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?