Fatma Çetinkaya (46) is one of the many women who works as a house cleaner. A mother of four grown children, she is outspoken about her financial problems:
“The money I earn is not enough to get by. And I am not alone. What can I do with your bridges, roads, and airports you built? I can’t use them and probably never will.”
The total number of the so-called “cleaning ladies,” who mostly work without social security, is estimated to be around one million. Their working conditions are harsh and unmonitored. However, it’s sometimes the only way for women without education to earn a living.
However, as the Turkish economy shrinks, more and more people are losing their jobs. In November, the official number of unemployed was announced as 4.3 million. And even those who have jobs struggle to pay their rent and bills.
Some independent news outlets have tried to portray how people are actually living under these circumstances. One of them is BBC Turkish’ video series on “the people who just scrape by.”
Çetinkaya was one of the many who gave an interview for the BBC Turkish series. But her words obviously angered the pro-AKP media and social media users online.
Her past social media posts were dug into, and pictures she posted on Instagram from a Bosphorus boat tour were used as “evidence.” She was slammed as a “fake” for “having parties on luxury yachts and complaining about the economy.”
The pictures were taken at a women-only engagement party Çetinkaya was invited to. She does not own a yacht, nor can she rent one, but merely posing at a social occasion made her a target.
What’s more, the BBC was slammed by the pro-government media as “targeting the Turkish economy” by pulling an “perception operation.” Mind you, this became a popular term for any critic of the government and its policies, targeting people by associating them with “foreign forces trying to destroy Turkey.”
The pro-governmental media, which usually targets well-known individuals or critics, targets ordinary people as well. But what’s perhaps more worth talking about is how the life of the poor living in cities has changed — and how they are perceived.
According to a London-based social media company, Turkey is among the top 10 countries in terms of social media usage. The number of Instagram users in Turkey has risen by 2.8 percent in 2020, reaching a total number of 38 million users.
Five years ago, it was unthinkable that a poor person would have an Instagram account. Now, almost everyone who owns a mobile phone has a social media account. And yes, poor people also have phones! As the rich and popular are showing off their lifestyles, others who are not that well off try to show off their best: A new outfit, a lunch or dinner that can only be afforded as a special occasion, or scenes of how happy and loved we are. This may not be the reality, but just a way of showing another “self” to the rest of the world.
People from all classes and of all ages and ideologies fill popular streets and places in Istanbul on the weekends take pictures “for Insta” are mostly trying to indicate that they, too, have something nice to “share.”
They, too, want to live a good life. Or just to be a part of it, even for a few seconds. And they, too, want to show off.
“The image of the poor still in our minds is of the homeless, or beggars, and the image of the working class is of workers earning their living with their muscles,” tweeted Sinan Erensü, a political ecologist. “But these images are not the only ones that represent their class and poorness.” Erensü argues that the distance between the 20-something freelancer with her laptop at a café and Miss Çetinkaya cleaning houses, but taking pictures at a friend’s party, might be less than we think.
The definition of poor, and maybe even of class is changing. As financial problems grow, no political movement or ideology can really grasp what they want, or how to address them.