I. There was no question that at least these Armenian women wanted to marry Armenian men and conversely these Armenian men wanted to marry Armenian women as well. If they did not, they would not have attended this panel discussion. Both groups stated that their intent was not to criticize the other but rather to help them grow as human beings, soul mates in life and better family responsibility participants. Both women and men felt that a person from a cultural heritage similar to theirs would be best suited as a soul mate. Again, there were likely exceptions among the people present.
II. There is an identity crisis that confuses both men and women: To act ‘Eastern’ or to act ‘Western’? This seems to be the question! In fact, both groups concluded that: “No matter what you do, you will have a problem.” Either he (or she) will say that “you are backward” or will say that “you are too aggressive.”
III. Both women and men seemed to have the same complaints about the other. Both accused the other of wanting the luxuries of the traditional Armenian family and community life while not wanting the responsibilities and ‘politics’ that accompanies it.
IV. Both sides seem to fall in the trap of comparing the ‘broken Armenian relationships’ with the ‘fulfilling relationships among non-Armenians.’ However, neither side acknowledged that there are marriages between Armenian women and men that are very fulfilling, loving, egalitarian and supportive. These are as fulfilling as the best of marriages in any other culture. In addition, while comparing the Armenian relationships and marriages to those of the dominant culture in the United States (white Anglo-Saxon), neither women nor men seemed to acknowledge that in that ‘dominant culture,’ 50% of the new marriages break-up within two years. So which 50% of the marriages should the ‘Armenian marital relationship’ be compared to: The 50% that stays together or the 50% that breaks up? Again, this brings out the lack of a clear basis of comparison and the ambivalence that exists in the identity of both Armenian women and men in the United States. What often seems as a struggle between two persons, is in reality a much wider clash of two deeply rooted significantly different cultures.
V. There are gender related issues that many people tend to ‘personalize,’ that is, think that only Armenian men or only Armenian women act that way. For example, many women complained that men were not talkative and did not share their feelings. This is generally true of not only Armenian men, but of all men of all cultures. Misdirected causes and effects such as these often emerged as the root of complaints.
VI. An interesting point emerged: When Armenian women and men want to marry together, then they become concerned about their family status within the community. However, when an Armenian woman wants to marry a non-Armenian man, or vice versa, suddenly the ‘community status’ issue disappears.
VII. It is clear that ‘education’ towards cultural identity and marital expectations as well as ‘communication skills’ is a much needed approach to help both Armenian women and men grow closer to each other in a culture that is new and unfamiliar to both of them.
We will only attempt to give some of the discussion highlights below.
1W. “Armenian men need to see the women as equal ‘partners’ in important decisions that affect the whole family,” said a young pharmacist. A few stated that: “Some Armenian men think that just because they are the ‘head’ of the household, they have a free reign in all decisions.” It was interesting that the women with biblical insight recognized that the root of such one-sided decision-making by the male is not supported by the teachings of the Bible.
2W. “The ‘traditional approach’ to marriage advocated by some men places a great deal of pressure on us to care for his next-of-kin, which takes away from the focus on our relationship and family,” said a schoolteacher. It is an Armenian tradition where the parents tend to live with their son. This places a significant pressure on the son’s wife (hars). Not only is there the normal communication issues between wife and in-laws, but also the additional pressure of caring for the in-laws as they grow older. This was most burdensome for the women who also worked outside of the home.
3W. “Armenian men leave all the family’s home chores up to us,” was a very common statement. Many pointed out that the men in the dominant US culture seem to be more supportive and participating in everything from child-raising to tasks around the house, in comparison to the Armenian men. Again, the women who have to work outside the home are most sensitive to this issue.
4W. “Marriage is a journey that must be taken together. Men and women must fall in love and continue to maintain that loving relationship,” a divorced woman explained. In general, it was the women’s view that once Armenian men marry, it seems that they no longer have the need to maintain and build upon their relationship. They no longer make an effort and show compassion and caring as they did prior to marriage.
5W. “Men do not like talking about issues that are important to them; they hold-in their feelings and anxieties,” said a mother of three. Armenian men are viewed by the women as less able and versed in discussing feelings than men of the dominant US culture.
6W. “Everything seems to be black or white, agree or disagree, my way or yours!” observed a young woman in a frustrated tone. “When disagreements or arguments arise, Armenian men are not likely to discuss the issues in a reconciling and cooperative manner” added another. (Frankly the discussion on this subject did not progress very far. Some became very emotional while others spoke in terms of absolutes: “This is how it is and it won’t change!”)
7W. This point can be summarized by the comment of one person: “Armenian men don’t know what they want so they ask for everything from us. On the one hand they want us to be ‘graceful’ (shnorhalee) and act ‘dignified’ (badvov) as ‘an Armenian woman should.’ But at the same time they expect us to be flirting and acting ‘modern’ as some dominant culture women do. This puts us in a double jeopardy: If we act ‘traditional’ then we are considered backward, too dependent and not progressed enough. On the other hand, if we act more open and forward, then we are considered not ‘dignified’ and ‘graceful’ as women. This is totally unrealistic and confusing!”
8W. “Men don’t seem to realize that the women want some challenges in life outside of the home which they can call ‘their own’” stated both married as well as single women. A professional woman put it this way: “It is OK to be at home and take care of the family. But today we are educated and exposed to numerous cultural, educational and career opportunities. We cannot be ‘caged up’ physically, emotionally or mentally and told “you can’t go here or there by yourself!” After all, this is the twenty first century!”
1M. Armenian men pointed out that Armenian women like to be pampered and guided, instead of acting more proactively as women of the dominant US culture. One complained: “The women want all the luxuries of a traditional relationship and wedding, but they don’t want the responsibility and necessary conduct that accompanies that traditional way of life.” This created a dichotomy for them: If the men are seen as leading the relationship then they are considered heavy handed. If they do not act proactively, then they are seen as not having the courage to make tough decisions. A professional stated: “I just can’t figure out what they want!”
2M. The men seemed to think that the Armenian women tend to pull the husband (or a future husband) towards their side of the family. “All she was taking about is her family and how we should take care of them! What about our family and children? Who will take care of them? After all, our family is our first responsibility,” complained a divorced Armenian male professional.
3M. Armenian men observed that they were taking care of a greater number of chores outside of the home which men of the dominant culture did not have to. This was because the Armenian women did not want to take on such responsibilities, especially where arguments and confrontations were involved. This left the men with less time to take care of family chores inside the home.
4M. Armenian men pointed out that Armenian women generally do not try to take care of themselves after not only marriage, but even after the engagement. After the initial meeting, the men seemed to think that the pressure is placed upon them as men to continuously charm and please the women. Furthermore, the men thought that the women are very easily influenced by the latest “talk show fads.” In the opinion of some men, this placed all sorts of new and unreasonable demands and pressures upon their relationship.
5M. Armenian men considered themselves as ‘doers’ rather than ‘talkers.’ They emphasized the greater need to act and resolve a situation rather than to talk about it. “By the time other men have decided how to talk about an issue, we have already taken action and resolved it. If you got to do it than just do it!,” stated a father of two. They did not feel it is important to concern the women with minor issues that can be resolved. If they shared some worries with the women, they were afraid that the women would worry unnecessarily.
6M. Armenian men felt that there are certain relationship and family issues that are not negotiable. However, they pointed out that women become very emotional about certain subjects and thus make discussions with them impossible.
7M. Just as Armenian women seemed to be frustrated by Armenian men, likewise the Armenian men seemed to be frustrated by Armenian women. A number of men pointed out: “Armenian women like to play ‘hard-to-get’ with Armenian men. It seems that if you are an Armenian male, you have to be questioned, scrutinized and even interrogated about your income, status, family and future. On the other hand, the same women go out with males of the dominant US culture without subjecting them to the same level of scrutiny. It is as though we are held up to a higher standard and placed under greater pressure because we are Armenian men.”
8Ma. The need for the Armenian women to work outside of the home seemed plausible to Armenian men. In fact many women already do. The issue on the part of men seemed to center on the need for the women to focus their effort on taking care of the family. “Armenian women in this country don’t seem to take their child nurturing role seriously,” is the consensus among some Armenian men. A number of them claimed: “The women of previous generations were more willing to take upon themselves the challenge of nurturing and raising their children. Today’s women seem to be more preoccupied with their appearance and social status.”
8Mb. In private, some men confided of a difficult issue with immigrant families. When a family arrives in the US, the males have to work at whatever positions are available just to take care of the family needs. This gives the women a greater opportunity and luxury to study the language and further their education. However, “Once she completed her education, she got a higher paying position than mine, and suddenly, I am no longer ‘good enough’ or ‘cultured enough’ for her,” explained a divorced man with three children.