Attitudes towards women
Perhaps one of the most complex and often discussed part of traditional Armenian culture is the woman's role. A highly traditional society, Armenia harbors many old-fashioned attitudes about the role of women, and even today there is some pressure for women to conform. However, this situation is changing with a new generation of Armenians who are also rethinking old altitudes toward male- female relationships. In traditional families, a boy is treated very differently from his sisters. He is the prince of the household, and is not expected to participate in most chores. A female relative will clean up after him.
Once a man, the traditional Armenian male becomes the king of the household. He is responsible for the family income, and the major economic decisions such as buying a home or a car are in his domain. Women, on the other hand, have the responsibility of cooking, cleaning, and raising the children. The kitchen is generally off-limits to the men, since this is where a traditional Armenian woman is expected to excel. It is a great honor for an Armenian woman to be asked for a recipe by another woman who is known to be a good cook.
To the foreign observer, these roles may seem somewhat limiting for the women. In a very traditional household it is not uncommon for the man to tell the woman when she can go out with her friends and when she must stay at home to tend to the house and family. Even with a dating couple, the boy can dictate the activities of his girlfriend.
Additionally, one notices the women working very hard. During the day, women are seen staffing stores and offices. At 6:00 p.m., they rush to buy food in the markets and run home to prepare meals, do the laundry, tend to the children, and clean the house. Men, on the other hand, linger on street corners, talk with friends or business associates, smoke, and eventually make their way home, where they know food will be on the table.
To be fair, one should mention a few important factors. Lack of employment has forced many men to leave the country and find work in Russia (travel on a flight from Yerevan to Moscow and you will immediately notice that most of the passengers are male). Therefore, seeing women doing "a lot of things" is understandable, as they are the predominant sex, and the intense "double duty" performed by women throughout the day is nothing new. In Soviet times, women were expected to serve as comrades in the workforce as well as maintain a well run household.
Finally, attitudes are changing. The women who populate many of the colleges and universities are highly aware that they are a generation in flux. Whereas their mothers and fathers tended to stick with tradition, younger men and women are reexamining their roles. It is becoming increasingly common to see a young father playing with his children in the park or even taking them on a shopping excursion.
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