Masculinity in Georgia?

It almost goes without saying that I consider masculinity to be a social construct, and one contingent on various factors of time, location, culture, and environment. I have personally eschewed the demands of the American construction of masculinity – finding them barbaric and ill-suited to my personality – in the past, although as I grew into adulthood I became more comfortable in certain traditionally masculine environments as long as they were integrated in practice – for instance, bars, gyms, team sports, etc. I would never have felt as comfortable on an all-male sports team as I did in my co-ed hipster wiffleball league, never have felt as safe in the weightroom at my neighborhood gym as I did in the Crossfit location where I learned weightlifting, etc.

Perhaps because of my particular experience, I tend not to relate well to the “masculine” viewpoint or see the world through the lens of masculinity. The entire time I’ve been here in Georgia, I have devoted hardly any time, effort, or thought into understanding the construction of Georgian masculinity, the effect this construction has on Georgian males, or the way that Georgian men see and relate to the world. Maybe that’s come through in my posts about gender relations, in which my bias towards taking the woman’s side is probably fairly obvious.

However, over the last week, it has become clear to me that this is a serious omission in my informal study of Georgian culture, and that I must start paying attention to Georgian masculinity if I’m going to make a serious claim towards understanding this country. This clarity struck as a result of two conversations.

I’ve always heard that during Soviet times, Georgian men were coveted by women throughout the USSR. I admit that I didn’t take this claim seriously at all at first, taking it for ordinary male braggadocio, but I’ve heard it often – and not just from Georgian men. Finally one of my Georgian coteachers mentioned this to me last week and I asked her why that was, and she responded that it was because Georgian men were generous. They had a reputation for taking care of their women very well, financially. “Okay,” I thought, “that makes enough sense to be plausible.”

After all, I’ve been told that when wooing a woman, a Georgian man is expected to buy her presents, to take her and her friends out to restaurants and clubs and pick up the tab himself, and to generally display enough financial resources to suggest that his bride and their future children would have a comfortable lifestyle. If this expectation does not prevail in Russia, then I could understand why Russian women would find it appealing to come meet Georgian men.

So I just took that information and filed it away – until Friday. I was having a conversation with another Georgian woman, and she mentioned that although men are expected to financially support their families in Georgia, in modern times that often isn’t the case. She said that often men sit at home and do nothing while women go to work. This again fit into my casual observations – women seem to dominate the workforce in a number of fields and there are always countless Georgian men hanging out outside at all hours of the day drinking, smoking, playing backgammon, and just basically chillaxing the day away.

Even then, I didn’t quite put it together. Unemployment is also high in the US and it’s also disproportionately affecting men there. In the US the wage gap is closing ever-so-slowly and women are starting to outpace men in things like college graduation rates. To me, all that’s happening is that institutionalized discrimination against women has been replaced with laws forbidding such discrimination and now the market is acting to correct the labor imbalance that has persisted throughout the history of civilization due to organized patriarchal oppression. Now men have to compete fairly with women instead of just forbidding them from taking certain jobs, and women are catching up.

No – it was only this morning, as I was reflecting on the attitude that Georgian male commenters generally display on this here blog, that it occurred to me that Georgian masculinity is undergoing a tectonic shift that must be having some kind of effect on the psyche of the Georgian male. Georgian men, in a period of about twenty years, went from being renowned throughout the entire Soviet world for being good providers, to having to endure criticism from Georgian women for staying home while the women work.

I can’t even imagine what that must be like. I’m serious – I have no ability to sympathize with, for instance, all of the American men who are unwilling to marry women who are smarter, stronger, taller, or wealthier than they are. Like, there are seriously men in America who are turned off by a woman who makes more money than they do, who feel threatened or “unmanly” because of it. It blows my mind, and yet it’s a fact that apparently American women have to deal with all the time. I just have no basis from which to relate to this attitude. I understand that there are gender roles, I have just never been able to see the point in them, or to experience the desire to fulfill them in any way.

So, is Georgian masculinity suffering? I know that when you threaten or disparage the masculinity of the typical American male, he becomes extremely aggressive and/or defensive. Is this also true of Georgian men, and is the aggression and defensiveness that Georgian men are known for related to the threat to Georgian masculinity posed by the sea change in Georgian gender balance in the work force?

Maybe I’m reading too much into all of this. Like I said, I’ve never been able to get a firm grasp on this subject as it all just seems so ridiculous to me. The whole idea of acting out as a response to a perceived emasculation strikes me as counterproductive at best and destructive to the self and others at worst. So somebody clue me in – what’s up with that? Am I totally off the mark?

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5 Responses to Masculinity in Georgia?

  1. Richard says:

    I think there is a more prosaic reason for the popularity of Georgian men among women in the former USSR, particularly among Russians. During the Soviet Union, Georgia was one of the prime holiday destinations for many Russians, and many Russian women therefore came in contact with Georgian men, whose stereotypical mentality of the southern “Don Juan” they no doubt found appealing. The stereotypical blond Slavic Russian women, who were often substantially more sexually liberated than Georgian women at the time, were naturally also very popular with Georgian men. However, marriages could turn out to be difficult due to the differences in culture and conservative nature of Georgian society which the women often had to adjust to.

  2. Tamuna says:

    I doubt Georgian masculinity is suffering in Georgia to a great extant. I think with education and work opportunities women have added roles to the traditional ones such as taking care of the household. Thus, now as a reward they are “allowed” to have extra responsibilities apart from the abovementioned. On the other hand, men, even if unemployed are not really forced to denounce their positions as “leaders” by women and often times refuse to share the “traditionally women’s” household burden for example. So, even if a woman works and is the main source of income a man next to her still enjoys certain exclusive powers without much questioning. To generalize, men in my view are actually better off here because their “competences” still stay without actually having to do much in return. I strongly believe in male –female power sharing notion so watching the situation take this turn is extremely disappointing.

  3. pasumonok says:

    tamuna is right. how is it fair that women got right 2 work and they still have 2 take care of the house?
    i think that men are ashamed when women make more money than they do and this situation is viewed as not natural and blamed on evil times of unemployment. i’ve read interviews, were men would lament about this government and this time, when men are not allowed 2 work and thus women are forced 2 take it upon themselves, consequently destroying the natural order. also, women have less self-respect but are so selfless that they can suffer and work in order to support their kids, but men, at the same time, can’t take over women’s role and do the dishes, coz that would cost them their masculinity…those are not my thoughts, i used 2 translate interviews 4 one study.
    interestingly, women are viewed as more flexible and survivors, while men are more rigid…that would sound like a complement, but in this perspective, being rigid means having integrity

  4. Steven Diamond says:

    Walk the streets during work days and it isn’t men you see shopping, walking the streets, and eating in restaurants, it is women and students. We all like men bashing because yes, they typically won’t do housework and other things that are traditionally considered women’s work and are the ones we see drunk in the streets and playing backgammon. In defense of the backgammon crews, they are usually retirees, not young people.

    Men make more money which is unfair and women sacrifice a lot to raise their children especially when the husband gets the boot. It is unfortunate that their is a strong correlation between an increase in economic growth leading to an increase in divorce rates which one could argue is a consequence of changes to the traditionally defined gender roles in most societies for say thousands of years or the materialistic requirements and desires of urbanites.

    Men are not always the bread winners, but when a women gets married and has some kids, it isn’t the husband who puts his career on hold, it is the women, and the men are the ones who go to work. Or more commonly, both work. One thing does seem to hold true in my travels though, when a man is unemployed, he hits the bottle or some other reckless activity whereas women hold it together and do what has to be done.

  5. Maia says:

    There is one thing not mentioned. Status is very important in Georgia and a man will often not take a job that is beneath what he thinks he SHOULD be doing but women are allowed to take one below her status. I knew a teacher in western Georgia whose husband also University educated, stayed at home because he couldnt find a job that was his “occupation”
    Because they lived with his parents he was treated as a the young Prince by his mother, while his wife worked, tutored and came home to help cook with child care. Everyone protected his right not to get a job “beneath” him.

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