“We, too, condemn the use of force and no one uses force against anyone here,” Yerevan Mayor said after a council session during which several councillors insulted, hit, slapped, shoved and pulled the hair of one other member, Marina Kachatryan and then literally threw her out of the council chamber. This violence was carried out for the simple reason that Khachatryan brought a jar full of sewage and tried to present it to the mayor to highlight an issue ignored by the latter for the past ten years – the fetid smell of seeping sewage in the Nubarashen district. There can be no second thought about more than ten men physically attacking one woman — any kind of violence is a crime and must be viewed within the scope of the criminal justice system. But by jumping one step ahead, let’s predict that the legal system, even under conditions of utopian improvements, is powerless against those who hit, beat, pull hair, curse, promise to “kill/slaughter” when an even more extensive system of patriarchy exists. Let’s ponder why those who committed violence against Marina Kachatryan and her colleagues won’t be punished. They won’t be condemned for the same reason that the commotion ignited, that is, because a woman displayed disobedience. The violence perpetrated against Marina Khachatryan was gender-based violence not only because there was explicit physical strength used by about ten men against one woman, but also because of a number of other covert factors which have become common in our daily lives and which we will try to address below.
Patriarchy is a form of social reality where men knowingly or unknowingly occupy a dominant position in political life, shape the moral and cultural life in a given society, and have a number of advantages in both the family and public sphere. In terms of hierarchical relations and violence, what calls for scrutiny is the mayor’s verbal behavior when the two women councilors were walking toward his raised platform with jars in their hands. “Stop her. Stop her. Hurry, stop her,” forgetting that the microphone is on, the mayor exclaims and jumps up from his seat, “dispatching” people who have no authority as security to ensure his own physical “safety.” In fact, the mayor, concerned that the contents of the jar may have been harmful to him physically, nevertheless orders his subordinates to put their lives in “danger” in the name of – a question arises here – who?
The notion of family as the foundation of a patriarchal system is projected upon broader contexts of public life. Such is the case, for example, when the mayor avails himself of the right to order his subordinates to halt the source of the so-called potential danger. The mayor deploys the primary pattern of the patriarchal system, i.e. the dominant position of the father in the family where children and women, in conditions of strict role designation, are neutralized. In public space, this role designation is extended through hierarchical relations- the agent patriarch and the neutralized Other.
The issue, however, is not only how beholden those who physically threw a woman out of the chamber are to the person functioning as the patriarch but rather what covert discursive mechanisms encouraged them to take that step.
Taking into consideration the many doubts of the legitimacy of the mayor’s and his fellow party members’ positions in that platform, we come one step closer to understanding why these subordinates showed extreme keenness to eliminate the potential physical danger to the person who, given the hierarchical position, was functioning as the patriarch. The issue, however, is not only how beholden those who physically threw a woman out of the chamber are to the person functioning as the patriarch but rather what covert discursive mechanisms encouraged them to take that step.
The value system of patriarchal reproduction is constructed around the axis of power; if the mayor, as a male, in this particular situation is exercising his share of power (hierarchically the highest position in the present context) over other men, ordering them to “endanger” their lives, then these hierarchically subordinate men are left with physical strength as their only possible expression of power. Using one’s official position to incite other men to violence in and of itself actualizes the concept of masculinity in the patriarchal system and empowers other men – within the limits of their capabilities – to act. As a result, we have men, each of whom displays a form of power (position, physical strength) and women who are denied the right of self-expression. That this assault was gender-based is evident not only because a woman was subjected to physical violence but because of the multiple layers of power exhibited by the participating men. Had the person bringing sewage to the mayor been a man, the patriarchal and therefore gendered nature of the melee would not have changed, primarily because of the presence of power relations, which can be considered the first and main indicator of patriarchy.
Dehumanization for the Sake of Collective Identity
A pressing majority of human societies tend to be patriarchal. Even though many societies have gone through a process of important stages in the evolution of human thought and understood the destructive effect of patriarchy upon all members of society, men’s dominance and the subjugation and marginalization of women and men who do not comply with the notions of masculinity in the given culture, continues to remain a syndrome threatening humanity. Because patriarchy is fed by and in turn feeds a number of cultural processes, its reproduction is made possible, oftentimes covertly, by a) utilizing such subsystems as religion, legislation; b) manipulating the notions of family, homeland, ancestry, etc. through such means as male centered educational systems, television, audiovisual and symbolic systems/media amongst others.
Everyone is born naked and equal; it is culture that within a given historical context and to the benefit of the stronger social group defines the physiological differences between men and women as feminine and masculine, womanly and manly.
All these subsystems are a part of a broader, self-automated narrative, the self-reproduction of which hinges on ideology sculpted for centuries. In terms of structure, ideologies represent a simple formula based on binary oppositions – black/white, us/them, me/ Other, men/women, etc. – where through oversimplification, the “Self” assumes all positive features and “the Other,” the opposite of “Self” is naturally represented negatively. This formula is at the base of all ideologies, including patriarchy that’s supported by the juxtaposition of men/“Self” and women/“the Other.” In a nutshell, patriarchy is a form of self-reproduced, power-based ideology which excludes any manifestation of gender equality/equity and, being tied to cultural processes, can be manipulated by those holding a form of power through strict gender/sex role distribution.
For a long time, gender role distribution, as well as the myths and fairytales of men being naturally “strong” and females being the “fair” and “feeble” sex were explained in the patriarchal world by the “nature of things,” the natural “urges” of males and females, reproductive and hormonal differences. In reality, the human race is not divided into two, opposite subraces — those of Adam’s and Eve’s. All differences between sexes, besides the physiological differences, are mere sociocultural constructs. Everyone is born naked and equal; it is culture that within a given historical context and to the benefit of the stronger social group defines the physiological differences between men and women as feminine and masculine, womanly and manly. When there are solidified ideas of what makes a male or a female, when femaleness implies only motherhood and maleness implies agency and combativeness, the result is the crystallization of female and male identities, a mold people strive to fit throughout their socialization. The individual is reduced to a role, oftentimes to one they have not chosen and do not want to play. Patriarchal ideals of maleness and femaleness recognize one, applicable for all, reality and reject all other realities of being female or male. Therefore, when Marina Kachatryan and Sona Aghekyan challenged the expected role of the obedient, self-sacrificial representatives of the “fair” sex and acted as individuals, beyond the periphery of what is expected of their gender and tried to above all do their job as politicians, they broke the firm circle of patriarchal role designation and were dubbed “immoral.”
As a reminder, after jumping up from his place and after the so called “danger” had been avoided, the mayor approached the women in encirclement and grabbing Sona Aghekyan by the arm, said, “This is immorality!” Why is the person in the mayoral position exploiting someone else’s compatibility to his ideas of morality? What is the measurement of morality? And if there is a unit of measurement, then is it moral to let thousands of people to live with the stench of sewage because you have failed to do your job? Could the exclamation “This is immorality!” be a confession of how the mayor views his colleagues not as (rightful) equals but as women elected by the public, to comply or not to comply to his mensuration of morality. Should we then infer that the voice of the women of the city council should go heedless because, as it is presumed, they should first of all be “women,” that is, have a collective female identity even in a professional environment? But since here, regardless of gender, women act as individuals and challenge the status quo, the best thing to do for the patriarch is to deprive them of their individuality by exploiting gender roles inherited by the patriarchal system but also putting to use a number of other, classical methods of patriarchal discourse manipulation discussed further.
As mentioned above, the most reliable mechanism of the reproduction of the patriarchal system is a crystallized representation of the collective or national traits of the masculine and feminine, which, irrespective of gender, renders the individual dependent on the endless strive to conform. One can spend a lifetime wondering how compatible they are with the expected ideal of a “real” woman or man or a real “Armenian woman or man.” In other words, one does not develop their individuality but is encouraged to develop a skill to conform to the expected ideals of masculinity or femininity or simply to the expected and oftentimes superimposed reality. This might be the reason why, after forcefully throwing Khachatryan out of the hall, the mayor’s advisor on cultural affairs, insists (while answering reporters’ questions) that he has not resorted to violence but simply removed the person who was “not behaving correctly.” What correctness is the abuser talking about? Believe me, he does not know himself, he has not questioned what was delivered to him as the absolute truth and therefore cannot explain. He says “correct” as if there should be one common truth known to everyone, a pre-sanctioned model of behavior, a form of common knowledge, that is – the woman cannot oppose!
The idea of masculinity is of course complex and multilayered. Hegemonic masculinity is different from other forms of masculinity in the sense that it is a modus operandi and not only a set of gender defined roles or an identity. Hegemonic masculinity assumes dominance/control through culture, institutional discourse and persuasion.
One of the tools of inducing a patriarchal discourse, as we already mentioned, is the dehumanization of the woman through degradation of her subjectivity or passivization. A classic tool of such dehumanization is infantilization which was not amiss as the event in discussion developed. To a journalist’s question about whether the mayor’s advisor was carrying out the mission of the mayor’s personal bodyguard, the advisor answered with another question, “What is your name?” The journalist clearly, loudly and without beating about the bush enunciated, “Anush.” “Anushik jan, you look like a learned girl,” continues the advisor with an expression which if not outraged the patient reporter, then must have surely caused mild revulsion. Out of ineptitude to answer the question of a professional reporter, the advisor immediately puts into action the “glorious” patriarchal arsenal in its entirety. The first expression of condescension towards a female reporter is the perversion of her name with the help of a diminutive postfix — Anush-ik, followed by calling her a “girl.” Through diminution, the interlocutor first deprives the journalist of her subjectivity and then manipulates her learnedness or rudeness, which reminds us of the mayor’s “morality” based verbal strategy. And again, had both participants of the act of communication been male, the incident would not have been more or less gendered given the hierarchical nature of communicative behaviors, verbal maneuvering and the manipulative discourse in general.
Sexualization, the reduction of a woman to a sexual object or role, can be considered another manifestation of manipulative patriarchal discourse. “Shut up, slut!” says one of the Republican men to his fellow female councillor, while another won’t allow her into the hall saying, “You stink,” “You disgust us.” The men cannot recognize their colleague beyond her gender. It is not important that Marina Kachatryan is a full member of the city council, a politician and an individual after all.
The behavior of the people’s elected gentlemen of the City Council towards their colleague brought into the public domain that which is happening on a spectrum in all patriarchal cultures, that is the existence of hierarchical power relations among men (the mayor and subordinate subject “safeguards”) and male dominance over women. This patriarchal phenomenon was defined as hegemonic masculinity already three decades ago. In academic literature, hegemonic masculinity is defined as a form of masculine dominance (Connell 1987). It is the “standard upon which the ‘real man’ is defined in a particular historical context.” (Jennings & Murphy 2000) This form of masculinity is not practiced by all men in a patriarchal society and is called hegemonic because it makes dominance and violence against women reproducible.
Even though misogyny is more common among men, it is also practiced by women towards other women and towards their own selves. As one of the symptoms of a patriarchal society, misogyny is of an ideological nature. Since time Aristotelian, the woman has been characterized as an “incomplete man.”
The idea of masculinity is of course complex and multilayered. Hegemonic masculinity is different from other forms of masculinity in the sense that it is a modus operandi and not only a set of gender defined roles or an identity. As a behavioral model, it does not necessarily imply violence but can resort to it in different circumstances in order to reinforce itself. Hegemonic masculinity assumes dominance/control through culture, institutional discourse and persuasion. Since hegemonic masculinity is based on behavior that makes collective male dominance over the female possible, it is not surprising that in certain conditions it resorts to such toxic behavior as violence. The form of hegemonic masculinity that harms the general societal well-being through violence, misogyny, gender discrimination, greed, xenophobia and other oppressive methods is defined as toxic masculinity (Kupers 2001). However, other, non-toxic trades are also characteristic of hegemonic masculinity like competitiveness in sports, supporting family and friends, etc.
In patriarchal societies and cultures, where hierarchical relations between the sexes (active male, passive female) have existed since time immemorial, the idea of masculinity, depending on circumstance, is subject to change. In one of his seminal works, Kupers notes that toxic masculinity is built on forms of hegemonic masculinity that harms society in general and individuals comprising it in particular. Toxic forms of hegemonic masculinity are “extreme competitiveness and greed, insensitivity or lack of consideration towards the needs of others, strong need to dominate and control others, incapacity to nurture, dread of defeat, readiness to resort to violence, stigmatization and subjugation of women and minorities.” (Kupers 2001) Just one sentence, yet the whole attack at the City Council described! But wait a second, just the City Council attack? Isn’t our reality in general toxic? Isn’t the mayor’s “I am announcing a break” as a woman is being beaten out of the hall indicative of the normalization of violence, the strong need to rule, the dread of defeat, the incapacity to nurture? Is what happened at the City Council hall not a small reproduction of everything happening in the country?
Another symptom of patriarchy is misogyny internalized by women. Even though misogyny is more common among men, it is also practiced by women towards other women and towards their own selves. As one of the symptoms of a patriarchal society, misogyny is of an ideological nature. Since time Aristotelian, the woman has been characterized as an “incomplete man.” Since then, the woman of Western civilization has internalized her inferiority and her role as the scapegoat of society which is evident in the case of the incident in discussion — the woman becomes the scapegoat of an issue neglected by men.
Internalized misogyny often blames the woman for the manifestations of toxic masculinity. For example, after the beating of her female colleague, one of the Republican women, Hasmik Sargsyan, says in her tempestuous speech, “I just want to understand, what kind of a womb birthed you.” The pious Republican then goes on about how it is necessary to “cold-heartedly resist this satanic power” with their Republican god-given “heavenly nature.” Yes, the Republican Hasmik Sargsyan does actually use this vocabulary during a [council] session, but the tragedy here is not in the woman’s false piety or in trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes with “godly” virtues. The tragedy is that a woman is blaming another woman’s womb for her failure to “properly educate” a third in accordance with patriarchal ways. Yet again, a woman is scapegoated as inherently guilty for a male abuse – as another Republican would asseverate: “A woman should also know her limits!”
Gender discrimination is a deeply cultural problem for which no individual is to blame but each of us is responsible to see, diagnose and eliminate it!