When Rosie Molinary visited our class, she spoke about the way in which social expectations can be both reflected in, and dictated by, media and advertisement. These norms are internalized by the audience and inevitably find their way into public discourse. This process is vividly displayed by gender inequality in Armenian culture, economy, and politics.
According to a 2011 public opinion study on Armenia’s mass media conducted by the CRRC, 81% of Armenians spend an average of three hours/day in front of the television (Stepanyan). For 33%, television is the main source of entertainment, stealing seven to twelve hours of their time daily (Stepanyan). Armenian soap operas are watched by 80% of the population (Stepanyan). Female protagonists, for the most part, don’t work in these soap operas— it seems their characters are created only to engage in secret schemes, cry endlessly, and experience violence. Per the Yerevan-based NGO Society Without Violence, images of women crying, depressed, or experiencing violence make up 60% of all Armenian soap operas (Stepanyan). Women’s bodies are also used to advertise products and to attract customers. In Armenian magazine ads, 50% of women are pictured wearing revealing clothing, lingerie, or are completely naked (Stepanyan).
Politically, 60% of Armenian men believe that a woman could never be a good leader. Out of eighteen government ministers, only two are women—and out of 131 members of Parliament, only fourteen.
This reigning paradigm is represented in the famous monument known as Tatik-Papik, overlooking Armenia and the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. Tatik-Papik translates literally to “grandma-grandpa,” and pictures the heads of an elderly man and woman side-by-side. The woman’s head is covered, and she has a covering over her mouth, displaying the belief that a woman ought to be publicly invisible and silent.
In The Color of Wealth, Meizhu Liu et. al. writes “Income feeds your stomachs, but assets changes your head” (8). When an individual must live from paycheck-to-paycheck, they are forced to think about how they’ll make the next day. But when an individual has a set of resources that allows them to think about their future in a positive way, they can strategize about the future, create and take advantage of opportunity.
In a society like Armenia’s where men dominate political and economic life and women are expected to remain at home, all assets within the family are held or controlled by men. Women cannot leave their husband or exert any sort of sway within the marriage because they rely on the income from his held wealth. Now compound this with the way in which women are sexualized in advertisement, but their sexuality is repressed in the public domain—where women are expected to remain home until married and must then remain in the home and never enter spheres outside of education or care.
Thus, a big step towards gender equality that an Armenian non-profit, like our Fund for Armenian Relief, can offer is an opportunity for Armenian women to increase their wealth and assets. I propose to our donors that we launch a program that designs a platform for Armenian women in rural villages to sell their hand-crafted goods on a Eurasian/international level, with a potential clientele of other Eurasian countries or Diasporan Armenians. We will work with our local FAR employees to identify which women/villages are interested in working with us, and the products they desire to sell, and to provide a certain level of quality control. We will also use our current designer and development team to put together a website that will sell these goods and provide a brief bio on each woman. As their products gain wider popularity, these women will gain a new asset: a clientele base. Because our entire overhead is covered by one donor, we will give all proceeds from sales to each producer, less the cost of maintenance. As each woman’s revenue stream increases and this enriches their community, they will hold much heavier sway within their respective villages. They will gain business savvy and confidence, as well as the financial assets, to hold their own and thus enrich both their communities and families, and in this way, the gender dictate of Tatik-Papik may be defied and overthrown.
Lui, Mezhui. The Color of Wealth. New York Press: New York, 2006. Print. Accessed
Stepanyan, Ani. “The Image of Women in Armenian Media/Video.” Information Analytical
Portal. 4 April 2015.