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:
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.”