Feeding the Family in Rural Armenia: A Re-Examination of Gender, Cooking, and the Domestic in a Post-Socialist Society

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Fertaly, Kaitlin
Armenia; Cooking; Domestic; Gender; Identity; Improvisation
thesis / dissertation description
Previous studies of gender in post-socialist societies have described a shift in gender roles where women became associated with the domestic sphere, particularly within nationalist literature and in everyday discourses about the nation. However, this literature fails to adequately explore what domestic activities women are participating in and how they may gain status or power through those activities. In agreement with post-socialist literature concerning the shift in gender roles, Armenian nationalism presents a view of women as ideal mothers and caretakers, often relegated to the domestic sphere. However, also within nationalist literature and contemporary discourse about Armenian identity is another central theme explored here: the survival of Armenian families and Armenia itself in situations of innumerable odds, feats that are often credited to the ingenuity and resourcefulness of individuals of the small and often out-numbered nation. The significance of "making do" or improvisation in Armenian daily life and in national narratives is significant to a study of gender in independent Armenia because it is primarily the woman's responsibility to procure and prepare all of the resources necessary for feeding her family. Therefore, I argue that cooking practices in Armenia are certainly a part of domestic life, but contrary to some Western feminist ideals, domestic activities are neither stifling to women's creativity nor are they activities that are devalued or in other ways less important than public activities. In Armenia, this is because women can appeal to `traditional' national ideologies in order to reaffirm their status as women and mothers, which subsequently allows them to earn prestige within the community and to exert influence within their households.