They are mothers, sisters, wives -- or, at least, this is how they perceive themselves. When asked to identify themselves, women in Azerbaijan tend to respond with roles that society traditionally attaches to their gender. Men, on the other hand, don’t. They do not necessarily describe themselves as fathers, brothers and husbands, or, rather, according to their professions, passions or views on life. Yet the reasons why are not clear cut.
“This could also be due to the fact that men don’t feel comfortable to talk about their feminine side because society doesn’t value [it] as much as masculinity,” comments Azerbaijani gender-studies expert Zumrud Jailova. “Femininity is largely associated with weakness, masculinity with leading [roles] . . . Eventually, we have what we have; men and women with an inadequate and conservative mindset, which leads to tremendous imbalances both internally and externally.”
Jalilova notes that the way men and women identify themselves is deeply rooted -- sometimes, unconsciously -- in gender stereotypes. This is certainly true in Azerbaijan where tradition strictly defines gender and social roles.
“Women feel the need to highlight their gender identity as they are always expected to fulfill the gender roles assigned to them,” explains the 25-year-old lecturer in gender studies at Baku State University.
To delve into this attitude, filmmaker Sheyda Allahverdiyeva interviewed 18 women and 18 men with different backgrounds, ages and interests and asked each of them to indicate up to five identity groups to which they think they belong.
No response can be defined as right or wrong, nor does the project aim at indicating an absolute truth. Yet the interviews vividly illustrate how entrenched stereotypes are and open a door to discussion.
July 2018, Identity Edition