thought I was gonna worry about that, but that is the reality is that you have to find the money to pay people and that for me is the worst part of the job. I’m super lucky that for a very long time now, I’ve been surrounded by incredibly smart, wonderful, hardworking, young people, academics, not academics, at some point in the academic trail anyway and I can’t always pay them and I really hate that or what I have to offer them a wage that it is you know really low.

GÜLŞAH TORUNOĞLU: Would having more permanent positions help?

MARY LOU O’NEIL: The permanent position helps but there is one. And then when we’re lucky, we get projects especially right now. I mean have you seem the Euro? I mean the only good thing for me is in general and I am going to have a lot of them but wow! When we got the SAGE project in 2016 we started in 2017, the euro was 4,4 and now 10,1 this morning.

GÜLŞAH TORUNOĞLU: What can we do to better institutionalize gender related research teaching and activism at the universities? Do we follow an institutionalization scheme similar to what we see in most US universities?

MARY LOU O’NEIL: Well, I agree in terms of long term efficacy, I think that is what will definitely work best. Now having said that, I think that there is a certain framework that ought to be the responsibility of YÖK, and I have big doubt with YÖK these days. Many doubts with YÖK. But I mean, I think the middle path on this one is that I don’t think we need a department of you know gender and blah whatever all the other things come later at every university. I just don’t think we need that many. I do think we need some departments. I think we need some departments, particularly at MA PhD level may be not at the undergraduate level, but I’m not too freaked out about that. I definitely think every school has to have a staff psychologist. I think that person has to have a certain level of awareness when it comes to issues related to gender, sexuality, gender identity and sexual orientation. I think that every school ought to have some person or committee that deals with issues related to harassment. I definitely think I think those are easy for me.

Now when it comes to YÖK, I think there is another set of things that should take place. I think YÖK should take its responsibility as an auditor more seriously. There are a number of universities who are in violation of laws in this country and the fact that YÖK doesn’t say anything about that, I find ridiculous! They are going through attendance sheets and this and that and they’re going through the books to make sure that nobody is stealing the money. Great! I want them to do that, but I also want them to basically get up the ass of universities who are breaking the law. If you have more than 100 women employees, you have to have an emzirme odası. This doesn’t cost any money, it is a room with the lock on it. Bu kadar basit yani! Okay, maybe if you’re decent, you get a little mini fridge and you get a comfortable chair. This is not like oh my god bütçe gidecek kadar harcamalar değil yani. It took us two and a half years to beat the rector into submission. Emzirme odası! I mean you know that’s it! If you have 150 women employees you are required to have a kreş, and we don’t have one!!! I mean Sabancı has one but it costs $2.500 a month. Koç has one but it costs bilmem ne. Bilgi doesn’t have one, Bahçeşehir doesn’t have one. A bunch of private universities don’t. This is a private university problem, but again, why is it that YÖK not saying anything? This is the law so you have to abide by the law. So I think that may be gender equality should be a part of YÖK’s auditing role.

GÜLŞAH TORUNOĞLU: I think YÖK has Akademide Kadın Çalışmaları Birimi directed by Sezer Şener Komşuoğlu. Did you communicate these issues to them or to Sezer hoca?

MARY LOU O’NEIL: No. She is well known. she is well known to us. we have a WhatsApp group of center directors where we often communicate what we are doing to each other. In an official capacity, I am not exactly sure what the unit does it is supposed to do.

I’d like to see YÖK audit for gender equality. I think that would be useful because you know at the end of the day there are certain things that are required by law and there is certain things that are also fair and decent. We have a huge gender gap in terms of pay. I don’t deserve to be paid less men so I’d like to see them take up that role. In terms of women and academia we do very well, especially comparison to Europe. We have you know 30 percent of the full professors in this country are women that’s well ahead of many European countries. It’s something we are proud of, we should be proud of, but we’re proud of that and YÖK talks about that a lot and then allows universities to pay us less and again that is a vakıf university problem but there are 75 vakıf universities, so there’s a lot of women working in private universities, so I’d like to see YÖK take up that role. Gülsün Sağlamer was the first woman rector at İTÜ. 92’de rector olmuş, I really like her. She makes fun of me. She told me I was saying that I was too old or something or I don’t know what I said and she said when I was your age I became Rector. They now have a dernek called European Women’s Rectors Association. She knows Hasan Mandal who is the head of TUBİTAK. She’s been trying to work with TUBİTAK to fund projects for forming gender equality plans, and having TUBİTAK doing it for gender equality plans. So she was trying to work on that and I think some progress had been made about moving them in that direction. I mean, I even think she got to talk about it out of meeting and so she was making some progress.

I really think that YÖK and TÜBİTAK can play a much bigger role in creating a framework within which we can do the work. I just think that that’s where Europe is going to, especially with research funding organizations. When you apply to the EU now, there’s always a part in the proposal where you have to tell them how you are going to deal with the sex gender dimension. You have to tell them. So lots of research funding organizations in Europe now are really trying to improve the numbers of women applying women leading research teams. You know, I think TUBİTAK can do the same thing on a national level and I think YÖK can do a better job at providing a framework.

Because all of this is so interrelated when you go to get your doçentlik and eee hangi alandan giriyorsun. Toplumsal cinsiyet yok, sosyoloji var, sosyolojinin altında anahtar kelime olarak toplumsal cinsiyet var ama there is no toplumsal cinsiyet çalışmaları, hele cinsellik off sıfır, oraya hiç girme. Our program when we applied to YÖK was Toplumsal Cinsiyet ve Kadın Çalışmaları doktora programı, YÖK called and said toplumsal cinsiyeti kırpıyorsun, kadın çalışmaları kalabilir. Açık açık. They were very open about it. Cut the front off, and then you can have the rest, but they didn’t touch anything inside. All the classes are you know gender and gender and gender, just the title they changed. Well, I think because it have your cake and eat it too. They changed the title and then you know and Yeni Akit can say look they change the title but nobody’s gonna open the web page and look at the class titles. It is a bit silly frankly but whatever.

I mean, I think these kinds of institutional things are what is necessary. I’ll be honest for me one of the big lessons of being in Turkey has taught me that institutions matter. Because if you get things since once you change an institution, it is much I mean, yes we change regulations all the time. Blah blah blah I know but it is harder and it takes longer. It is easy to change people, but if you get something institutionalized and really get it institutionalized it is gonna last a lot longer. If you change regulations, if you embed things in the structure you change people’s way of thinking you get them used to doing things in a certain way. Even something as simple as we collect gender disaggregated data, and we talk about certain things we talk about it in a gender desegregated way. How many male students, female students, how many men on the faculty, women on the faculty of course we need to work on the binary problem, but baby steps here but it is really important for us is that institutional part. I mean I’m not going to be the director, it feels like I’m going to be the director forever. It feels like I already have been the director forever but I’m not going to stay forever. I’m going to retire at some point and it is important that somebody do the work, so that it doesn’t all go away with me and I mean it not is because at the end it is not about me. Unfortunately the way the systems are set up, too often it becomes about the person. I’ll really try not to make it that way but at the end of the day I’m the person who spends the most time there and so my agenda tends to drive the agenda of the research center quite a bit although we work pretty hard, I mean we have a really good executive committee and I do my best to you know, make democratic decisions, but also to ensure that everybody is working on projects, bringing projects you know so that we have more of a diversity of things going on there. I just don’t want it to be all about me.

GÜLŞAH TORUNOĞLU: At least you are creating a sustainable mechanism to carry forward the development.

MARY LOU O’NEIL: İnşallah! Yes, that is what I want. That is what I hope for. You know hard to know how it is going to be. I think we as a center have set one of the strategies as being we want gender equality and gender related issues to be part of the identity of the university. The good thing is we get a little bit of you know again pragmatism here. I’ll tell you one thing that is really helping us right now is the Times Higher Education rankings. They’re helping in the sense that our administration likes the idea of being in them and one of areas is the gender equality. And we tend to do pretty well. I mean with the thing with the times higher education rankings is when you look at the questionnaire of what they ask you, there’s your road map. Now the problem with the rankings is it is very much biased toward well not biased. It is very obvious that the questions are coming from a setting like the United Kingdom or the United States because most of the problems there are about access. The thing is we don’t control access in Turkey so that it is a little bit of an issue there, but again, our administration is concerned with those things and we get a little bit of help there.

GÜLŞAH TORUNOĞLU: Has there been any long lasting problem at the Center that you wanted to solve but have not been able to? find a solution but have not been able to?

MARY LOU O’NEIL: Yes, Kreş! Yeah, for everyday that the center has been open! For me two things, one is kreş, or childcare center in any form. I mean we have recommended different formats. I mean personally I’m not for having one ourselves because it is a huge responsibility and nobody will be happy. No chance I mean no chance. So what I suggested was to create an agreement with X Y Z, that was the first suggestion. The second one I said to the last Rector. I said you have Kadir Has, right next door to us is Medipol Üniversitesi, karşı kıyıda Haliç, Ticaret, at the end of the Golden Horn, you have Bilgi. So you know in 10 km radius, you have how many universities. Sexy project, sexy project for rectors. Um, you know, get together, find the money, get in agreement with whatever ABC çocuk evi, I don’t care. The last suggestion that we made that we kind of had and then we didn’t have was yardım, money. Then I said, just pay everybody. 500 Lira. Bitti. 500 Lira. Makbuz karşılığı, everybody can go to whatever their ideology is, whatever their approach is, they can close to their house far away from their house, whatever, and it looked like we had an agreement on that. In fact, it looked like they had published regulations and then geri adım attılar. That was a heart breaker. It was not because you know I’ll tell you the single largest group that will benefit from that is the administrative personnel. It is not academics. we don’t need the money. Everybody needs the money, but the real issue there is idari personel, they don’t make very much money. And what we see all the time is that they go on maternity leave, they get ready to comeback and it becomes a hesap issue. I make X amount of money, I’m gonna spend Y amount of money. These are very close together and a lot of them don’t return which again in the long term health of the university is bad for the university because they take all that knowledge and information and know how and they leave and then you have to start over again. And that’s faculty secretaries, öğrenci işleri, insan kaynakları, mali işler. These are all places that are tend to be dominated by women. That is a big problem for us.

GÜLŞAH TORUNOĞLU: Staff turnover is the last thing you need in those departments. You don’t need staff turnover in those departments. You need stability.

MARY LOU O’NEIL: You need people who can you know, get the job done every single day, day in day out, and they need help so that issue and then for me personally the gender pay gap. I asked several times for this rector to do a gender pay audit. I said you don’t have to tell us, simply do it. I said I’m sure that there is a problem here, she won’t even do it, which says a lot to me. The current rector is not moving far enough fast enough on these issues.

You know the thing that is heartbreaking to me on the issue kreş is that the university is in violation of law, bu kadar basit ve bize yakışmıyor. Bu kadar güçlü bir üniversite bu konuda, toplumsal cinsiyete duyarlı bir üniversite ama kreşi yok yani.

Bir de utanmadan bu gender gap in pay.

GÜLŞAH TORUNOĞLU: Auditing should not be that difficult, right?!

MARY LOU O’NEIL: No, come on! There are guides for how to do them on the internet.

GÜLŞAH TORUNOĞLU: Burada yapılmışı var!

MARY LOU O’NEIL: YÖK published a report on Vakıf kurumları finansal raporu. I think it makes it very clear the lack of equality in salaries. Of course, the data YÖK provides in not gender disaggregated but it makes clear that there are huge differences in salary even for those at the same level. Further, the report makes clear that there are those in the lower ranks in some places who are making more than those in higher ranks which makes a jock of getting promoted. The problem is not that some people are making money, the problem is in the inequity of it and the lack of logic. The gender pay gap has been recognized as a problem all over the work so I don’t think that we are an exception. Maybe we are but let’s collect some data and find out. Are women and men paid equally in academia. If not, then let’s solve that.

GÜLŞAH TORUNOĞLU: What are some of your future projects at the Center?

MARY LOU O’NEIL: Well, I mean we will start a three year EU project in January, it is called Gender X: Gender for Excellence in Research and basically the idea of the project is to try to stimulate the integration of the sex gender dimension into all areas of research. It is what they call it twinning or widespread, it is funded under that program. So were the coordinators and we have a couple of European partners and it really focuses on early stage researchers and encouraging them to integrate sex and gender dimension, hooking them up with other graduate students into project and article matchmaking at the partner universities. And you know again a bunch of education on how to integrate sex and gender so that it is probably the big backbone project for the next three years because it is funded and we have a bunch of money. Of course, we have things that do every year that so far have been funded every year. This year in the spring again year number seven for the Türkiye’de Toplumsal Cinsiyet ve Kadın Algısı Araştırması so we’ll do that again. The university has never not committed to funding that, so I assume will continue to do that every year. Of course we have funding or we have had funding for the last three years, gets funded on a yearly basis for LBGTI istihdam raporu. That we partner with KAOS GL and that is funded by the Naumann Foundation, we’re just finishing the reports for 2020. We will finish those.

Yeah, so will as far as I know will continue to do that as long as we continue to get funded. We have a small little project, we wanted to produce LGBTI Kapsayıcı Üniversite Rehberi so again very practical, what universities need to do to be more inclusive when it comes to LGBT issues. So we’re working on that and I think I mean me personally, which then, of course drags over into the center a bit. Some more research around reproductive rights probably in the next couple weeks we’re gonna release another round of the abortion study, we did it again. We called state hospitals, no good news. I’m sorry to say. I just send the revisions back so as long as it gets accepted, we will have a report on the availability of emergency contraception so we did we get a couple studies there. I think that is it at the moment. I had a meeting this morning and we’re going to probably start to work with Binyaprak. I think we’re going to do is develop a Gender Equality Planning Toolkit aimed at companies so basically adapting what we did for SAGE to complex so that’s we talked about this morning. I mean it was just a fikir alışverişi.

Lastly, I’ve been curious. you know we have this idea. I think around for a long time that when it comes to issues of equality and gender equality and feminism that there is a fundamental difference in this country between secular women and conservative women. When I say conservative, I’m referring to religiously conservative and particularly people who display that conservatism in the headscarf that we think somehow there’s this really unbridgeable divide and I’ve been wanting to do a kind a series of interviews, especially with younger, university age, conservative women to talk to them about how do they view feminism, equality? How do they conceptualize it, how do they plan to balance work and home life just to see what they say? Because I have a feeling that may be it is not as unbridgeable as we think it is but maybe we have to be a bit more creative and how we reach out. I have always liked the idea of strategic partnership or strategic sisterhood that we coalesce around particular issues where we can find common ground. The idea that we have to agree on everything is stupid and doesn’t work, anywhere. It doesn’t work in the US, it doesn’t work in Europe or the UK, or anywhere because I mean there’s only five other people who agree on everything with me. Politically speaking, we’re not getting anything done.

I mean there is really that split in this country. That is, I mean, there is a couple splits within gender and women studies. There’s sort of gender studies. people, there’s women studies people, and you know kind of that old fashioned. I don’t want to say the old fashioned but more narrow scope of women’s studies and but they’re both super militantly secular and I think that is a problem for us. I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out how as a center we can do work with conservative women. I don’t know what the project is yet, I haven’t figured it out yet, but it is something that you know comes to my mind. I just told the story the other day, we had a STK come to us last year and we were having a nice discussion and I said have you spoken to KADEM, have you spoken to any other muhafazakâr groups, women’s groups, derneks, whatever.

Hayır, biz onlarla görüşmüyoruz. Yani… kolay gelsin, güle güle from me. That doesn’t work for me. It is politically very short sighted because if you can get conservative women to rise up against this government, then you are going to get what you want, again form a strategic partnership, you don’t have to agree with on everything. But I don’t know that’s me. I’m very pragmatic in that regard.

Mary Lou O’Neil

GÜLŞAH TORUNOĞLU: When do you find time to sleep?

MARY LOU O’NEIL: Yeah, I mean, you know when I start to talk about that, I recognize that you do a lot of stuff on. I mean, you know, everybody works really hard and it is a team effort and we find I don’t know Somehow we manage to do it, we’re not always very fast, but I think the staying at home stretches helping us to be honest. Really, pretty productive right now and we just got an email today we are all staying home again. We can’t even go now. Even the administrative staffs have been ordered home. I suspect people are starting to come up positive so lots of times I think we do smaller projects and that it is more doable sometimes. I mean, we’re a pretty small team and we do small projects but I am really lucky. The team works really hard, everybody is very committed and so we’re lucky.

I will say this along the away, we have developed a really good and really successful internship programthat I’m really proud of, which is why we usually take six or sometimes as many as eight interns a year. We’re pretty mean actually we require them to commit for three months and at least three days a week. We don’t pay them anything and we get so many applications. I mean it is a good experience and we work really hard at trying to make sure that it is a good and meaningful experience for them and I think that pays off and it also means that we get help. I mean we can’t ask them to do everything, but they can help with a lot of things and they do help with a lot of things and so that gives us some extra hands and we usually get about half of those interns from Europe and we get them through ERASMUS Plus, which means they get some money from their home institution and they get credit. We try to feed them, they get to come to Istanbul. We try to ensure that they at least get yemek fişi. We do our best and we try to give them a nice experience and meaningful midi research experience, especially the master’s degree students. We really try to give them even if it is a small piece of the research. We try to give them that experience and we really benefit a lot from that. So sometimes we grow to 10. Sometimes we can be as many as 10. That is a lot of people, now managing 10 people is a nightmare. I admit I don’t usually do the day to day management. That’s the administrative’s job so that makes my life a lot easier. Everybody wants to come to İstanbul, everybody wants to come to Istanbul so that helps. And once you get that set up, it doesn’t you know, because for ERASMUS Plus the international office does all the work, all the paperwork. All we do is advertise, we get as many as 100 applications. Düşünsene bedava, bedava, hiç bir şey vermiyoruz yani. It takes some creativity, but there is a way to do it. I learned that from you know one of the first project managers we had because she had done it. She had come to Istanbul through some European volunteering bilmem ne. She figured it out for us.

GÜLŞAH TORUNOĞLU: Lastly, if you had a magic wand, what gender discrimination problem would you want to solve?

MARY LOU O’NEIL: Well, I’ll tell you. I think that one of the problems that would have the longest term benefit would be if we could solve the problem of the chronic undereducation in women. Well, two things under education and employment. Once women get education, they will be able better able to contribute more to the workforce and then I think things get a lot easier. That would probably be the most sort of kökten thing that I could think of. I have other things, but I think that is the thing that yields the most long term sustainable benefit with the least amount of we’re going to get stuck in ideological fighting. Everybody can agree that women should get education pretty much everybody can. Well, everybody’s going agree pretty soon that women should work because otherwise everybody’s gonna go hungry. The economy is going to solve some of these things for us, everybody’s gonna have to work. Who can afford to live in İstanbul on one salary? Nobody! So I think those are probably two things for me and I think they go hand in hand. Education will then yield better work. Better work then yields a lot of all a lot of things. I think education and work are the clearest path to women being able to make choices for themselves. Whatever those choices are, I mean, better able I should say to make choices for themselves.

GÜLŞAH TORUNOĞLU: Is there anything that you would like to say to the women’s and gender studies centers in other universities through this interview?

MARY LOU O’NEIL: It would be great if we could find ways as center directors to engage in kind of you know strategic dayanışma: strategic forms of solidarity. I think there are real differences between approaches and favorite topics and resources and so on and so forth. But I think that there are times when you know for example, you know maybe there should be an İstanbul group and we should all get together or may be all the vakıf universities, or in different kind of ways that we can then be in alliance and try to help each other and exchange tips and tricks and strategies and what has been successful and so on. I went to one meeting where there was an attempt for all the centers to try to create a manifesto… It was a long day and you know it is just too hard, there’s just too many people, too many moving parts, too many different factors. And yeah, so I don’t see that as realistic. But I do think that we can find strategic ways to come together and I think that would be beneficial for us.


Prof. Dr. Mary Lou O’Neil

Kadir Has Üniversitesi Toplumsal Cinsiyet ve Kadın Çalışmaları Merkezi Direktörü. Kadir Has Üniversitesi Siyaset Bilimi ve Kamu Yönetimi öğretim görevlisi.