I was born as a woman

The world has recently gone viral about a hashtag which has many local and international alternatives. It is the #Me Too movement which has been used in social media to demonstrate that there is still sexual assault and harassment of women in the big world.
 © Olga Kurilina
Armenia is among the countries where the hashtag has been used sporadically. The #MeToo campaign did not go viral in Armenia. You would first think “Wow, there is no or there are very few cases of sexual assault or harassment in Armenia”, but that is not the case. There is another phenomenon here or maybe even two. Most of the Armenian women have a very specific feeling of guilt. Even if an Armenian woman is being assaulted, harassed or even betrayed, she would first think the problem is herself. She would think she is guilty that the man has assaulted or harassed her, that she said or did something wrong or provocative. The other phenomenon that wouldn’t let the Armenian women raise their voices and tell their stories is the belief it wouldn’t help or would do further harm. In a society where the attitudes and the opinions of neighbors and relatives are so important, and where police has more respect for a man’s words, women will hesitate to tell the people about such sensitive things as assault or harassment.

You would first think if you want your parents, friends or people you know in social networks to be aware of the stressful experience you have had. By no means, you would not want to go public with it, with the pain of abuse resurfacing and with the talks and whisperings all around you.

Not many women voice their problems with the hope to be encouraged to face the trauma they have undergone with counselors, psychotherapists or people who have gone through the same experience.

And when you start scrutinizing what you have just put on paper, you start thinking about the women around you, about their lives, their feelings today. You ponder what makes most of them the way they are now. And then you realize that, as everything else in our life, your thoughts and feelings, your behavior and perception of life, the good and the evil originate from your childhood. I have a belief that we, women, are very much affected by the family, society, and the environment. This package assigns us specific roles from the moment we are born and then you either have the courage to drift away from those roles and to break the limits or you live with it for the rest of your life.

I remember me standing next to the boys at our yard, following them playing football, with my younger brother among them. I was 10-12 years old then and was always accompanying him: he wouldn’t dare to go out on his own. But I never even tried to play with them or to say a single word, I never thought that I could play football...it was a men’s game. I wouldn’t think of that until recently, now, when I am in my early thirties. Several days ago, when I was discussing with my friend the fact that I don’t know how to ride a bicycle, the thought of not doing lots of boyish activities suddenly struck me. So, I would think that only boys ride a bicycle, only boys play football, only boys have the magic of doing whatever they like. And in my family, that was quite fine. (I come from the town of Gyumri, which is known to be very traditional).

I had the joy to have boyish toys; cars and guns, just because I was surrounded with brothers and cousins, but that would always sound strange to our relatives, to the girls around, to the neighbors and guests, who would always give me dolls and kitchen toys and would be surprised when I did not touch them. I remember me wearing jeans and t-shirts for school or walking around and I can still hear my mom's voice in my mind: you are a girl, you should wear skirts, dresses, you should be feminine, look at your cousins, see how beautiful they are. This voice haunted me till I was mature enough, till I could feel who I was as an individual who had rights, wishes and feelings. And who can break the rules, the rules that have been imposed on me by strangers.

All this is a proof of the fact that we were born and brought up having our own roles given to us. I am a girl, and he is a boy, period. Until now, in most of the regions of Armenia, there are clear differences between the behavior and the duties of men and women. Only Yerevan, the capital city, can be an exception.

There is a strict attitude towards women in our society, which comes from women’s young ages: you feel the strictness of your parents, then it is directed on you from your husband and his family when you get married. The differences between men and women are visible in various areas: restriction of speech and in-house decision-making, in participation in community and political activities, in entertainment opportunities, and even the lack of a possibility of personal time management.

For most of us, Armenians, the woman is the mother, the one who takes care of the kids, the house, and the meals. No wonder that the husband is included into the kid category, as well. He needs to be taken care of, to be well-dressed, satisfied and have a full stomach. And as a woman, you should do your best to manage all those things that appeared to be on the plate of your life at some point or another. Not because you chose it but because you are born a woman.

It is worth mentioning that there are women, and many of them, who dare to go beyond the limits set by the society, to break the rules and the norms and to run their own lives. To run it to the full. More and more women are getting the sense of equal rights and opportunities, and many of them stand for their and other women’s rights.

The younger generation has a very different understanding of life, emotions and perceptions that the previous generations. And therefore, there is a hope they will break the boundaries and will be able to play football and ride the bicycle more than my generation grown up in the regions of Armenia I have grown.

I already see the change that is coming. I have seen women involved in the recent peaceful transformation of power in Armenia. It was supported mainly by young people, including young women. Young women were in the center of the 2018 Velvet Revolution of Armenia: blocking the streets, marching along, sleeping in tents and fighting for their rights. This brings about more political involvement of women.

I, as a woman, believe in the change in Armenia, and the change normally happens when there is time for it.
Biayna Mahari

Hasmik Aleksanyan

Over the past 10 years, Hasmik has worked for international organizations supporting the work addressed to the wellbeing of children, mothers and pregnant women, and since recently — adolescents and young people in Armenia.





    How went the #MeToo-movement in our homelands


    Online information and our relations with it


    Thoughts about one of the most paradox resources we have


    Observations about the stream of time

    To have and to be

    About consumption, people and money


    About the universal measure of happiness


    The subtle balance of borderline states


    Photo reports about the borders, both tangible and mental


    About the inspiration and the sleep of reason


    About films: what to see and how to see

    Women in profession

    Five female curator from Russia tell about their profession


    Inspired by the festive atmosphere of the gathering, Converter has prepared a special rubric for you, dedicated to the cinema, the festival, and Berlin


    The photoproject "Dreams from St. Petersburg" tries to give an idea of what are the hopes and fears of of young people in this unique city