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Subordination of Women

Updated on August 23, 2012
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Hospitable, smart, inventive, patriotic, hard working, unified, family-oriented, talented, intelligent - If you think these words describe people of your nationality, you are not alone.

The words listed above are at the core of the vocabulary used to describe national identities, and while the vocabulary remains relatively invariant from one culture to another, its members resort to naively believing that the description is unique to their particular culture. This belief is as destructive as it is ignorant towards its own members, especially women, who are seen as preservers. Women are perceived to be the carriers of the torch of culture; as long as they don’t fall, the fire will never wane. Such misconceived notions are heavily present in developing countries where people continuously feel the need to struggle for their national identity against the spreading Western influence.

If a Muslim girl reaching her puberty is expected to observe veiling, an Armenian girl of the same age is expected to observe invisible veiling. Muslim women are often at the center of heated discussions about women’s rights, since the veil has been impregnated with the representation of gender inequality. But what about women of other cultures who are physically unmarked, yet are the victim’s of the same double standards. For about 8 years, now, I have been in a constant battle with hardheads who want to convince me of my mission as a preserver of the Armenian identity. I would be happy to comply with their wishes if only they could define for me what an Armenian identity is, how it has stayed constant throughout centuries and how it is fundamentally different from other cultures.

The answer that I often get is the repetition of the above listed words followed by the silence for the remaining questions. And right when I am ecstatic to proclaim my victor over my oppressor, a new and even more infuriating stereotype disrupts my eardrum.

-You see, Armenian women are different, they are humble, obedient, good cooks, wonderful mothers, they are not careerists and put family first, they are able to make sacrifices for their families, instead of running for divorce.

The absolute sad reality is in the fact that men are not alone in this belief. It is quiet normal to hear middle-aged women discussing their daughters’ accomplishments in cooking and baking, while gossiping about those who don’t excel in kitchen art. The image of a good woman is embedded in most of the developing nations. Azadeh Moaveni, in her book, Lipstick Jihad, discusses the image of a good Iranian woman. Moaveni claims that, for the Iranian public, the good woman is the one who is a good housewife, mother, and a cook. A good Iranian woman has to be obedient and subservient, always ready to serve her husband. It seems that women are expected to not only serve their husbands, but also their culture and nation. Some governments enforce morality code in hopes of restraining female sexuality, while others leave the job to the society as people have shown utmost eagerness to police each other through gossip and imposition of shame. Those who do not behave accordingly are simply shunned by the society. For instance, there is a widespread belief among Armenians that there does not exist such a thing as an Armenian prostitute and those who appear at the corners of Yerevan’s streets are all immigrants from neighboring countries. Armenian girls marry as virgins and don’t have any sexual urges. In a word, we are saints. And so are Iranian women according to Iranians and Indian women according to Indians.

If we are all saints, what kind of differences can there be between us? Why are misconceptions still alive?

The belief in these misconceptions is an attempt by each culture to differentiate itself from the other. The idea of “us” vs. “them” is a powerful tool used by every culture to convince itself of its own uniqueness and unfortunately a powerful tool for violence and subordination. Edward Said claims that wars are the result of the belief that “those people over there are not like us and do not appreciate our values.” It is this precise conviction that leads societies to subordinate women as a method of self-preservation.

What are your thoughts on the subject?

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