BY ELIA BILEMJIAN
Raise your hand if you know strong Armenian women who are undervalued for their strengths and accomplishments! Often times, it seems as though within our community, the concept of powerful and outspoken women is an anomaly.
We have come a long way since the darker days in our history, both as a country and a Diaspora. However, we must not — we cannot — neglect addressing certain internal issues beyond national interests. But is it not, in essence, a national issue that almost 50% of our community, our women, are restrained from their full potential, weighing down on our advancement? Եթէ կը փափաքինք որ մեր ժողովուրդը յառաջանայ, ուրեմն ճանչնանք մեր ժողովուրդին կէսը իբրեւ հաւասար ղեկավարներ, պայքարողներ, աշխատողներ…
It’s pretty disturbing that we almost never learn about these inspirational individuals in mainstream Armenian history. I would’ve loved to learn, for example, about Diana Abkar, the honorary consul of the First Armenian Republic to Japan, who was very likely the first modern female diplomat. And of course, also the bold and persistent women fedayees, the freedom fighters who took charge in times of need. In one case, an Ottoman troop felt so ashamed of being defeated by a band of female fedayees that they actually reported losing to men. Հայ կիները միշտ զօրաւոր եղած են. միայն մեր գիտակցութիւնը պակաս եղած է:
Yet how many times do we see women in our common Armenian history books? You know how many I saw when revisiting an Armenian history schoolbook from childhood? Zero. I feel that as a significant chunk of our rich history is erased, our collective potential is cut drastically.
Even in developing these cool biographical posters, many of us had to search long and hard to find information about the lives of these women. This is because, while they have made impressive contributions to Armenian society, as well as society at large, they are often forgotten in our history simply because they were women. Meanwhile, it was much more straightforward to locate information on their male counterparts. In fact, many of these women’s biographies emphasized who their husbands were rather than their contributions. Imagine Serop Pasha being introduced as the husband of Sose Mayrig, or Aram Manukian as the husband of Katarin Zalyan Manukian, a parliamentarian in the first republic. Տղամարդիկը լման կը նկատուին, իբրեւ լման մարդ: Ինչո՞ւ կիները սահմանափակուած են այսպէս. կարծես թէ կէս մարդ են: As a man who believes in equality, I am sick of my fellow female Armenian peers customarily being confined to the one-dimensional roles of մայր, քոյր, աղջիկ, կին — or mother, sister, daughter, wife — over and above anything else they may be.
It should come as no surprise that us men are also affected by this same type of sexism and its rigid, inhibiting gender roles. Those of us who drift towards supposedly unmasculine activities and hobbies, such as dancing or acting, will likely be mocked. We are not seen as natural caregivers when it comes to parenting. It might seem strange for us to show too much affection to little children.
Despite popular belief, feminism is against these negative notions of men. Feminism is not about hating men or making women supreme rulers. Feminism seeks to uplift both men and women towards a common good, a common equality. Ֆեմինիզմը մեր բոլորի՛ն օգուտին համար է: It critically asks the question, “what does it mean to be a man?” Think for a second about the worst insults someone could receive as a man. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it comes down to being effeminate in some way, shape, or form. Տղամարդու մը համար, կնոջ նման ըլլալը ամենէն գէշ բանը կը համարուի: This should tell us about what society thinks of femininity, and how this naturally targets women as inferior. So let’s not forget, it is incredibly one-sided to tackle these stigmas affecting males without addressing the issue of the full system of misogyny that has been ingrained in our society.
You don’t like watching sports? You’re wearing bright-colored clothing? What are you, a girl? Why’d you shave your chest? Ծօ՛, ի՞նչ ըրած ես մազերուդ: You’d rather practice dancing? Երգե՞լ կը սիրես եղէր: What are you, gay or something? As if being female or having a different sexual orientation is wrong.
If we all just blindly follow what we are told is manly, if we just adapt to these narrow restrictions, if we just follow the path of least resistance, we become nothing more than a set of social cues, not a real, live person.
I know I’m not alone when I say that as a man, I often feel embarrassed to express more emotion than I’m supposed to, whatever that even means, especially in public. As if there’s some kind of imaginary boundary, which if passed, takes away from my manhood. It can feel difficult for us sometimes to open up and discuss issues, anxieties, and feelings with others, but that shouldn’t be the case. Emotional intelligence is crucial for men as well as women; suppressing feelings can be harmful for our health and strain our relationships with others. Coping with anger, sadness, and shame should not mean locking it up inside. As we transform beyond these self-imposed limitations, we will all thrive as one.
Since we want men and women to be seen as equals, both in modern society and within our history books, as the AYF United Human Rights Council, we are in the process of developing an accessible educational toolbox that we hope will provide access to valuable resources. It will capture crucial themes, including the hidden presence of diverse women in our progress, and the need to approach masculinity through a more honest and flexible lens. Keep up with us!
The takeaway should be that we want to break the constraints that are placed on both women and men, eliminating any sense that either of them need to fit into a specific gender role. As author Jennifer Manoukian has expressed, we need to dissect and extract the aspects of our Armenian identity that are damaging to ourselves. Եւ ինչպէս որ մեր այսօրուա ներկայացուած կիներէն մէկը՝ պատմաբան Լեռնա Էքմէքճիօղլուն, ըսած է, «Աւանդութիւնը ու հաւասարութիւնը իրարամերժ չեն»: So let all of us, men and women, promote and embody the change that our community thirsts for. Կեցցե՜ն հայ կիները: