Buz Bebekler (Ice Babies) as an Example of Psychological and Physical Harassment

Gözde Öz | 01.11.2017


 

Buz Bebekler, is a story book of Miyase Sertbarut who is famous for her children’s books and radio plays, published in 2014. Book is the diary of a 13 years old girl, Ece. Ece is a waif, found at the ground floor of a block. After she is delivered to poliçe by a resident of the block, her life at orphanage starts. Ece writes her memories, what he imagines, the questions she is looking for their answers and the order she cannot understand at all, to a notebook given as a present by one of the orphanage officers on her birthday.  She names the notebook as “Lülüfer” on the name of the flower which is originally Nilüfer[*] but she could not pronounce correctly when she was a child. Lotus flower seems to symbolise a lot of things for Ece such as life, happiness, mud, fear, beauty, mother, asylum. Whenever she feels low and wants to get away from orphanage, she goes to the pool in the backyard, full of lotuses, has a heart-to-heart talk with it. In this respect, naming the notebook that she notes her whole life is quite meaningful. Writing as an action becomes a kind of defending herself against life. A wide variety of sensitive topics such as waives, pedophile teachers, in-love-with-their-office managers, children exposed to sexual harassment can be seen in Ece’s diary. These sensitive issues are the reality for both Ece and other children in the orphanage. In this paper, child harassment, both domestic harassment and harassment emerging from non-familial means, mentioned in Ece’s diary and reaction of the society will be investigated.

 

 The text focuses on sexual harassment. This topic has many ramifications but only two of them are mentioned: Harassment from others and domestic harassment. No matter in which way this takes place, it is not acceptable and society’s attitude towards this issue is presented by the text.

In children who are exposed to sexual harassment, intense psychologic problems regarding the objects related to incident and avoiding from people, images and talks that reminds the incident can be seen. (Kılıç, 2004; cited Ovayolu and others.2007,19). This avoiding reaction is first seen in Fidan, the protagonist of the first harassment story in Ece’s diary. Fidan is a girl who came to orphanage only one year ago. She does not have a father, and her mother used to live with her grandfather for some time. When the mother starts working there is no one left to take care of her and, they leave Fidan to orphanage and seldom visit her.  Her grandfather takes her to home for weekend, sometimes. Ece writes about Fidan after celebrations of the Republic Day on 29th of October. Since it is the Republic Day, orphanage gets decorated with balloons and flags etc.  On this night Fidan could not sleep and punctures all the balloons in the hall.  In the morning the situation is realised by everyone and Fidan is taken to the room of “manager father.” Fidan talks to the psychologist before the manager and she states that “they resembled her grandfather’s hands, with which he touched her private parts.” (51). After Fidan tells what she went through, the manager gets all balloons taken away from halls and refers Fidan to another orphanage after a while. He neither launches a legal action nor investigation against the grandfather. When he is asked if he launched a lawsuit he replies “There is no need to make something big out of it, we talked to her mother” and adds “if there to be a lawsuit, it must be launched by her (…)it is none of our business” (86). Manager handles this situation in his way because he does not want “his order to be broken” and he is afraid what if it becomes something and everyone hears of it. All this process is narrated from Ece’s point of view. So, the reader cannot learn all the aspects of the incident. Reader may know what happened to Fidan, but cannot have a clue on what did Fidan feel, how was her life in orphanage, whether her grandfather still visits her but that Ece was impressed from this harassment issue is mentioned by these words: “Oh Lülüfer, you know I have always been dreaming that I have a family… What if I was going through this hell in the family? What if I were not able to figure out which is a good pat which is an ill-minded one? What if I were not able to escape when I figure out it was an ill-minded one? (52). Ece, who has been dreaming to have a family, describes families that sexual harassment takes place as hell. And when she hears that the manager did not launch any legal actions, she cannot choke down her rage and writes these: “Damn Lülüfer! I wish all windows of that grandfather’s house were broken, chair of manager was toppled, his television at his office exploded… Ground shall swallow everything, Lülüfer! And I wish these men fell down to cliffs that they cannot see the end of it and got fell apart.  (86). These sentences show her angry reaction to this harassment clearly. Rage reactions, weak impulse control, deficiency of being against may be seen in children who suffered from sexual harassment. (Taner ve Bahar, 2004; cited Ovayolu and others 2007, 19). Ece is impressed even though she is not exposed to harassment.

 

Another harassment mentioned in the text is brought into action by a stranger. Even though he is not a stranger to the children, since he is not from the family, this is regarded as a non-familial issue. Sadun teacher, who comes to orphanage on some days of the week to train children for Basketball is a physical education teacher at a school and he is loved by all the students. He takes care of children during trainings and pay attention to girls especially and praises them. He says they resemble a different cartoon character every morning.  These praises reflect on Ece’s diary so: “‘Good morning Smurfs’ and now we are Smurfs. Cartoon characters. Smurfs, Cinderellas, Sleeping Beauties, Snow Whites…” (74) Even though it is not within the boundaries of his work definition, he offers children to go out of the orphanage with him as “Would these two sisters come to cinema with me?” (74) He manages to get their admiration by spending time with them off training hours. He notices that Ece is interested in Basketball and he uses this to approach her. Sadun teacher’s interest towards her is clearly seen in the dialogue between them after he appoints Ece as the captain of the team: “I sat down next to him where he showed for me. He put his hand on my shoulder. … Smiled, caressed my hair. “He said ‘And this explains where does this beauty come from.’” (37).  Since the reader can see what happens through protagonist-narrator’s point of view, they cannot see what is Sadun teacher’s intention, clearly. Only to the extent that Ece sees and feels is narrated. But even so, it is clear that there is something that makes the reader uncomfortable. This disturbance leaks to the text through another character. Cem, who fancies Ece warns her frequently. “‘Look Ece, that man…’ His voice was as if he was going to swear, then we do not know what happened, he gave up on this idea. He expresses his discomfort by saying ‘That man is a snob. There are some dirty rumours about him.’” (33) he does not directly express what disturbs him, but the reader can deduce this. One day Ece takes Sadun teacher to Lotus pool. There he says:  

“I take naked photos Ece. Do not misunderstand it, they are not erotic, they are art works. You know the sculptures in museums, right? They are not meant to be seductive, so my photos do. Your body is as beautiful as that sculptures. If this embarrasses you, ı can hide your face. Or I can take the picture as you turn your back to camera. I transformed one of my rooms to a photo studio. Would you pose for me? “(48).

Ece realises that something goes wrong. She expresses this anxiety by saying “He said all these in a rush, as if he is afraid of something.” (48) What they experienced there explains everything to the reader, but protagonist-narrator does not still figure out what is exactly going on. In the following parts, Sadun teacher invites Ece and 5 years old Aybike to his house. When they come back to orphanage Aybike cries and says “He kissed me. He took my photo. Took it naked. Even took off my panties. I wanted it to be with this yellow skirt, see it has beautiful ruffles.” (120).   At this point, both the reader and the protagonist-narrator figure out that Sadun teacher is pedophile.

Upon this fact is revealed, legal action is taken against Sadun teacher. Inspectors come to orphanage and investigate the issue. During this process attitude of executives of the orphanage sets and example to how does the majority of society reacts these kinds of issues.  Manager of the orphanage, “manager father” as children call, gets angry with Ece. He blames her for putting them into trouble and making something out of nothing. By saying “This will move the earth. We will be on news on television at night. We will be ashamed, all of us!” (144) he shows his shy attitude one more time. The best thing to do according to him is to hide everything and stop its spread. In this way neither the orphanage gets a bad reputation, nor he goes through an investigation. There is another person who gets angry: Miss Feray who works at the orphanage and is fiancé of Sadun teacher. She blames Ece to be a liar and he does not want to believe that this thing happened. She goes over Ece and says:

“‘You ungrateful! What did you want from my fiancé? … You destroyed my life. Everything will be illuminated, and he will be released in a short time. Then you will see how will I get your life destroyed! Do you think you will get away with it?’ She held me on my arms and took up, I was afraid that she would throw me in the pool. ‘You will go to police and tell them everything!’” (140-141).

Ece reacts this situation again angrily:

“Why are we ashamed Lülüfer? They are contemptible, the manager is contemptible because he tries to cover this incident, Sadun teacher contemptible, Miss Feray is contemptible as she just defends her fiancé without thinking children… We are not, we are not!” (144).

Manager of the orphanage who hesitates to take a legal action against a sexual harassment incident represents the people who prefers keeping silent, ignoring and thinking that if it is not mentioned it did not happen to some extent. People who step back due to anxiety of rumour and being ashamed makes Ece angry. Miss Feray acts in a way that she does not accept the situation. She thinks she can eradicate the problem by threating Ece. But none of these either eradicate this problem or solve them. Excessive anger that may emerge in children who were exposed to sexual harassment is seen in Ece. Even though Ece was not directly exposed to sexual harassment, possible reactions that would be given by children when they are exposed are reflected through Ece.

Buz Bebekler does not apply to any emotional abuse and an excessive emotional narration when it narrates the issues as a narration on extremely sensitive topics. Topics which exist in society but are not accepted by the society are explained clearly. Except for sexual harassment different topics are also mentioned such as desolation, exclusion from the society, peer pressure, adults using children to show off.  Another problem with children who grew up in orphanage is that the society looks them as “the others”.  This exclusionist point of view causes inferiority complex in children. Most of the children who live in orphanage go out of the orphanage first when they attend school. The first place for them to meet the outer world is school.  Attitudes of children at school are generally tending to exclude them. One of Ece’s classmates tells her “you are different” (21). They tag Ece and her other friends as “the ones from orphanage”. This tag makes Ece to feel embarrassed and inferior:

“They call us orphanage children at school Lülüfer, it may sound good maybe because it is home. But home for a child is parents before other things, is not it? Calling someone who does not have a home as ‘the ones from home’… This hurts me a lot. They have their families, parents. What about us? We are from orphanage. It sounds like organ. It does not sound good. Children of another planet… You are also an orphanage diary, you are also strange now.” (21)

As it is seen here, Ece regards her being not like other children as something bad. She experiences the feeling of exclusion due the attitude of society.

Another feeling that children grew up in orphanage should handle is desolation. This feeling brings trust loss. This is stated in Ece’s diary as: 

“Promises… All vain… He will learn that promises are not kept here, that relatives who say they will come again gets rarer in time. The biggest trickery is the first day they live the child. Both the one leaving and the one taking starts a race to lie better:  ‘I am going to buy a chocolate from the shop.’ He will not! ‘Your toy is at home, let me take it.’ The kid will not see it again!” (86).

Children never forget if they are fooled. The feeling of desolation never passes. All the reactions and feelings for the incidents they experience always bear the effects of this desolation. This can be seen in Ece’s reaction when one of the teachers leaves due to her relocation.  When all classmates of them cry, Ece and other children from orphanage do not cry and she explains this as “It is true that we did not cry but this was not because we were hard, it was because we were already broken-hearted. We were left from the very first day, how much would that affect us at all?” (22) According to narration, children under state protection do not suffer financial problems. There are not any problems regarding physical facilities of the orphanage, services provided for them and rights given them. Criticism against the executives who think that it is enough when children do not face any problem regarding finance is stated by Ece’s words: “Human is not only a machine, being full, having a bed or dressing is not enough alone.” Children suffer from trust issues due to their being left and feel inferior and in need because of being excluded by the society. Problems they encounter in orphanages are mainly based on spirit, not on finance.

As a result, in the narration there is criticism against the system which ignores children’s states of mood and unfortunate incidents they faced due to social step backs.  Main purpose of the text is to make the problems which are ignored and covered a bit more visible and remind that ignoring them does not solve the question, instead makes them greater. Making this through a young girl’s diary takes the narration to a more outstanding point. In this respect there is a reminder for canalizing crime, shame and punishment to actual guilty not to the children or innocents.

 

 

Bibliography

Sertbarut, Miyase. Buz Bebekler. İzmir: Tudem Yayıncılık, 2017.

Ovayolu, Özlem Uçan, and Selver Serindağ. “Çocuklarda Cinsel İstismar ve Etkileri.” Fırat Sağlık Hizmetleri Dergisi 4/2 (2007): 13-22.

 

 

 

[*] TN: Literally; Lotus flower


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