The powerhouse of podcasting in Turkey
Hazal is the founder of Mental Klitoris - a Turkish podcast created to destigmatise conversations about sexuality and intimacy. With a long history of working in media and academia, Hazal is intent on defying censorship through informative forms of entertainment and news.
We had the opportunity to meet Hazal while visiting Istanbul and chat about the Sasssy approach she takes in life - from podcasts to personal lifestyle choices. Tune in to hear the full conversation and how Hazal's upbringing has shaped her choices today.
We meet Hazal Sipahi in the center of Istanbul amongst the hustle and bustle of the city's streets. Wrapped up in a big scarf and greeting us with a warm hug, Hazal walks and talks about her current projects while we weave the streets back to her home. Half an hour later, sitting across from one another at Hazal's desk, she tells us this is where all the podcast production magic happened. Since starting in 2020, and with almost 50 episodes under her belt, 'Mental Klitoris' became hugely popular, racking up an impressive following on IG and leading to Hazal talking publically about her work on multiple platforms and conferences.
Besides developing her podcast, Hazal's passion for changing the way people think about gender and sexuality has fed into her work for civil society projects helping support and raise awareness of domestic violence and sexual health within Turkey. This is something she juggles alongside her current role for a mainstream news outlet developing documentary-style videos that share stories focusing on intersectional conversations regarding topics such as body hair and being child-free. These projects led Hazal to talk with women, queer men and straight men about the rejection of motherhood and how it leads to further judgment in Turkish society. She tells us how "There's more pressure on women to become mothers; if your reject having a child, there's more pressure on the women's shoulders, more judgments, more explanations required by the women". This is just one example of the way Hazal is actively destigmatising conversations to help others feel less alone.
There's more pressure on women to become mothers; if you reject having a child, there's more pressure on the women's shoulders, more judgments, more explanations required by the women
With so many different projects on the go, we ask Hazal how she manages to stay motivated and drive projects forward. She explains how "I'm in a period of my life right now where if I'm working on something I try to actualise it. Whereas before I was mostly in the preparations phase. Now I'm in the application phase". This is something that takes us back to Hazal's younger years and the academic path that led her to the point she's at today.
Describing herself as a high-achiever, Hazal won a scholarship from her University while studying journalism, which led her to study for a year in Washington DC as well as having the opportunity to explore the world. During her summer holidays, Hazal would travel to other institutes taking journalism courses and developing her knowledge. "I was seeking out those opportunities and had the privilege to be a good student, focusing on my studies and not having to work at the same time. And I tried to take the best out of it". This led Hazal to call herself a professional student because she was being paid by her University to study. She tells us with a cheeky giggle how "I don't believe in paying for the education, I don't approve of that as a principle". Following this mindset, Hazal went on to complete a Masters in Cultural policy and management, focusing her thesis on art censorship in Turkey. Because she was writing in English, Hazal explains how she could discuss the reality of Turkey, share her opinions and talk to people from international scenes without risking her safety. Had she been writing in Turkish, discussing these topics would have been a much more censored experience.
I could write stuff in English and talk to people internationally about what's going on in Turkey...without getting into trouble
This freedom to talk more openly had a huge influence on Hazal, she explains how"it gave me the opportunity to speak louder when I was not in Turkey and make things heard outside of Turkey". Having developed her confidence and broadened her knowledge, Hazal went on to create Mental Klitoris as a safe space for people to talk without judging themself or others.
When discussing the process of building her podcast and finding her voice, Hazal explains how it was a challenging time of ups and downs. Due to the research process being a fairly lonely job, Hazal muses over how this "could have been why my preparation stage took so long because most the time I was alone in my thoughts and plans and when I discovered something in my life, there was resistance from my family, the people around me. It was hard to get that acceptance." Even when people did show tolerance, it came with being called derogatory names or experiencing people pinpointed her for all things related to sexist behaviour. However, after accepting that not everyone had to agree with her, Hazal felt a lightness "I accepted that I don't need to be loved by everybody and I don't have to love them. So it was easier to create and find a community, choosing who to spend time with". The longer the podcast ran, the larger Hazal's community became, echoing the importance of her work and the conversations she was encouraging.
I accepted that I don't need to be loved by everybody and I don't have to love them. So it was easier to create and find a community, choosing who to spend time with
It was during Hazal's teenage years that she first noticed inequalities between gender and the differences in the treatment of men and women. However, she only started to understand feminism after becoming more political. Over the course of developing Mental Klitoris, Hazal explains how, from there, her knowledge of intersectional feminism grew. "At the start of the podcast, I wasn't so aware of some inclusive terms. But then I got constructive criticism from my listeners [saying] that I was assigning gender to genitals. And after that my language evolved and it became more and more inclusive". When discussing the importance of intersectionality, Hazal tells us how "When I started Mental Klitoris there wasn't so much inclusive sex-positive content in Turkish, so I always thought what would 15/16 yr old Hazal want to learn. Especially because I couldn't speak English at that time," This has led Hazal to try and create a vocabulary in the Turkish language to bring certain concepts or terms onto the radar. "I try to come up with an idea and I want people to talk about it... I try to translate stealthing, blue balls, slut shaming, dick shaming for example". All topics that we are equally grateful to Hazal for sharing.
When I started Mental Klitoris there wasn't so much inclusive sex-positive content in Turkish, so I always thought 'what would 15/16 yr old Hazal want to learn?'
As we come to the end of our conversation, we ask Hazal about her Sassy side. She tells us how it has been a process of about making peace with her body and sexuality, coming to terms with her bodily fluids, and general human things such as farting, menstruating and "eating my bogies". She tells us how, from the age of 6, Hazal felt a curiosity toward sexual exploration which led to her being slut shamed. However, now she is "owning my slutness" by embracing a sense of confidence and joy towards her libido and slutty side. Moving into a better mindset around body image has also been equally important. "I don't want to diet, I don't want to limit myself. I want to accept myself for who I am but it's a bumpy road". Recognising how quitting dieting/clean eating/wellness ("whatever you want to call it!") culture has been a good step, Hazal explains how she still has feelings of shame or frustrations around our body. When discussing how she hopes to better this, she explains "I want to have a better body image by freeing myself rather than restricting myself... I want to make peace with my contradictions!" As we leave Hazal, her thoughts and opinions in our ears, we are confident that the journey she is on will not only liberate herself but also those who engage with her work. It is with Sass, courage, and deeply moving passion that we see a bright future for Hazal and all she is capable of achieving, personally and professionally.
When do you feel most confident?
After a shower, being wet maybe! And also when I'm doing something I know I'm good at doing.
What key experience has shaped you positively?
Starting Mental Klitoris and the whole experience - I've learnt so much
One dream you want to come true?
For the Turkish government to change to something better.
One law you want to change?
This government withdrew from the Istanbul convention, which is an international convention which protects people against domestic violence, violence against women and LGBTI+ people as well as everyone. I want this convention to be back and applied.
What's the best thing about being you?
Having the experience to know that the negative and depressive times will pass
Podcast sponsored by JOYclub UK