The Words ‘Feminism’ and ‘Feminist’ in Azerbaijan
Feminism is not a word I often use with my close Azerbaijanis. Not that I don’t want to talk about topics or problems in the feminine realm, but it just doesn’t come up that much. Yet, in the moments that the words “feminist” or “feminism” have arisen, my female Azeri friends have been quick to distance themselves from the concepts. I’ve been trying to think of why this could be-what makes being a “feminist” so undesirable? I’m fairly certain that in America, you can’t not be a feminist without being considered fringe right-wing (think Phyllis Schlafly).
The only explanation I can come up with is that in traveling the miles and miles to Azerbaijan, the concepts of feminism have lost the history that started with your Susan B. Anthonys and Frances Perkinses, followed by the Eleanor Roosevelts and Betty Friedans. A set of connotations that set forth examples of women pioneering in fields previously off-limits to them, women making their own choices about their roles in society both personally and publicly, or women breaking stereotypes that come with gender seem to have been shed as the word feminist arrived in Azerbaijan. Instead, I’m theorizing that the words have picked up connotations that are limited to the role feminism has played in changing perceptions of sexuality in the West.
I think if all feminism had to offer was the Feminist Sex Wars, then saying that feminism ain’t your thing isn’t too far-fetched. Or if feminism offered only a prescription for strong women who have to fill all-pioneering roles as liberated working women with absolute control over their personal, family, and public lives, then rejecting that doesn’t sound too harsh, either. Yet, the way I see feminism manifesting itself as a positive influence here in Azerbaijan is as a concept that embraces women being able to make their own choices, creating their own opportunities, about their lives. I talked about this idea previously in a post about social expectations, defining success for women, and the roles we play in an evolving culture. This above discussion is just a smaller part of that post, where we look at a particular feature of the social fabric and the words we use to define ourselves, and how those words set up our social expectations.
So, I’m not totally sure what these words ‘feminism’ and ‘feminist’ mean to young Azerbaijanis today, but it strikes me that the concepts behind these words, though valuable for today’s Azerbaijan, don’t have quite the same meaning we want to ascribe to them from our US perspective.