YEREVAN—During recent years, the number of televised soap operas in Armenia has increased dramatically and, despite much criticism, still some 50 percent of the population continue watching such productions. According to communication experts, soap operas openly reveal anti-social and cynical behavior. The aggressive content often found in Armenian soap operas has a crucial and dysfunctional impact on the audience, researchers Ani Kojoyan and Anna Gevorgyan write in their report, entitled “Gendered Power in Armenian Soap Operas: Women, Masculinity and Violence,” which was presented during a conference organized by the Yerevan State University (YSU) Center for Gender and Leadership Studies on May 11 and 12.
Taking into consideration the popularity of soap operas in Armenia, the authors said it is increasingly obvious that they should have a particular role in forming and constructing gender roles in the Armenian society. The soap operas both reveal and re-shape gender stereotypes. Their images and scenes not only represent social norms but also recreate and popularize them. Soap operas have become distributors of images, characters and also the mainstream of popular culture. In this regard, in Armenia soap-operas have a huge capacity for popularizing certain types of images of masculinity and femininity.
“In many societies it has already been established that media influences people’s beliefs as well as behaviors and that the violence present in media, normalizes the gender-based violence. Researchers in the area believe that the exposure of media violence and aggression contributes to the development of tolerant attitudes, and sometimes even approval, toward violence in actual relationships and everyday life situations. In this sense, soap opera, being part of media, and being circulated over and over nearly every day during the certain periods of time on TV, has the same power and ability to re-construct and re-form the perception of some certain categories revealed in them,” the report says.
According to the researchers in the Armenian mass media male’s verbal and non-verbal means of violence toward not only each other but also toward women are often considered as part of masculinity: “Violent masculinity in our society might be considered a normal and natural rather than an abnormal and unnatural phenomenon. Interestingly, sexuality and love sometimes might also be closely interrelated to violence, even sometimes being necessary part of masculine line. So, masculine standards are often shaped through such categories as brutality, strength, violence, aggression. The presentation of their ugly and violent behavior does not stand for their perception as ugly and violent characters. The protagonist may be violent, hence masculine, sexual and attractive for female figures. And the image of these ‘bad boys’ seems to be circulated in many soap operas. In this sense there is a danger that soap operas will create a false consciousness, making society members believe that whatever they see it should be within the domain of accepted standards of masculinity․”
In order to reveal how Armenian soap operas demonstrate violence as part of masculinity, as well as the attitude toward the phenomenon by the female audience, three Armenian soap operas were analyzed by Kojoyan and Gevorgyan – “Shadows from the Past” («Անցյալի ստվերներ»), “The Dearest Enemy” («Հարազատ թշնամի»), and “911.”
Based on the findings of the research, in the soap operas above, most of the male characters are depicted as aggressive and violent and are endowed with aggressive masculine features. The researches also found that violence toward women is presented as an inseparable part of male masculinity, that is, the borders of gendered violence and masculinity cross. In these stories, not only antagonists but also protagonists are inclined toward gendered violence; and most characters reveal tolerance toward gendered violence. The researchers say the audience misinterprets violent patterns and reveals tolerance to violence in general, and particularly to domestic violence.
Taking into consideration the research results, the researchers make the following suggestions to those who are responsible for these media products — including TV studios, screenwriters, film directors and other individuals and institutions.
– Consider the fact that the family patterns and interpersonal relations that are presented in soap operas will dramatically influence the audience;
– Avoid endowing protagonists with gendered violent behavior;
– Show critical attitude from other characters toward gendered violence;
– Within the frames of soap operas emphasize the importance of law and its legislation that will condemn gendered and domestic violence.