Reflections as an Armenian Woman on International Women’s Day
I often think about what my life would have been like if my parents had decided to weather the Iranian Revolution and stay put in Tehran. At least on a superficial level I would look different, forced to wear a chador if and when I decided to step out of the house, but would my life be any different? Would I still have chosen the same career path? Would my priorities change? As a woman, there is little doubt that I would be subject to some kind of discrimination, certainly if I was involved in a movement or in media. Having been raised in the United States, I will never know what my future in Iran would have been like and because I have never lived in Armenia, I cannot speak from first hand experience about the trials and tribulations Armenian women face in their country.
As an Armenian-American however, a title I have finally begun making peace with, I can speak about the experiences, struggles, disappointments and long road ahead to progress women who struggle to blend two identities face.
This two-fold identity is as strong and binding as a long, interconnected strand of DNA, and the pressures of both are equally distributed throughout an Armenian-American women’s body.
Two polarizing tides are always battling with each other, one always overriding the other, but never managing to leave enough room for equal footing.
Although I feel fortunate enough to have had parents who never once told me what I could or couldn’t do on the basis of my gender, on International Women’s Day, here is my take on a few issues Armenian-American women face.
At the heart of Armenian culture lies the nuclear family. Its tentacles reach outward in every direction, having a hold in every aspect of your life and the decisions you make for it. While this might keep you grounded and focused, the traditional expectations piled on you in a Western, progressive setting is many times too much to handle.
Conquering the world of marriage and dating is perhaps the best example. You’ll be sitting quietly, at a family gathering, sipping some tea and eating baklava, and your grandma, aunt, cousin, [insert relative here] will wander over and sure enough, ask you the age old question you don’t want to hear.
“So…when are you getting married?”
You look down, trying to rack your brain for an intelligent answer to a stupid question and you draw a blank, and then, before you can answer, the microphone is snatched.
“You know, you don’t know have much time. Do you want to be alone for the rest of your life?”
Armenian relatives and family members have this amazing charm of making a young 20-something girl feel like a 60-year-old woman with five cats. It’s precious. The fact is that Armenians, just like other close knit cultures, have an obsession with marriage. And babies. If you’ve reached the old age of 25, and still, no outrageously expensive diamond has appeared on your finger, then that’s it. You better give up hope right now and build yourself a bunker under the ground, because you’re doomed. If you can’t get married, what’s the purpose of your life? And worse, if you don’t pop out some kids no later than a few years of being married, what will you ever have to look forward to? Clearly, you are tarnishing the good name and fortune of your family, right?
I have heard stories like this and I have experienced some of it by extended relatives myself, albeit not as extreme as the scenario above, but as an Armenian-American woman, there are a few choice words I have for this particular mentality, mainly, that there is no time line on love, marriage and family. There is no, “you must” and no “you have to.” You are not less of a person, less of an Armenian, and certainly not less of a woman if you decide to not get married, or not have kids, or have kids and get married in your 30s, 40s or 50s. Your life can play out however you want it to. There is no cookie cutter formula you must follow.
To Armenian-American women whose goal in life it is to find a money making Armenian man, I want to say, you are worth so much more than that. You define yourself and you (not your mother or grandmother) are in charge of your own life and you are entitled to march to the beat of your own drum.
Education & Career
It is interesting how Armenian parents push their daughters to get married and start their lives, yet discourage them from going away to college and carving out career paths that don’t involve being a doctor, dentist or lawyer. Even in 2010, I hear stories from college age women who have settled on local community colleges or universities, even with acceptance in to some of the best universities the U.S. has to offer, because their parents denied them the opportunity to be away from home. Many of those who stay near their families are encouraged to choose majors not on the basis of passion or creativity, but of money. The best gift parents can give their children, they feel, is a safety net lined by dollar bills. This attachment causes a plethora of problems for talented women who now feel that anything that involves risk shouldn’t be an option and the possibility of exploring more than just the 25 mile circle their in is paved with fear.
It’s not un-Armenian to move out before you’re married or to go hundreds or thousands of miles away from your family in order to pursue the passions you hold dear to your heart. It is however, blatant discrimination and bad parenting to never allow your child to flourish the way they want to, especially when you’ve come to a country that gives women the opportunities of lifetimes from countries in which opportunities are not readily available for women.
Guess what? Armenian women have sex. Lots of it, most of them before marriage. You know what else? It doesn’t make them dirty, used, less valuable or shameful. It also, has nothing to do with faith or God and most of the time, it has absolutely no connection to yielding offspring. Women enjoy sex. Armenian women enjoy sex. They find pleasure in it and no one has the right to tell a woman that it’s “amot” to explore their sexuality.
A woman has a relationship with her body, a body that she owns, a body that is under no law, no rules from anyone else. A sexually active, responsible Armenian woman is not less of a woman, in fact, I would argue to say that she is more of a woman. Armenian women, have sex, but arm yourself with the most important of tools: not religion, but knowledge. Educate yourself on STDs, about HIV/AIDS, about contraceptives, about your bodies and do not give a second thought to any man who has the audacity to tell you or make you believe that you are less of an Armenian, or less of an Armenian woman because you did the same thing he’s probably been doing for years.
My ending thoughts are this: Armenian women are strong, confident human beings who should be given equal opportunities and equal rights in all aspects of life and should be respected by not only men and women alike, but they should respect themselves, their wants, desires, needs and their bodies. Women, do not feel obligated to carry cultural crosses. Being a strong, independent woman doesn’t replace your Armenian culture, it enhances it.