Lily Lale Yilmaz was born in Bursa, Turkey in 1970. She is the youngest of two older brothers, raised by supporting and loving parents. Having been raised in Western Turkey, she talked about how fortunate she was for having parents who weren’t so traditional. Traditionally, in the late 80s, families would not send their daughters off to college. They believed women did not need to get an education, as it is supposedly the man’s job to financially support the family. Lily’s father, who was a mechanical engineer, encouraged her to attend university and get a degree to pursue her career. She pursued her degree in physics and soon after she graduated from Trakya University. She became a physics professor in the Ministry of National Education.
Moving to America as a White, Heterosexual, Muslim Woman
When Lily turned 30 years old, her father offered her and her brothers the opportunity to continue their education in the United States. He thought his kids would be better off there rather than staying in the declining economy of Turkey. Lily and her two brothers ended up moving to New York City in 2001. Her father had insisted on sending Lily with her brothers because she needed some sort of protection: “If my two brothers weren’t there with me, there would be no chance for me to move to the United States because of my security. My family gave the responsibility to my two brothers to protect me.” Her father’s intention of sending his kids to the United States was to make a good living and earn enough money to start their lives back in Turkey. As she was getting her degree in pediatric healing in the United States, she started her own cleaning business in the Hamptons as a way to earn income. As her father had said, earning money in the United States was much easier than Turkey.
Throughout her life, the men in Lily’s family would restrict her on what to wear, or which boys to talk to. They were very overprotective of her because she was a woman. Starting from an early age, Lily was taught how to represent herself as a lady to society. She would be shamed from her father and two brothers for wearing a skirt they believed was too provocative. I related to Lily on this as I lived in Turkey for many years as well. Women get shamed for wearing revealing clothing, whether they are in the Western or Eastern side of Turkey. As Sonia Renee Taylor has explained in her book The Body is Not an Apology, “these messages were transmitted and reinforced by culture, society, politics, and our families.” (34) These negative messages endanger our self-esteem. Growing up with these body-shaming oppressions pushed women in Turkey to feel less comfortable and confident when wearing revealing clothing. Lily and I related to how we always looked up to the women in America who felt so confident wearing whatever they wanted without getting judged by the men and women around them. The shame and guilt was enforced on us at birth through culture, religion, and politics.
Lily’s Experience Living in America
Lily loved living in America because she believes everyone had very similar ideologies, mentalities, and beliefs. In comparison to the United States, Lily said Turkey was split into two. There was the Eastern Anatolian side which is very conservative, and the Western European side which is very modern. “I am a Western girl and that’s why I didn’t have many difficulties that Anatolian women face. Anatolian wives are like sex slaves to their husbands. They are forced to work on the farm, at home raising children, and they have no rights to speak. Evidently, the women living in the Western part of Turkey are closer to how women are treated in America. Specifically, women who attended college, received a degree, and have a career. These women have respected rights in Turkey like American women. They can drive, buy a house, and speak up… If you ask my opinion, my life in Turkey as a woman is similar to a woman in America, but I worked hard for that.”
As we have read in the article “Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving?”, I related it to Lily and how she has dealt with cultural differences by trying to liberate women in the Middle East and in America. Women around the world experience different injustices regarding equality, freedom, and rights which we need to recognize. Women are the products of different histories and their unique cultures. They are living through different circumstances, and have their own structured desires. Lila Abu-Lughod suggests “working with these women in situations that we recognize as always subject to historical transformation” and “considering our own larger responsibilities to address the forms of global injustice that are powerful shapers of the worlds in which they find themselves.” Traditionally, women in the Middle East are taught to not go fulfill an academic career because culturally, they need to stay at home and take care of the house duties like taking care of the child, cleaning, cooking, washing…these are all taught by society’s norms to the men and women of that culture. Unfortunately, it restricts the women to reach their full potential and freedom to do whatever they want, like modern day America.
Career in Healing
Lily is a formal pediatric healer and a reiki master. She has a passion to help people heal from all kinds of trauma they have experienced in their life. Lily wishes there would be more healers in the world like her because “there are so many unpleasant things people experience, especially young girls and women…” and hypnosis work would help them continue on with their life. She explains how healing people is a very emotional job. She finds it beautiful how she helps heal people through energy work and advising.
Unfortunately, many of Lily’s clients are victims of sexual abuse/assault. She had more clients who experienced sexual abuse in the United States that come to her for help. Having more clients in America who had experienced sexual abuse did not mean that it was less likely occurring in Turkey. Anatolian women who experience sexual abuse do not have the freedom and ability to seek help from healers like her. Their lives are controlled by their husbands who prevent them from earning their own money. Therefore, they have no financial freedom or voice to go out and seek help for their traumas.
One specific event that has been ingrained in Lily’s head from one of her healing sessions is about a young girl from Niğde which is located in the Anatolian region of Turkey. Lily explains: “I had many young women who are traumatized by incest, come to me for help. This one young woman, specifically, was so traumatized by the horrible experience she had. One night her father would sexually harass her, the next night, the brother, next night, the other brother… This is all happening in her own home! This is the reality of Anatolian Turkey… I can never forget her screaming in the session. She was screaming because we were releasing that feeling. So many women are dealing with these horrible things. It is decreasing over time, little by little.” My jaw dropped as I listened to Lily. How could someone’s, supposedly, safe place be an environment so terrifying? In the “Domestic Abuse and Psychological Abuse” article written by the NCADV, it explains what girls who undergo similar abuse experience. “1) 7 out of 10 psychologically abused women display symptoms of PTSD and/or depression. 2) Women experiencing psychological abuse are significantly more likely to report poor physical and mental health and to have more than 5 physician visits in the last year. 3) Psychological abuse is a stronger predictor of PTSD than physical abuse among women.” Lily’s career in healing aims to help these victims ease their depression and PTSD. She greets them with a warm welcome, and offers them a place where they can feel safe. She explains how the victims’ symptoms are so heavy they require multiple sessions. I admire Lily’s passion to help women gain their strength back, and offer them advice on how they can protect themselves in the future.
Lily’s Role as a Feminist
Lily dreams of seeing all women living their best lives. When I asked about what she meant by that, she explained: “I have seen women both in America and Turkey only having a life at home. I want them outside, in life. I want them to enjoy their life. Even if it’s just going outside for a walk and getting some fresh air. I want women to feel more freedom and be in life. I want to see women in the government more often and in charity work. I want them to use their full potential.” I understand Lily’s perspective as most her life she has seen women staying at home rather than fulfilling their passions and careers. It is a societal norm for men to go out and work, and this obviously bothers Lily, like most women. Encouraging women to study, take risks, work, and speak up is a step we have to accomplish in order to reach gender equality. All these years women were told they could not vote, they could not drive, and were devalued by the public. We discussed how important it is to regenerate these women’s confidence, to slowly terminate the trauma the past has caused all women.
Lily is an inspiration to all victims of abuse, and a real advocate for gender equality. I was so honored to hear her story and was able to share it with my community. We can see from her that a woman does not have to experience abuse or discrimination in order to advocate for it. People like her will help heal the world, and make it a better place. She saves one victim at a time from the trauma gender-based violence has caused. Lily has truly inspired me to listen, and help heal women who have experienced injustice in their lives. By forming a tight knit community like Lily did, she has also created a community of women who can help empower each other by going through the same experiences. If you have experienced any type of sexual abuse and/or traumatized by gender discrimination, you can visit her website https://www.lilylaleyilmaz.com/en/about-us/.
Abu-Lughod, Lila. “Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving?” American Anthrolopologist Association. Vol. 104, No, 3 September 2002.
Taylor, Sonya Renee. The Body Is Not an Apology. 2nd ed., Berrett-Koehler, 2021.
NCADV. (2015). Facts about domestic violence and psychological abuse Retrieved from www.ncadv.org