“The audience orders gladiator battles from the media”

Nune Hakhverdyan

Art critic, journalist

In our reality, there are hardened and deemed “national-traditional” molds that are hard to dismantle. The perception of women’s role and position is one such unseen, but strong “mold” — which requires tactical steps to get out of.

Feminist Nvard Manasyan compares women’s issues and their reflection and rendering in the media with a snake that holds his tail in his teeth, creating a closed circle.

Women in the media sector mainly either arouse pity (they’re poverty-stricken, single, assaulted) or are criticized. And if they’re part of the ruling elite, they ensure a certain amount of lofty speeches. It seems there are no other types.

Women in public discussions and in the media are mainly identified by two roles: either as victims or holders of atypical behavior (outside of the boundaries set by men), in the image of a female-man, so to speak, which is chastised. It turns out that you’re either a shrew or a female-man; you have no other role.

They can say, is that behavior suitable for an Armenian woman or mother? They appeal to the function of a mother, in which they want to keep women.

And it’s interesting that when you come out of that image, it is women themselves who very gently remind you about your role, while men are ready to impose sanctions.

And that is what’s immediately caught on camera and in words, and circulated. They will definitely be found, people who turn talk about deviation from roles into an event.

Even after the incident at Yerevan Municipality, reproaches — was that befitting for an Armenian woman? — increased in the media sector.

As far as I can see, the standard journalism toolkit is put into action.

First, the journalist must be professional and then, the editorial office must have its rules, ideological filters, with which it can present itself and say, I am this type of media outlet, this is what I publish, and this is what I consider important.

Stereotypes will be reproduced until there are enough references in the news to all parties, and if the opinions are contrary, they are balanced with deeply knowledgeable expert testimony.

I believe that journalism is a formal profession; that is, until becoming a journalist, you have to have at least one profession because a journalist is an expert of not content but form.

You have to come to journalism with stock on hand and become socialized with practice.

Ultimately, the journalist is a forum creator and, in some sense, it imposes sanctions on news events. If the journalist doesn’t know the frame of the problem and doesn’t act strategically with this frame, not having a broad notion who he is actually representing, that’s it. Everything becomes secondary, even if all the journalistic norms are kept.

Journalism, it seems, constantly takes time away from us, like rapidly consumed silly pop culture, which you later won’t even remember.

They don’t let the consumer mature through more classical works, since they keep the palette occupied with garbage. And there are are a lot of garbage producers.

We’ve found ourselves in a situation whereby everyone wants something from journalists. The audience has become capricious and finicky, and is sure it can find what it wants in the media sector, even by reading only the headlines.

The work of professional journalists, really, has become more complicated.

Perhaps the power of journalism is now documentation? For example, the incidents at the municipality were interesting not as commentary, but as video evidence.

But I’m not sure that that was pure documentation. Maybe it was performance? Of course live streaming is now a great advantage. But if in this entire masticated process, the media assumes the role of periodical educator, cultural bearer of an event, it will be in a much stronger position.

Women are often pushed to the frontline (both literally and figuratively, say, by being revered and compared to a flower). Is a woman a good tool?

That’s always been the case. I remember in 1988, it was regularly said that during the rallies, let women stand at the front; that was supposed to help because they wouldn’t hit women.

In reality, this further deepened the inequality situation because even your adversary didn’t treat you as an equal. And in general, in history, women haven’t been given and haven’t claimed the right of equality.

Man can give a woman room in his space, but all the same, it will remain his space.

Woman hasn’t carved out her space with her power and her choosing. She has simply been given some room in men’s space, and consequently, she is less privileged, inferior. She isn’t even worthy of death. The enemy is killed by accepting him, while women at most are captured and raped.

Why are women who hold power and positions mostly repulsive? When you think if this is the cost of moving up, I don’t want to be at the top.

Of course, there are women’s characters that are made and assigned. It’s like they were specially selected and given a task.

There’s no way to be licensed in politics. I no longer believe there is a political agenda because I can’t overcome the important problems for my skin with it.

I can’t imagine that I can fight for the homeland, the Armenian National Committee, if I can’t solve the elementary problems of my gender.

Politics has to be your decision, not an order. Otherwise it’s a false path.

The slogan “nation-army” also clearly demonstrated women’s role. Women are parents of soldiers. How much can you narrow the boundaries of the future?

It was viewed in narrow boundaries because that’s how it was planned. The molds of “nation” and “army” forced us to go give birth and be slaughtered, to sanctify the image of the mourning mother.

And if the glaring “nation-army” mold wasn’t applied, serving in the army would’ve been considered an obligation, since the army is the guarantor of the social contract (this is the army’s sole function), and not defending our hide.

We ourselves are the protectors of our skin, and we’re obliged to know all the ways of this defense from a small age. It’s not a weapon, but a psychological, intellectual preparedness, which helps to broaden the horizon and recognize an event. In a great sense, protection is assessing the risks.

And that is the same as freedom. But now freedom is countered by defense and the security that stems from that.

I think that’s a dangerous discourse, since everyone is ready to quietly accept that children dream to become soldiers or freedom fighters. And they do that with a wide smile. For example, with such reportages.

And alongside that there is a large group of people who think about how to relieve their child from the army and are ready to take any step for the sake of it. And everything is double-sided like this.

We present ourselves with an “upholstered” face for the public because we’re afraid they may alienate us.  But we keep a different face for ourselves.

This is also why it’s important that there be guiding principles, individuals who determine behavioral qualifications. But they’re not visible in any area.

When, for example, you say that journalists should be quality-defining and uphold standards, the response is that’s censorship. It’s the same in education and other sectors where value filters don’t work.

In Armenian we have words that we forget… But it seems words are also misinterpreted and corruption doesn’t get out of them. Time gnaws and erodes meanings, and words reach an empty place where they become meaningless.

And people proudly and arrogantly say in front of a frozen and molded loudspeaker, nation-army, good nation, good army, the enemy is a bad thing, we have to defend ourselves, so the army is a good thing…

I understand that for these remarks of mine I may be “hanged,” but content is moving toward a distorted perception.

It’s interesting that the word “freedom fighter” is also misinterpreted. And if we look deeper, we’ll see that the freedom fighter has gone to battle for the sake of freedom. He dares for freedom.

It’s odd, but many women’s rights organizations are definitely not the cream of society.

Everything is interconnected. As soon as one issue arises, everyone’s gaze turns toward groups of small people and from whom assessments are expected.

And these people are forced to cover more volume than their size. That can’t not distort what they say.

I admit that we have our share of the blame, and by making remarks on several occasions, we’ve been forced to assume the reputation of an expert. With both conservatives and leftists, there is a danger that their words will be used narrowly and dogmatically.

And that is journalism’s role, to break that dogmatic speech, force the self-proclaiming expert to face another point of view and get out of her comfort zone.

If there is even a field and demand for more written texts, televised debates, discussion formats, those expressing expert opinions will learn and train.

Ultimately, the point of a debate is not to win, but to find a solution. And solutions are always situational: if someone “smashes” my words, I’ll come out to a completely different place.

Dogma now has become more important than genuine search. Dogmas, even scientific ones, are re-introduced to freedom of thought, for the sake of solution, for the sake of discussion of the improbable.

Isn’t victory important in debates?

Striving for victory makes the program spectacular and ensures a supply of adrenaline.

Though the element of attraction has always been needed, but alongside the development of technology, the possibility of getting pleasure from gladiator games has increased. The newsfeed is also subject to this, the audience constantly delegates to the media outlet to give it a gladiator battle.

The documentary approach also continues this logic. For example, the videos on the incident at the municipality are hits that gather numerous “likes.” Media outlets know what is expected of them. And they give that.

Journalism is the same policy, where it’s important to what extent the public figure must follow the demands of the electorate and to what extent those demands of the leader.

Some sort of golden middle must be found between the leader and the follower, since if the balance is upset, the media outlet will become just a servant. And with that will be created a closed circle (that’s what they want, that’s what I give, what else do you want?).

Giving what is demanded must be strategic, must include passages though which you can get out of traps.

It would ideal if the media declared to the whole world, this is my faith, these are my ideas, and I want to reach my goal through these formats. That is, to be the master of its word and deeds.

To be master of including one’s own thoughts and body takes it to an explosive place.

Every person is the master of her life, ownership begins from here. But if you’re the usurping elite, you have to choose the format of dedications — to Armenians, motherhood, holiness, God, Mother of God.

You mix everything up together and create a horror, but don’t make an ode to a person who keeps his dignity on this space with the attitude of an owner.

It’s a matter of right. If your problem isn’t formulated as a right, it will remain derivative and some time later it will definitely disappear.

All the provisions of the Human Rights Declaration have been brought from different European charters of freedoms, but those rights were earned in Europe with blood (even the installation of light fixtures), while in Armenia, civil rights are not written: we’ve taken them from someone else, quickly adapted, without digesting them.

You also see it in our history textbooks, how artistic the achievement of rights is, without documentary evidence that would describe the small stories of various social strata. For example, the trade union (how was a trade solution found?).

Negotiation, rights, representation, position… These stories must be written.

Probably the opposite is encouraged: to unite, as a nation…

There is only one counterbalance: to have a face and a position, and to speak about it.

And without giving up your position and value, to understand in the context what is the most effective move at this moment. Only in the sense of tactics can you keep the diversity of actions. And there is only one strategy: this is me, I profess these values, and I will not deviate [from them].

I’m not going to live two lives: one for the public, the other for me.

Interview by Nune Hakhverdyan.

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