“Cam Tavanlar” (Glass Ceilings) was always going to be an unconventional summer dizi. Just how different, we soon found out from the very first scene of episode 1, when the series’ narrator declares:
“This is not a [Cinderella] story. Leyla is a completely different girl. She is not a Princess, and she is not looking for a Prince. She can stand up for herself, always finds a way to solve issues on her own, and believes in her own choices. What is most amazing, however, is that this girl makes it all seem completely normal…’
No naïve damsel in distress, waiting for a dashing prince to save her? No male boss/female subordinate romance? No maternal expectations to fulfill, paternal alcoholism to take care of, brotherly abuse to avoid, or sisterly jealousy to be wary of? No misunderstandings, lies, tricks, or pretensions? No family feud, revenge plot, or mafia war? Someone, please pinch me, because this is probably just a dream... Or is this really the one show, which defies all the dejá vu expectations of a Turkish summer dizi?
Truth be told, “Cam Tavanlar” does include at least one familiar trope: rich boy/poor girl fall in love. Cem is the heir of a wealthy family, while Leila was both poor and orphaned at an early age. Since then, however, she has managed to climb the professional ladder. Therefore, adult Leyla can technically be classified as middle-class... But let’s not get ahead of the story!
"Cam Tavanlar” narrates the tale of Leyla Yüksel, interpreted by the beautiful Bensu Soral, known for “Tatlı Küçük Yalancılar,” “Içerde,” “Organize İşler 2,” and the upcoming film “Mest-i Aşk.” She is an established professional, who created a nationally successful chain of high-quality, environmentally-conscious, and socially responsible restaurants that is slated for overseas expansion. Just when she expects to be rewarded for her stellar accomplishments with a well-deserved promotion, her company (Q-PERA) inexplicably hires Cem to replace her. Cem Kumcu is interpreted by the young but remarkably accomplished actor Kubilay Aka, whom viewers will recognize from “Vatamin Sensin,” “Çukur,” “Love 101” and the film “Aşk Bu Mu?”
The official motivation for Leyla’s replacement is that Cem is a recognized manager in the hospitality sector with extensive foreign experience. The real reasons, however, have more to do with his gender and high-powered connections than with his professional resumé. And with the all-male Q-PERA's board prejudices about women in the workplace. The twist in “Cam Tavanlar” soon emerges from Cem and Leila’s shared past. Through a series of flashbacks, we learn that they fell in love -- at first sight! -- several years back while attending the same university. However, they ostensibly failed to part on amicable terms. When Leyla is offered a humiliating low-level position in exchange for stepping down from her management role, she resigns with pride and promises to fight against the injustice of it all.
Leyla is a strong, resourceful, hard-working, competent, disciplined, positive-thinking, and independent young woman. She is also very beautiful, but never uses her looks to gain a professional advantage. She is a force of nature with uncommon determination and remarkable problem-solving skills. To get ahead in life, she relies exclusively on herself. Her only moral support comes from the woman, who adopted her when she was orphaned as an 8-year-old child. Leyla knows struggle and sacrifice. Luckily, however, she never had to immolate herself on the altar of someone else’s stupidity or irresponsibility. Differently put, far from representing a fragile, innocent, and self-sacrificing soul, Leila is very confident, highly professional, strategic, and entirely self-motivated.
On the other hand, Cem is a privileged young man. Born in an upper-class family, he nevertheless worked hard in life to gain his deserved reputation as a successful business leader. He is smart, handsome, dedicated, and kind-hearted. Most importantly, Cem is naturally charismatic, progressive, and socially gifted. People unconsciously gravitate towards him, but he is neither a womanizer nor a chauvinist pig.
The first episode focuses squarely on the two leads, Cem and Leyla, alternating between flashbacks and current interactions. Each scene reveals an additional piece of the puzzle. While there is still much to learn about their ill-fated love story, their initial romance appears genuine. So does the mix of attraction and resentment, which characterizes their current relationship. Indeed, no two people can possibly continue to harbor such reciprocal animosity, unless they still deeply care about each other. Furthermore, Leyla’s restaurants are unmistakably inspired by the place, where Cem took her on their first date. An event, which the series narrates in detail to the notes of Erik Satie’s mesmerizing “Gnossienne” No.1 .
Bensu Soral and Kubilay Aka are surprisingly well cast in their roles. With her smoldering passion and resolute determination, Leyla is almost diametrically opposed to the relatively hesitant and impassive Melek -- the character, which Bensu interpreted in “Içerde.” Since 2017, she has clearly matured as an actress. Likewise, Cem’s calm, responsible, and controlled demeanor is a far cry from the irascible “bad boy” roles, which Kubilay has interpreted thus far. With this series, he is expanding his acting range, in ways that will prevent him from being typecast in the future. If “Cem Tavanlar” is successful, Leyla and Cem may be career-defining interpretations for both of these talented Turkish young actors.
“Cam Tavanlar” is produced by Ojo Pictures, founded by Kerem Çatay and Ömer Özgüner, and airs weekly on Wednesdays on Show TV. It is directed by Fehmi Öztürk, known for “Iliski Durumu: Karisik,” “Bizim Hikaye,” and “Yazak Elma.” The clever script is penned by none other than Meriç Acemi -- the author of several successful series such as "Kiralık Aşk", "Ufak Tefek Cinayetler," and the Netflix original "Love 101."
As of episode 1, the villain in this story is not a single individual, but an entire gender represented by the all-male board of the Q-PERA group. In several cringe-worthy scenes, the series intelligently illustrates how these company men consistently treat Leyla differently on the basis of their deeply ingrained gender stereotypes. And how, despite her brilliant accomplishments, they pass her over for a promotion solely on account of her sex. With no notable family or “protector” behind her, Leyla is easily disposable. And dispose of her they do, in the course of an excruciating scene that is likely to retraumatize anyone, who has ever been the target of gender discrimination in the workplace.
The occupational sexism, which we see Leyla stalwartly endure since the start of the episode, is sadly familiar to any woman, who has ever exercised a profession at a high level without being the founder of an organization (or the wife, or close relative thereof.) Leyla, however, staunchly refuses to become a victim. She takes enormous pride in her work, and always finds a way to remain motivated despite the innumerable obstacles she finds along the way.
According to the International Labor Organization (ILO,) achieving the goal of improving women’s employment is a priority in Turkey, where the labor force exhibits a significant gender gap characterized by low female participation, low employment opportunities, and comparatively lower pay for women. Indeed, the 2019 data show that women constitute almost half of Turkey’s population (40 million,) but the labor participation rate is only 38% for women and 79% for men.
On paper, Turkish women can exercise several legal rights in the workplace, which are similar to those found in advanced Western countries. Unfortunately, the mechanisms for implementing these labor rights still leave a lot to be desired. Moreover, many women In Turkey continue to work in the informal economy, where they have no legal protection against gender discrimination. Urbanization and the consequent decrease in agricultural employment, the low female education level outside of the big cities, the weight of domestic responsibilities, and other socio-cultural conditions are frequently cited as factors affecting women’s employment in Turkey. In particular, employers’ stereotypical beliefs about women’s “primary” traditional roles as wives and mothers (and consequent weak commitment to their careers), emotional vulnerability, and leadership potential constitute key obstacles to female advancement in the workplace.
As “Cam Tavanlar” illustrates, Turkish companies often fail to promote women to higher positions, even when they have the same qualifications and experience as men. 2014 OECD Data indeed show that Turkey is one of the lowest-performing members in terms of managerial and decision-making positions held by women, with a rank of 125th among 142 countries. In particular, while 6.6% of Turkish male professionals are employed in management positions, the corresponding figure for female professionals is only 2.4%. Finally, in most sectors, women generally earn less than men. This gender pay gap surprisingly persists, even when taking education levels into account.
For those, who prefer substantive dizis that creatively address key historical, social, and psychological issues to traditional rom-coms, “Cam Tavanlar” is off to a great start. The only other summer series, which explores the gender-related issues faced by professional women in Turkey with somewhat comparable seriousness, is “Kiralık Aşk” (written by the same brilliant screenwriter, Meriç Acemi.) In KA, however, Defne’s professional development appears always secondary to the fulfillment of her romance with the artsy, cultivated, and extremely open-minded Ömer. "Cam Tavanlar" offers instead less idealized male characters, but a more in-depth and nuanced understanding of women’s condition in the workplace.
Furthermore, “Cem Tavanlar” has thus far been more realistic than romantic. The scene in which Leyla gets unjustly fired, just because a male-only board feels more comfortable with a man, who comes from their own milieu, is as brutal as it can be. Women remain indeed vulnerable to being savagely robbed of their honest and high-quality work (when not of their profession altogether) by unscrupulous colleagues or superiors ready to jump at every demonstration of weakness that might be labeled as “female.”
The sad thing, however, is that it is not only men who do so. Regrettably, also women in power cut down other women. They essentially replicate the same obtuse patriarchal hierarchy, abuse, and disregard for meritocracy, which they pretend to oppose. Just like the men in “Cam Tavanlar,” they do not hesitate to steal a colleague’s work, slander her, and/or sabotage her -- regardless of the excellent quality of her work -- whenever they perceive her as “different,” or as a direct threat to their supremacy. For example, older single women often undermine married young mothers and deny them labor rights, which did not yet exist when they entered the workforce. Entitled women, who grew up with innumerable privileges, continue to sabotage the careers of fellow female employees, who stem from a lower social class. And women, who honestly speak their minds and/or passionately express their views are easily labeled as “aggressive” or “hysterical” by female colleagues, who themselves excel in the art of stabbing others in the back.
In conclusion, perhaps the best trait of “Cam Tavanlar” is that – unlike most summer dizis -- it fails to romanticize the workplace or hide the toll that professional injustice can take on even the most resilient of women. Indeed, should it continue to scrutinize the “glass ceilings” that stunt women’s professional growth as intelligently and judiciously as it did in the first episode, “Cam Tavanlar” may turn out to be one of the most thought-provoking summer dizis ever. On the other hand, were it to degenerate -- like innumerable previous Turkish series -- into endless and pointless bickering about nothing, “Cam Tavanlar” would sadly represent a missed opportunity to draw attention to gender-based discrimination in the workplace.
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