Myths about "Dangers" of Feminism in Armenian Society

Myths about "Dangers" of Feminism in Armenian Society

Creator: Women's Resource Centre. All rights reserved.

 

As an ideology feminism is almost two-centuries old.  It has played an important role both in changing societies and individuals.  The myths and stereotypes of feminism prevalent in the third-wave feminism are a proof to the long road women’s right advocates have traversed. The presentation of myths about feminism circulated in the Armenian society should start from the study of stereotypes in countries where feminist approaches have received extensive legal and cultural legitimization. To this effect, scholarly research and web publications[1] have been studied which allow for the understanding of most common myths circulating about feminism and feminists. [2]

Let us start from the existing myths about feminism:

  • Feminism is based on misandry (or feminists hate men);

This myth has been rightfully categorized as an oxymoron because one cannot hate those with whom she wants to be on equal status.

  • Because of feminism, women gain at the expense of men.

This myth is a result of distorted perception of the meaning of feminism. The goal of feminism is to liberate both men and women from the social norms that affect both sexes. In patriarchal societies, men are taught to be emotionally detached as much as possible, because that state is associated with strength and power. Not only are these standards harmful for health, but also restrictive in social and emotional terms which are clearly manifested in the case of elderly men’s isolation from their families. It is obvious that feminism pursues support, not alienation.

  • Feminism is only for the middle-class women (especially white women).  It is a means of entertainment for them.

Clearly this myth is very unfair because it views feminism not as an urgent need, but rather, as an “entertainment” for the rich. At the same time, this myth is most easily refutable because a simple statistical analysis of feminist activists worldwide represents wide engagement of various races, nationalities, social and cultural groups.

  • Feminism is only for women.

There are male feminists. Perhaps they are outnumbered by women, but the number of black anti-racist activists also exceeds the number of white anti-racists.  This is natural because the violation of rights is intolerable first of all for the victims themselves.

According to feminist scholar Noah Berlatsky[3],

"[s]ometimes male feminists, myself not excluded, imagine we’re brave allies, altruistically saving women by standing up for them. ... But dreams about “men saving women” are just another version of misogyny — and, in this case in particular, totally backwards. Misogyny is a cage for everyone. When I call myself a male feminist, I’m not doing it because I think I’m going to save women. I’m doing it because I think it’s important for men to acknowledge that as long as women aren’t free, men won’t be either." 

In addition to legends describing feminism, feminists in general are regarded to be devoid of femininity, haters of motherhood and marriage, and emotionally unstable women. The discussion and negation of these legends is superfluous since a simple observation will prove them wrong.

By and large, these myths are more descriptive in nature. It is noteworthy that despite all the stereotypes, basic feminist ideas are not questioned among the Europeans and Americans.  An exception is religious fundamentalists who see “dark forces” in feminism, a belief expressed by Path Robinson, a Christian fundamentalist:  “The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians."

In western societies, the mentioned approach is considered to be extremely marginal and is not taken seriously.  Rather, it reflects the fear and insecurity of a traditional man.  By contrast, this kind of opinions is quite widely spread in the Armenian society and, as my research shows, accepted its members.   

A number of methods and approaches have been applied to mark out perceptions of feminism in Armenia: 

  • Content analysis of internet and media publications including blogs and social media publications (over 120 publications).
  • Analysis of data collected through eight focus group interviews to detect attitudes towards feminism.  The interviews were conducted in Yerevan and Vanadzor. Four interviews were held in each city of which two with women - one group with higher education and the other with secondary, and two with men, with the same educational parameters. 
  • Observations and conclusions made as an outcome of teaching and practicing social work. 

First of all, it should be noted that during the past three-four years the discourse on women’s rights employed by state officials has somewhat changed in its character. The officials are more cautious and positive in their remarks about feminist movement as a result of international commitments that our country has taken on the international legal level (one should consider the fact that international and intergovernmental organizations are funding a number of projects and this money is important for Armenia’s budget). However, in media ideas about feminism are more radical and more aggressive in nature. In addition, this radical rejection is frequently expressed in everyday life situations, and is often emitted into social media.

The first thing that struck out during the focus group interviews was the revelation that the majority of participating women and men in Yerevan and Vanadzor, both with higher and secondary education backgrounds, have no idea about feminism. They found it difficult to define "feminism" and were unable to speak about its impact. Clearly, in a situation like this it is easier to create false perceptions among people. 

Both in the researched publications and public speeches, and the focus group discussion, the terms "danger" and "threat" are frequently used to describe feminism, and this is common for the Armenian society.

The “dangers” of feminism can be categorized as follows:

  • Feminists want to corrupt the Armenian family. Because of feminism, the number of divorces has increased and women have become "immoral." Feminism is against motherhood, and has caused birth rate decline which puts the future of the nation under threat.

This approach is best exemplified in blogs posted on the Internet "statistics:"

"It is necessary to recall the consequences of the 30 years of triumphant march of feminism in Europe and the United States. First of all, the birth rate fell dramatically. In Europe it became twice less than the required minimum for national preservation. At the same time, the number of immigrants to Europe increased. The number of divorces significantly increased, and in post-World War II period, fatherlessness became a natural thing.  Women became freer than ever, but their security significantly decreased." [4]

This is only one example in publication of this type.  It is noteworthy though that the authors of these publications do not bring any reliable statistical data or facts. Furthermore, they eschew real support. The supporters of these views are greatly surprised to find out about the positive impact of feminism on child rearing and birth rate of the Swedish model. Moreover, those in view of feminism as a threat to the national preservation are often very badly informed about the scale of problems of sex-selective abortions or the problem of neglected and abandoned children.

The focus groups once again confirmed the fact that "immoral" normally means "sexual freedom" and is used only in reference to women. No clear answers were received to the question if men also became immoral after divorce.

  • Another myth prescribed to feminism is that it encourages and promotes homosexuality, which threatens the future of the nation. Feminists hate men, and they are all homosexual. 

Although the mentioned myth is globally spread, it has obtained some particular “features” in the Armenian context. Firstly, being a feminist is directly linked to women's sexual dissatisfaction and failure in private life. That is, a woman who is "normal," has a family, and a man that satisfies her sexual and financial needs, cannot be a feminist.

Thus, feminism is regarded to be a defensive reaction of wretched women who are unable to form a happy "feminine" life with a "real man." They begin to propagate homosexuality to take revenge on men, and are overwhelmed by hatred. This in turn creates another trend. Men are held responsible for the “emergence” and spread of feminism with their deficient masculinity and “weaknesses.” This approach is more striking in a web publication cited below:

"We have to admit that reality dictates its own rules, and these rules can sometimes be more than cruel. To survive, women had to deal with the reality. An Armenian woman, preserving her traditional role of “guardian of the hearth”, is also changing. She is more educated, more self-confident and stronger. Sometimes she is forced to take on not only the role of a guardian, but also the roles of protector and maker of the hearth. Examples are many, and ignoring them is stupid and absurd. But all this takes place not in the name of freedom and feminism, but under the pressures of reality. Naturally, in the near future this will lead to the emergence of a new generation of women who are confident and self-reliant. And this should not be blamed on "underground dark forces that want to destroy the country," but ourselves, and above all, the men.  Recently our men are broken. I am brave enough to admit this. The generation of our fathers and grandfathers with true masculine perceptions, is unfortunately, a history."[5]

And, lastly, the myth that holds feminism as a major "threat" is as follows:

  • Feminists are agents of foreign countries whose aim is to destroy the Armenian culture, which is based on "natural" and "moral" gender division of roles.
    This myth is clearly not far from Robinson’s view.  However, while Robinson believed that feminists had emerged to destroy the capitalist way of life, the Armenian anti-feminists blame feminists for being US agents who spread “American” and “European” lifestyles, fight against and aim at destroying the “real, natural Armenian way of being.”

During a focus group interview, a participant asked the moderator: "What, you want the American reality for us?”  When asked how it was in America, and what was “bad and dangerous,” no clear answer was received.

This approach is very well expressed in the following statements:

“On many occasions we have talked about the fascination of our nation by foreign cultures, and the many manifestations of this fascination. This time, however, I want to talk about one of the biggest harms of 21st century, that is, feminism." [6]

"An Armenian feminists. This expression in itself sounds strange to ears. It seems absurd and even ridiculous.  The concepts of “feminism” and “an Armenian Woman” do not fit into the perceptions of an “average Armenian man”.” [7]

At that time, an interesting tendency was observed during the analysis. In media and web publications, as well as during the focus group interviews, most of those considering feminism as “evil” emphasize that they are not against equality between men and women, but are against feminism. That is to say, the term “feminism” itself is perceived to be a dangerous phenomenon, because it is a foreign, and not a national phenomenon. 

The considerations of feminism as foreign, non-Armenian and dangerous are closely related to the anti-Western mood and are vividly expressed with the growth of pro-Russian sentiments. It should be noted that the myth of “feminists as foreign agents” is in full compliance with the prevailing moods in Russian society. [8]

The attribution of feminism to “foreign roots” is surprising because still back in 12th century Mkhitar Gosh paid great attention to gender issues in his Datastanagirk (The Code). He discussed in detail gender issues that were related to organization of relations between women and men (mostly marriage), starting from marriage agreements to terms and consequences of divorce.[9] Other thinkers followed Gosh, including Shahamir Shahamirian. His pamphlet entitled “Trap of Glory” (Vorogayt Parats) published in 1773 and considered to be the first Armenian Constitution, clearly reflects the non-discriminatory, feminist and tolerant attitude of the author to issues of equality between women and men. According to Shahamirian, all human beings, whether women or men, Armenian or a foreigner, must have equal rights and receive equal pay for work, as well as enjoy equal attitude toward themselves.[10]

As a matter of fact, this was a different stage in the Armenian legal consciousness in which men and women were perceived as equal. Added to these views could be a series of reflections on the role of Armenian queens, heroines, scholars and artists.  Overall, it is obvious that the myths of  "feminism as a foreign element" is not only a sign of poor knowledge of one’s own national history, but it also directly reflects attempts to discredit the political and ideological movement, the so-called "elitist" movement, which is aimed at the reinforcement of equal rights.

In conclusion it can be said that in Armenia myths of feminism and its “dangers” first of all stem from ignorance and basic social illiteracy, which is put to use by the conservative groups to protect their own power and resources.

Discrediting feminism in a very convenient position for all men and misogynist women who are exploiting the Armenian women not only through nurturing endless self-sacrifice and perseverance in them since early childhood, but also by forcing them to be grateful for the opportunity of self-sacrifice and self-destruction. 

The only solution to the situation is raising awareness and educating not only by talking about the problem,   but also by familiarizing the public with the good that feminism has already brought about for them.  A lot of Armenians today do not realize that many of the opportunities that are taken for granted have been in fact achieved as a result of feminist struggles, starting from women’s access to education and ending with voting rights.   

As feminists we must realize that our actions should not take the shape of club activities.  Rather, our actions should be directed at the citizens with the goal of educating them and giving them the opportunity to change their lives for the better.

Let us now respond to the question if feminism is dangerous for the Armenian society. For a society to which family and institutional violence is common, that considers human rights as important, and rejects democracy and progress, feminism is without doubt dangerous because it disturbs the “nice” and “comfortable” authoritarian and patriarchal status quo.  For the Armenian society, however, it is a necessary and remedying factor.

 

Notes:

[1]Robin E. Roy, Kristin S. Weibust and Carol T. Miller, “Effects of Stereotypes About Feminists on Feminist Self-Identification,” Psychology of Women Quarterly (June 2007) 31: 2, pp. 146-56;

Andrea Cornwall, Elizabeth Harrison and Ann Whitehead, Feminisms in Development: Contradictions, Contestations and Challenges (Zed Books: 2007);

Laurie A. Rudman and Kimberly Fairchild, “The F Word: Is Feminism Incompatible With Beauty And Romance?” Psychology of Women Quarterly (June 2007), 31:2, pp. 125–36.

[3]Katie Mcdonough, “Men Can Be Feminists But It’s Actually Really Hard Work” (June 9, 2014), http://www.salon.com/
http://www.salon.com/2014/06/09/men_can_be_feminists_but_its_actually_really_hard_work/

[9] Gohar Shahnazaryan, Social Construction of Gender: Macro and Micro Theories (Yerevan: 2007), p. 152 :

[10]Ibid.

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