Saturday, January 28, 2012

Societal Values

I am trying to be better at blogging seeing that I have only about 7 months left in country but sometimes it is a bit difficult as I can't always say what is on my mind. Peace Corps volunteers have a duty to be diplomatic. We live in our Host countries as a guest and so it’s best not to tear the culture apart. Obviously from time to time I have posted about things in particular that have bugged me, but they are always things that have occurred to me personally. I try not to make unfair judgments against Armenia and her people. However since I have begun a women's group in Spitak, issues constantly come up concerning Armenian's cultural perception of women that just break my heart for the women here. One of the biggest issues we’ve tackled in the group was domestic violence which is a common problem here. Since I have been in Armenia, I have dated a few Armenian men, and nothing has taught me more about Armenian culture than having these intimate relationships where nothing was out of bounds, conversation wise and where guards were let down. Most of the time here I am treated as an outsider would be treated, like a guest but not as an Armenian sister. If I ask about sensitive topics they are often denied and pushed under a rug, or admitted to, but with a clause that those sorts of things never happen in ______ (insert wherever I am at the moment). A common excuse is that bad things only happen in small villages, or where there are crazy people. So it can be very difficult to understand what really happens here. Having a boyfriend here changed things a bit though. Not only was I was able to talk to him about things that happened in our town, cultural values and his own views toward women, but I experienced what other Armenian women experience and learned exactly what a typical Armenian man wants from a woman. From my interactions with him I learned more about Armenian culture in 6 months than I had the previous year of my service. First of all it is important to state that I loved this man and still do, but our cultures are just too vastly different for us to ever have made it last long term. One of the very first arguments we had after becoming a couple had to do with me having male friends. He didn’t like that I had friends that were men at all. If I had to go to a Peace Corps event and stay somewhere that men would be, he didn’t really like it. I had to explain constantly that in my culture men and women are friends and nothing more and its ok. Finally he agreed to drop it, mostly because he could see that he didn’t really have any other options. Another argument we would get into concerned the way he talked to me. We obviously had more than our share of misunderstandings and miscommunications, as we both speak different languages and only speak a minimal level of the other’s language, but one thing that constantly bugged me was him telling me to do stuff. If he wanted a glass of water he would tell me to get him one. Now I have seen just about every other Armenian man here do that, so I don’t know why it surprised me so much, but it’s not me just to do what I am told. I constantly explained to him that if he wants something he should say please. He would constantly explain to me that if he is my boyfriend, we know each other and shouldn’t have to talk to each other as though we are strangers. Still to this day we have this argument, and I don’t see that it would ever be resolved. Along the same lines, he would become infuriated and offended whenever I thanked him for something. I have been sick more times than I can count since I have lived here and often times he would come over to take care of me, to make me tea or to bring me groceries or just to sit and keep me company while I was confined to my bed. Each time I would tell him how thankful I am and each time it was met with a look of indignation. Finally one day he told me that I shouldn’t tell him thank you; that he does what a friend would do and people shouldn’t be thanked for doing something for their friends. As an American, this was hard for me to swallow, I mean I come from a culture where we sell thank you cards, and now I am not suppose to say thank you to someone who has delivered groceries to my house and sat with me while I slept after working a 12 hour day… it was a very frustrating process. The most difficult thing though was living up to the expectations that he had of me. He expected me to want the same things as he did, but people from different cultures grow up wanting different things. He expected me to want to stay home if he couldn’t go out, to always have my house perfectly cleaned and to live dependent on him, something that is impossible for me. I mean you can’t take a girl that moved so far away from everything she knew and expect her to become dependent on a person, but it’s almost as if Armenian men don’t feel that they are men unless a woman is depending on them. From this relationship my respect for Armenian women and all they do for their husbands and families swelled, as I saw firsthand how much work taking care of an Armenian man is. Recently, the topic of relationships between Armenian men and women was brought up in my 11th grade class while I was teaching a lesson on stating opinions. Seeing that there were issues there to be discussed, I handed out papers with common opinions in Armenia about men and women. The papers had an opinion on them and the student had to tell me if he agreed or disagreed. The topics ranged from I only think skinny girls are beautiful and men with brown eyes are the most attractive, to men are more intelligent than women therefore a wife should do only as her husband tells her, and to a man has a right to hit his wife if she doesn’t keep the house cleaned. For the most part my students were more liberal in their answers and opinions. There was however a few topics that shocked me. The topic of a man beating his wife was hugely discussed in the sense of what rights he has. All the men in my class agreed that it was wrong for a man to beat his wife if she didn’t clean the house, but they said that if she cheated on him, the man has the right to kill her. I asked if they were serious and they were. I then asked if a man cheated should the woman have the right to kill him and they all said no. Also on the opinion, “a women should only care if a man provides food and shelter for her family and not if he has girlfriends on the side” the boys in class said that it isn’t right, but there were two girls in class who agreed with this. I was really surprised. It really told me a lot about what they feel that have to look forward to in marriage. I can honestly say this was the most interesting class I have had in all of my time in Armenia, and on this day I learned more from my students than I taught them. Anyways I think there is much to be said about the culture between men and women in this country but its best when described by an Armenian women herself. This blog is from my friend Vana, and she writes about situations in Armenia that only an Armenian woman has the passport into seeing first hand. I encourage you to read it because she shares so much more than I ever could and it’s such an interesting topic and gives a great insight into a kind of secret world of Armenian women… so click here

1 comment:

  1. Here is my two-pennies worth of....
    If you go to "The Sardarapat Museum and Memorial" in the Armavir martz you notice big male reproduction organs stone-carved, although you might see those on side of the open highway near Metsamor Archaeological Site located before the Sardarapat Museum. Those are remains from prehistoric Armenia and pagan Armenia. They worshiped those big phallic stones as symbol of God the creator the father who gave life and definitely were not symbols of sexual debauchery as the depraved modern human mind would perceive today. Since antiquity it was considered that the fluid (semen) coming from the penis had the sole contributor to propagation of life and women had nothing to do with it, the tiny egg in the womb of the women was not noticeable by them, in fact women were considered impure because of menstrual dirty blood discharges. So the world in ancient times became "man's world." Women's place was as subservient to the men, women had to serve men who had the ability to give life by their visible clean semen, without dirty blood associated with it.
    The Bible time came and the Bible affirmed that females should serve the males, although it emphasized that they should love each other since they were one (or one physical body) after they merry. The fact is --putting it as a bottom line-- the males & females are complementary to each other, completing each other, and the one can not do without the other. They can NOT be equal as both have different characteristics and different body parts, for example men do not have breasts and can not feed babies with their milk. Presently in the West the feminism has been advanced and manhood has been regressed. The solution is in the BALANCE! papik