When Women Appear In Politics, The Question Always Arises, How Did They Get There?

Nune Hakhverdyan

Art critic, journalist

There are many female candidates in the list of political forces and blocs participating in the Yerevan City Council extraordinary elections, which are at the forefront of debates and public speeches.

Equal rights expert Sevan Petrosyan follows their speeches and videos, expecting more political gestures. She says that, although there are changes in the perception regarding the perspective of gender equality, there aren’t any changes in behavior.

And women politicians always face a decision, to play the rules of the patriarchal game, or to try to win the right to work according to their own rules.

During the Velvet Revolution, young girls had a great role to play in protests with unpredictable results. And then it disappeared. Why?

That is always the case, girls are always active, they simply became more visible, because images of beautiful girls were constantly spreading across social networks, and their participation was emphasized. They were always there, it’s simply that this time there was a youth explosion, and they were allowed to be part of that explosion in the public consciousness, come out onto the streets and take up space.

It was lovely, it was convenient, but the everything returned to accepted norms.  

Of course, small changes and steps break hardened situations and the changes need to be seen with a more long term glance.  

Women, who appeared in the media as politicians who have attained a certain level of success, often are repulsive characters. It seems to say, if you don’t want to be like them, then don’t get into politics.

I don’t know whether it was done intentionally or not, but in the end that’s how it turned out. In Armenia’s politics, perhaps as a Soviet trace, the characters of such female politicians were used.

You have to be “unattractive” (protect your body), or play according to men’s laws.

In Armenia’s political life, Arpine Hovhannisyan was the only exception. As a citizen-consumer, I am not her fan, but her presence in the political field was crucial. She was a new model. But we saw how she began to close off in front of our eyes, speaking contemptuously, becoming aggressive.

There is a photo, showing Arpine going down stairs, and the men in the National Assembly are looking at her from behind. That is a very striking image, which I think decreased the likelihood of many young girls wanting to enter into politics.  

In general, we all know how to play according to men’s rules (eventually, we live that way and consider it to be classical politics), but when the issue reaches the body and its obviou emphasis in public places you do not want to even enter the game anymore.

When women appear in politics, there is always a question, how did she end up there? Is she someone’s relative? A lover? Something else? That was the case with Arpine. For example, Lena Nazaryan already appeared as a member of a culture-bearing party.

I am sure that she feel discriminated against in different places, but she is ready to go through it, because she made a decision.

The appearance, the image, is imposed especially for women.

When Naira Zohrabyan was wearing a colorful, blaring dress on May 1, the day of the Prime Minister’s election, she received reactions that had political characteristics. Compared to the style and colors of the men’s suits, she was strange and unexpected. And the reactions weren’t slow.

Or you shouldn’t attach importance to appearance, makeup, as if sending a message to the interlocutor, it’s the same for me what opinion you have about my appearance, it’s better if you listen to my words. You see and decide what is imposed on you and how much you can go against it. Overall that is what a revolution is.

All these women, whether they want to or not, are in the political field and have those who watch and follow them. And so, everything becomes political.

It remains for them to realize it and make it a formula, and one day give it back to the public.

I have great hopes that there will be some bright women in the upcoming elections.

Many women are participating in Yerevan City Council elections. Is that good?

I specifically watched the pre-election videos and speeches of the female candidates for Mayor.

More than 51 percent of the members of the Yerkir Tsirani party, led by Zaruhi Postanjyan, are women. She strengthens herself and the women who surround her, but that strength doesn’t become a political topic. You will rarely hear Zaruhi speak about women’s rights. You can say that she is more interested in human rights in a broader sense, justice, the elimination of corruption and so on (national issues are also emphasized). But since she doesn’t politicize the women’s agenda, she appeals to a narrow circle.

That’s why she has to send an incomprehensible pre-election message.

For example, in her video, she emphasized that she is a woman, even when the police raised their hands against her.   

And the most natural answer would be this, if you are a woman, know your place, stay at home, so that they don’t raise their hands against you.

It’s understandable that if Zaruhi goes against that patriarchal discourse, she may lose votes, but the fact is that for most of society, she still remains an unaccepted type, and does nothing to break her unacceptance. She continues to do the same, perhaps with the hope that people will get used to her with time.

In my opinion, Naira Zohrabyan is a wonderful politician. Like Zaruhi she does not politicize any issue related to women.

When she called on the opposition candidate, saying “If you’re a man, let’s debate,” she was still playing by the rules of the patriarchy, she spoke with their vocabulary to make the speech impressive and addressable, and she didn’t notice how she hurt herself.

It’s interesting that the “My Step” alliance has attracted the least number of women in their list, although there are women who can at least say political texts on women’s rights.

The Yerevan City Council elections are trying to change a lot in civil society perceptions. There are people in the lists whose presence seemed unreal in the elections a few months ago.

How does the personal become political?

If you don’t make the personal part of the political agenda (that is, if you do not take a deeper look at it), leaving it to be a separate phenomenon, a custom, a private achievement, a unique case, the issue continues to remain an issue.

The problem is not discrimination and violence, rather the promotion of legislative amendments.

For example, when the budget is being formed, it should be discussed that the allocations for women’s health should be increased. Not only talking about motherhood (motherhood is sacred, and a woman a soldier-parent), but also hence about women.

Women’s perspective is not heard. Of course I understand that the feminist movement in Armenia is not one of the most widespread, and that is the reason why many women avoid politics, thinking that it is dirty, patriarchal, not profitable, and not a place of principled people.

And it turns out, that if you don’t enter into this difficult, long-lasting and sometimes futile job, changes will take longer and come later.

The media often write about domestic violence, especially violence against women. Is that interesting for the media?

Beating, even the massacre of women in the media is “easy” because it disturbs the audience. The topic of selective abortions was also actively covered.

When it was discovered that more boy were born in Armenia than girls, it had an impact because the data was collected not by a women’s rights organization, but by the UN Population Fund, whose statistical data began to emphasize to society that “so many women weren’t born, that many mothers were not born,” in order to sell it.  

Many people now know that selective abortions is a relevant topic, but the issue is not only social or demographic, but also a fact that being a woman in Armenia is less preferable, and men are profitable.

Parents want their child to grow up safely and they place importance on what others will think about them.That is a social norm, which we don’t know the beginning or end of, but in the end it is the strongest thing. It lives, breathes and works  in all societies.The normal deviation is punished by marginalization, isolation.

For example, helping a woman in the home is considered a sign of weakness. It’s still ok, if no one sees them helping. The man can even do the laundry, but would never hang the laundry , because that can be seen from the outside.

There are many stereotypes. It seems that the interview with Anna Hakobyan could have gone differently. The journalist also asked her such questions like, were you afraid when they arrested your husband, were you worried at all about him, etc.? And these questions were given to a self-sufficient woman who is perceived as an attachment. Is that interesting for the audience?

The first ladies are still perceived as attachments, Anna is still one of the best examples. The problem is the questions. The journalist can give completely different questions.

I also took a look at the Deputy Minister of Sport and Youth Affairs, Kristine Asatryan, where journalists asked again how her husband treats her and how she cares for the child. That is to say, it is a constant discussion about her balancing career and family which breaks barriers.

As a result, a woman is allowed to occupy a new place thanks to her husband.

Many women consider it an achievement, knowing that if their husband did not support them, they would not be able to succeed. And they really wouldn’t.

It would be better if the woman asked the journalist, and would you ask a male official such a question? But it is not done because it is not desirable to have a tense relationship with the journalist. In the end, the media is one of the most powerful tools.

Most of the women in politics at the very least wouldn’t want to be set apart.

I am convinced that they know the issues very well, but don’t try to work together, because it would be very difficult.

For example, parliamentarian women (regardless of parties) can form a working group and introduce women’s topics on the agenda. Of course there would be certain deputies who would say that gender is not important, that a person is a person. But we all know that in life, that is not the case.

Stereotypes are created in the condition of inequalities

Interview by Nune Hakhverdyan

Add new comment

Comments by Media.am readers become public after moderation. We urge our readers not to leave anonymous comments. It’s always nice to know with whom one is speaking.

We do not publish comments that contain profanities, non-normative lexicon, personal attacks or threats. We do not publish comments that spread hate.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *