Sex and Gender: the epilogue

Woo boy, I seem to have blown up a little on the Georgian internet. This blog is getting lots and lots of hits. I want to say a few last words on the topic of sex and gender in Georgia before I move on to another topic.

*****************

First of all, there is a lot of contradictory information out there. An example is the “patroni” situation. Some Georgians claim never to have even heard of “patroni.” Others swear that the “patroni” system rules all of Georgian society. Let me ask a question to everyone whose emotions were riled by my mention of “patroni” – which ones of you am I supposed to believe? For every two Georgians there are three different stories about what “patroni” means for Georgian society.

So I’ll confine my comments to what I see firsthand:

Georgians are protective of Americans. Georgians are extremely proud of their hospitality, and if something bad happened to one of us, it would bring shame to our host families. For this reason, they try to make sure we are not alone in a strange place. Many of us appreciate that fact. On the other hand, it is obvious that TLG males are given much more leeway to be independent, to travel alone, to go out with friends, than TLG females are. I imagine that Georgian host families are extra protective of American women because they know that American women are not safe when they are out by themselves in Georgia. I have spoken to many women from TLG who are frustrated by the fact that their host families won’t let them be alone or don’t seem to understand that they are independent-minded people who want to go out with friends and do what they want – even in Tbilisi.

From these anecdotes, it’s hard to tease out a generalization about whether or not this can be considered “patroni,” and I didn’t grow up here and don’t understand the nuances of how Georgians interpret these situations. However – at the risk of repeating myself – what is abundantly clear to me from firsthand observation and from what everyone has told me is that, for whatever reason, foreign women in Georgia are warned about how to stay out of danger, are closely guarded by their host families, and yet are still being subject to disrespectful, degrading, and dangerous behavior from Georgian strangers on a regular basis.

I am told that the Georgian legal system forbids such mistreatment of women and forbids discrimination, and many Georgians have suggested that these women should go to the police. I suspect that, as in all sexual harassment and sexual assault cases, there are many reasons why TLG women are not going to the Georgian police.

Some might not want to make trouble. Some might be ashamed or think that it is their fault for not behaving like Georgian women. Some might think that since they were told to expect it, that kind of behavior is totally acceptable here. Some might not want to divert their energy to filling out police reports several times a day every time someone does something inappropriate. Some might not trust the (overwhelmingly male) police force. Some might not be able to explain what is bothering them because of the language barrier. Some might not want to bring shame to their host families. Some might not want to be seen as troublemakers, since, after all, everyone else is just putting up with it. Some might consider it just another part of Georgian culture, that they only have to live with for a very short time.

However, what I do know is that I am not a woman and neither are most of the people leaving comments on this blog that deny that women are being put through this kind of treatment at all. I will in all likelihood never have to experience or understand the kind of dilemma that comes when you are sexually harassed, assaulted, or raped and are wondering what to do about it, and neither will most of you. So instead of pretending that I know what it’s like, I’m just reporting the things that I can personally address – that is, reporting what people tell me and what I see with my own eyes.

*************

I want to clear up a few other things regarding my opinions of Georgia. I am glad that I came here. I am not having any problems getting along with Georgian people, eating Georgian food, or drinking Georgian beverages. I have made some good Georgian friends who tell me their take on Georgian culture and customs.

I am not going through any kind of culture shock. Those people who know me from back home and are familiar with my political and philosophical leanings can attest that I complain about the gender problems in American society with some regularity and so it comes as no surprise that I would criticize gender troubles in other societies as well. Furthermore, the problems that I’m talking about with gender in Georgian society don’t directly affect me in any way, since I am not female. In fact, one could argue that the gender roles in patriarchal society were set up specifically to benefit me – an adult male – and every day I experience the benefits of that male privilege much more strongly here in Georgia than I did in the US. No, there’s nothing “shocking” here, and nothing that’s even really a danger or inconvenience for me personally. It just makes me very angry to see women mistreated.

Nevertheless, if I actually didn’t like Georgia, I would just leave. No one is forcing me to stay here and I could be making a great deal more money teaching English in Korea, China, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, or the Czech Republic, among other places. However, I do like Georgia, I like the people, and I like many of the traditions. What I would like is to make Georgia a safe place for both men *and* women to come to visit or to live in the future, and that’s not going to happen unless I and my fellow Westerners challenge Georgian ideas about what is socially acceptable in terms of male behaviors towards women.

TLG is a cultural exchange program. In addition to learning English, Georgians should be learning about Western culture and how to interact with Western people – not so that Georgia can become like America, but just so that Georgians can be better hosts for tourists and businesses that want to come here. As America and Europe improve their own gender relations, treating foreign women with the dignity they deserve is only going to become more important as there will be more women in business and politics. And of course, if any Georgian women are unhappy with the way they are being treated, TLG teachers can offer ideas in that category as well – see the bottom of this post for more on that.

*************

One final note. This is not, and never has been, about my interactions with Georgian women. So, thank you all for your dating advice, but it is not necessary. I did not come here looking for one-night-stands, or for a Georgian wife. In defiance of stereotypes about Americans, I am not interested in discussing details of my sex life on the internet. I’m happy to talk about such things with friends over a few beers, but my mother and my sister read this blog and I’d rather just spare them.

However, what I would like to say is that I am not angry at Georgian women for being conservative nor would I wish to change Georgian society for the benefit of men who think with their genitals. The reason I brought this whole issue up in the first place was that I had heard of American men in TLG being really sleazy towards American women in TLG because they had been warned to stay away from Georgian women. My point – directed at Americans – was simply that if you’re the kind of guy who can’t go for three months without sex, then maybe you should consider picking another country to go to.

***************

Bonus section: If you want to understand where I am coming from in terms of women and gender issues, check out:

Feminism 101

Feministe

I Blame The Patriarchy

*****************

And finally – for real, this time – thank you all for reading and commenting and spreading the word. I think these issues deserve to be discussed and of course healthy disagreement is the food of democracy, or something. In the words of a great American lawyer and philosopher: “Be excellent to each other.”

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26 Responses to Sex and Gender: the epilogue

  1. Tamara says:

    I would repeat myself and say that I enjoyed reading your blog very much (to the extent that it may affect my midterm grades :D) I also read a couple of other blogs of your fellow TLG volunteers (both male and female) some of which were really hilarious :))))

    I just wanted to say you all are doing a great job out there. I am fascinated by what most of you are going through on a daily basis and how you cope with the things you encounter, whether it’s teaching children in Imereti or Samegrelo schools (or taking a metro regularly and living in Elektrodepo or Mukhiani :D) Hats off to you guys, really! I envy your ability to cope with the perceptions (or rather mis-perceptions) most of you have described in your blogs in a relatively calm way. I wish you luck, patience and most importantly good Georgian friends (the ones that not only make you drink till you drop but who will actually be there for you in times of need :)).

    And last but not the least – do you know if your host families went through some kind of orientation or workshops similar to the ones that you had? Because it’s not only you who has to adjust to local people/behavior/culture – your host families should have had a very good understanding of your culture and values as well (including respect for your freedom and privacy regardless the gender :)). From what I have been reading, some host families seemed overprotective in a way that is a bit stupid to say the least ;).

    • panoptical says:

      Thanks!

      As far as I know the only orientation the host families received was a half hour speech by the TLG director. I think that the assumption is that there will be someone in or around the host family who has studied English and Western culture already – whether a host brother who studied English in school, or a Georgian English teacher who speaks the language – and that Georgians will be more familiar with American culture than Americans were with Georgian culture.

      • Tamara says:

        That explains a lot and IS a mistake :)))) Many of the volunteers are young men and women who were practically thrown into places that usually well-educated, middle-class (whatever has left of it), urban Georgians of both genders avoid for the reasons i won’t start listing below – you have mentioned a lot of things by yourself already. And the minimum the program could have done, was to prepare host families (by which I mean inform and educate on basic principles and values that are shared in western culture and also stipulated in our constitution). The program can still do that and should do that in my opinion. It might also be useful to have regular (by which I don’t mean weekly :)) sessions and seminars/workshops (or even retreats :)) for both volunteers and host families – it will help you and host families understand each other better and in the long run can greatly benefit the program itself.

      • ---> says:

        As usual… ‘Georgian way of doing business’… no surprise…

        Someone should spend at least two hours with members of host families and explain them that young people coming to their families have different cultural values: for them (TLG folks) utter happiness IS NOT necessary represented by marriage and kids, and IT IS NOT necessary to forcefeed them every 10 minutes, and personal hygiene REALLY matters for them and they CAN NOT go without a shower for a whole week (contrary to the local population) and IT IS OK for girls to do physical exercise and jogging around their homes and if a girl has a very short hair one SHOULD NOT pat down her breasts to make sure that she really is a girl and NOT everybody drinks alcohol and such kind of thing as alcohol intolerance DOES exist, and one SHOULD NOT lock an adult person in a home not letting her go outside without an escort. And may more.

        But… as usually… everything was organized Georgian Way.

    • Nini says:

      I just wanted to tell Tamara that may be you are giving too much credit to TLG volunteers? With all due respect to Neil (i think that’s his name) and complete harmony with his blogs re gender and sex issues and my gratitude for lifting up the carpet and raising those issues, please – there are a lot worse places than Georgia and especially Tbilisi where volunteers go and work. Georgia seems a paradise compared to the DRC, Sudan, Nepal or similar countries where a lot of Americans DO go for less living allowance (around 200-25o USD p/m) and furthermore, they sometimes even have to cover their own living costs. They do it because they believe in a cause as I am sure TLG volunteers do. So all I am asking is don’t exaggerate. Yes, they are doing great job but Georgia is not the worst place they could have ended up in!

      • Tamara says:

        Hi Nini,
        You certainly got a point there! Actually I was comparing TLG volunteers to Georgian teachers who rarely want to go and teach at schools in let’s say Bandza village if they have a choice (and usually they do have a choice if they also have adequate language skills and knowledge :)). Whereas you took a more dramatic but nonetheless legitimate point of view. So yes, I do agree with you on that. But as you noted yourself Georgia is not Congo, or Sudan, or Nepal, so arranging a proper orientation for the host families would not have been a problem after all. It’s obvious both parties (volunteers and hosts) would be stressed in the beginning, and might even act as mad hatters, so why not try to support these people from the start when it’s feasible and possible? All the above is meaningful provided the ones who implement the project want it to be efficient and successful in the long run. Otherwise as Russians would say и так сойдет 🙂

        • Nini says:

          Hi Tamara. Thanks for your reply. I would not challange any of the substantial points raised by you because I in fact agree with them – yes, TLG volunteers should have been given proper trainings as well as host families; yes, we should support them; yes, those in charge of the TLG policy should have put more thinking into it, etc. BUT again, it does not change a fact what made me leave a post here in the first place – we should stay real and down to earth while evaluating TLG vilunteers’ decision to come to Georgia. DRC, Sudan or Nepal might seem dramatic places for us (aka Georgians) to go for volunteering, but for young Americans who are out there trying to find volunteering opportunities in the field those are very common places they have to choose from. And Georgia is not quite the third-world country, but still qualifies as a ‘field’ due to the conflict zones. So basically by coming here you catch two birds with one stone – you volunteer ‘in the field’ (which is not a real field let’s be honest) and get a more or less decent life. Not too bad, is it? My comment has nothing to do with Neil’s personal experiences and does not change a fact that we need to get out from our own deep shit. I just wanted to comment on your particular post as you are not the only one who overestimates their boldness while forgetting that it’s a typical life style most volunteers sharee all over the world and most likely even better than other volunteers’ lives in other places 🙂 C’est la vie 🙂

        • Tamara says:

          Hi again Nini,
          Actually I have to thank you for your posts. Its not often that my perceptions or arguments are questioned or refuted in a proper manner 😀 (without hysteria and hustle that fellow Georgians call discussion :)) So thanks, and you are right, I actually overreacted earlier :))))))))

        • Nini says:

          No problem 🙂 I’m glad we both managed to remain constructive and have a mature discussion 🙂

  2. Natosha says:

    Hello, once again.

    Yes, Sex and Gender, is hot topic in Georgia generally and especially in internet. And it’s even hotter, when you have so much people ready to acutely react on every critical word, no matter what is it stating.

    First of all, there is a lot of contradictory information out there. An example is the “patroni” situation. Some Georgians claim never to have even heard of “patroni.” Others swear that the “patroni” system rules all of Georgian society.

    This really can be confusing. I can tell that sometimes, i feel like here in Georgia, there are lots of parallel realms, with absolutely different lives, views and attitudes. I have friends (I’m talking about females now), who have normal sexual life, no “patroni” system ruling them, with no traditional dogmas in their heads.. and on the other hand, friends who are 22-28 years old and they must be at home at 21:00, because their father(brother) said so, who thinks that their husbands must be first man, they have kissed etc.

    It’s like, there are mainly two groups, Let’s say “Modern Minded”(A) and “Traditional Minded”(B). In Forums and other social media, confrontation between these two, is obvious. Group B calls Group A “whores”, “sluts” etc, Group A calls second one “Narrow minded”, “Dark ones” ( 😀 ).. I’m observing this process like 8 years and nothing have changed yet.

    *********************
    The worst thing in all this Patriarchal situation is, that most of people, thinks that it is normal. ” Of course Woman have less rights, cause man have more power, more brains, they do more, work harder etc” – That’s what you can often hear, when discussing this problem. What is interesting, that big part of women in Georgia, are also sexist. They are risen this way, so they are absolutely sure, that this is absolutely okay. And many of them are pretty happy, with it.

    If you try to argue about this with people like that, they simply won’t understand what are you talking about. They’ll tell you, “Why do you say, that woman and man are equal? THIS IS NOT NATURAL”, and they’ll never have some logical proof for this, they just say “Of course it’s like this. because it’s like this. Our ancestors told that, this is so. YOU DO NOT RESPECT OUR ANCESTORS?”
    )))))))

    Bah.. there are still lots of what I can say about this, but I’ll stop here, cause it’s getting too messy.

    Sorry for my poor English 🙂

  3. linguistuss says:

    Hello from Georgia

    I tried to summarize and analyze blog-posts written by TLG staff. Some aspects are really interesting:
    1. During these days TLG people learned more georgian words than their students english ones.
    2. The most glad and benefited people in TLG program are the georgian schools’ teachers of English who have never met native-speakers in their whole post-soviet life.

    Beforehand you arrived here I heard a lot of pro and con arguments, but I must say one thing: Nobody thought that cultural clash would be so fascinating and so unexpected. Even the people who had negative attitude regarding your arrival in Georgia are in midway of expressing sympathy about cultural clash you made here with your presence. I realize that It’s a beginning of a beautiful friendship for all of us and this is the most important issue in whole TLG program!

    • ---> says:

      I have a feeling that if Neil got Georgian citizenship he could easily run for an office in GE. He already stirred enough controversy and got considerable fan base in three blog posts…

      • Tamara says:

        😀 😀 😀 And don’t forget Roughly, who’s got his posters all over Didube already! “gasaketebeli kidev bevria!” 😀

  4. temo says:

    Hey there, I have to apologize if you took my previous posts being aggressive or offending, I certainly did not mean to. The whole topic that you raised is a problematic one indeed as Georgia is undergoing a serious change, the old traditions and everything in connection with the past is being challenged and it is a pretty painful process indeed. The only problem I had with your blog (reading of which I really enjoyed) and one thing I would not agree with ya was the generalization of the whole gender issue. While I admit that the problems do wxist, to my understanding it is not of a character to start ringing bells and yelling fire fire… Otherwise we would have lots of NGOs and International Organizations criticizing our every step. This is a transition period which will end sooner or later and we will have a final picture at hand.
    Otherwise I wish you good luck with your stay here and the problems you are pointing out to be eradicated to the extant possible.
    Anyways have fun and do not mix Chacha with Beer (or wine) again, it’s a deadly mix 😀

  5. Taa says:

    “patroni.”

    Hello and welcome

    I didnt read the previous post, but what the … is PATRONI?
    😀 😀 😀

  6. Sopo says:

    I just clicked on the link on one of my facebook friend’s page to see what the big deal was.
    This is awesome!!! Just wanna tell you that if Georgian people had blogs like this 10 years ago, it would have been a pretty good alarm. But not everyone had balls to speak up or analyze the whole picture like you did, not even today. Yes, I think you’re being a little too dramatic, yes I think you’re new and you might change your mind 2 years from now, but man, if we there were more honest people like you, (expats included) there wouldn’t be such a significant gap between Georgians and foreign visitors with “goodies”.

    Would love to talk more about that gap but I actually need to get back to work.

    Good luck and don’t let critics affect your passion.

  7. Mark says:

    I just came across your blog and wanted to say congrats – really good stuff!

    I’ll be traveling to Georgia in January to teach in the TLG program and have found your observations and insights (not to mention the responses from native Georgians) to be really helpful as I prepare for this upcoming adventure.

    Keep up the great work and remember – The more we sweat in peace the less we bleed in war. ~Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit

  8. pasumonok says:

    o.k.
    i totally agree with u about males posting here how there is no sexual harassment and no gender issues. i’ve already posted my take on it on the infamous sex post, so i’ll just let it go here.
    just wanted to tell u one thing: it was extremely smart of u 2 write that post. u probably did not even realize, but it brought tons of readers like me 2 ur blog.
    one of my friends posted it on his FB page. i read it. liked it. started to read the whole blog. that’s it.
    i wrote a post about homophobia and homosexuality on my blog last month and i got so many readers that one day, i was lost. once again proves that sex is a taboo in georgia.

  9. Neal's sister says:

    Thank you for sparing us the details of your sex life : )
    I would like to state that never in reading your blog did I get the impression that you were writing out of frustration at not being able to sleep with plenty of Georgian women, or anything to that degree.
    I find this blog, and people’s responses to it very entertaining. It also reinforces the realization that I understand you better than most other people do.

  10. Tarquin Chemberlain says:

    I would strongly recommend that anyone travelling to a culturally different country understands the culture and the origins of behavioural stereotypes of the intended destination prior to making the journey. Any critique of a culture, based on values of another, significantly different culture, is simply invalid and irrelevant.

    Teaching a language and relating the culture is akin to religious missionary ministry, in fact, it is mission à propos. Therefore, in order to be able to convey the essence of the mission to the public, one must understand and adopt the locals ways first, to the greatest extent possible, as far as one’s consience may accomodate them.

    How about going to an Orthodox church on a Sunday morning, wearing a long skirt and a head-covering? This might surely add respect to anything you say or do in Georgia.

    Welcome to Georgia, mylady!

  11. Pingback: International Women’s Day: Women in Georgia | Georgia On My Mind

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