A few weeks ago, news broke that “The Vagina Monologues” would be making its debut in Armenia. I wasn’t surprised when I saw a lot of negative feedback from readers on the ArmenianWeekly website.
Let me first say that it’s easy to pass judgment on something one isn’t knowledgeable about or that is seemingly foreign. I have no doubt that most people who are fearful of this play are uneducated about its purpose. That said, let me explain.
“The Vagina Monologues” is an annual performance that raises awareness and funds to stop violence against women and girls. The play, authored by Eve Ensler, is performed in 48 languages in more than 140 countries. It is part of a larger global activist movement founded by Ensler, “V-Day,” that “is a catalyst that promotes creative events to increase awareness, raise money, and revitalize the spirit of existing anti-violence organizations,” according to its website, vday.org. The movement to stop violence against women and girls includes combating rape, battery, incest, female genital mutilation, and sex slavery, which are all subjects of stories played out in the monologues.
I know the word “vagina” scares many people. Globally, it is seen as a vile threat that confuses and intimidates the masses. Armenia is no exception. In a country where women have never been equal to men (refute this all you want, but you’d be in denial), “The Vagina Monologues” is a scary new development. Why? Because for once, women have the opportunity to express themselves.
Women put on the performance, but the monologues’ message is not exclusively for women. Anyone with a beating heart and a belief that violence and inequality should end needs to see this play. Women know the injustices they are faced with every day, and to continue educating just them would be pointless. In order for violence to stop and progress to be made, men need to support this cause and the women in their lives. Many men already have, and I applaud them for it, but the word needs to spread.
As a college student, I’m fortunate enough to be at a university that will host its 10th annual performance of the play this year. I saw it in 2010 for the first time and it was awe-inspiring. The message hits home for every person who has ever felt the slightest twinge of not being good enough, whether by society’s standards or on a more personal level.
So, it brought me joy when I heard the play would be coming to Armenia. Although I am still excited about it, I can’t help but feel angry and disappointed by the reactions. The comments on Nanore Barsoumian’s previous Weekly article are particularly devastating.
One reader wrote: “…They want to mess with our women’s vaginas!!!” This comment, by a man, exemplifies the “tradition” that Armenian women are to be controlled or cannot function independently. I’m all for freedom of speech, and as a journalist I know the importance of allowing readers to comment on stories, but this outraged me. So did this comment: “Armenians should be ashamed of themselves to allow this kind of trash in the name of social awareness.”
These comments perpetuate our cultural stereotypes. Much of our heritage makes me proud to be Armenian. When our own people, however, are so quick to deem women as second-class citizens and treat them with disrespect, I cringe with shame. Some of us don’t even realize that domestic violence is a persistent problem in Armenia. It claimed the life of 20-year-old Zaruhi Petrosyan, who was beaten to death by her husband and mother-in-law on Oct. 1, 2010. Petrosyan was the mother of two children.
Let me pose this question to those who doubt the power or relevance of the monologues: Do you have children? Or do you ever want children? If so, imagine someone beating or killing your child. Imagine that the person doing the beating is a member of your family. Not easy to stomach, is it? Think about the example we set for our younger generations. Would you teach your child that domestic violence is acceptable? In Armenia, many families are afraid to publicly say it’s wrong because the issue is kept quiet or they fear they won’t receive the help they need. Women and girls certainly aren’t the only ones beaten or killed, and men aren’t the only ones doing the beating.
“The Vagina Monologues” seeks to end the cycle of violence. I would hope that’s something all Armenians can get on board with, especially since we’ve seen how violence has affected our people (see: Armenian Genocide). To be certain, there are Armenians who are standing up against hate. In California, members of the United Human Rights Council recently marched to end domestic violence against Armenian women. Others donate to organizations, sign petitions, and physically help those abused in Armenia.
We are a people of beautiful traditions with strong ties to our homeland and a vibrant diaspora. We have much to be proud of, and domestic violence has no place in our culture. It can take years to break the norms of a traditional society like ours, but progress can be made in baby steps. I’m not saying V-Day is the ultimate solution to ending violent crimes, but it sure as hell is a start. The movement has transformed lives across the globe—why not let it try in Armenia? We owe it to those we’ve already lost and those we can still save.