Gender in Georgia

I had something of a revelation today. I was reading a blog that talked about this blog – specifically about my sex and gender related posts – and the author had this to say:

There is a TLG (Teach and Learn Georgia) teacher who does write about all the little cultural nuances and tries to explain and rationalize them. I don’t necessarily think he always does a very good job of it, and is sometimes culturally insensitive; making blanket comments about Georgian customs and traditions. His beliefs about Georgian women, sex, and pride are extremely anachronistic. I’m not exactly sure if he lives in a city, town or village (which I think makes a difference). I’ve never met the guy before, but his blog is nonetheless interesting, and he discusses controversial issues that I’d never be allowed to touch being a PCV. I really applaud him, too, because he writes what many of us are thinking and feeling. It takes a lot of courage, especially when Americans and Georgians alike attack him in blog posts.

I’m assuming this refers to my blog – I’m not aware of any other blogs that fit this description – but I could be wrong, but anyway, let’s continue as though this were a description of my blog. I want to focus on the following statement: “His beliefs about Georgian women, sex, and pride are extremely anachronistic.”

This relates back to my post about International Communication Hiccups as well as to a few conversations I’ve been having lately with my Georgian associates. Basically, the unifying theme, I believe, is that I am doing a poor job of communicating my basic values and ideas when it comes to sex and gender. I have lost sight of the fact that most people who read this blog did not minor in gender studies in college and have not been involved in twelve years’ worth of internet conversations about gender politics and feminist theory. In other words, people don’t know where I’m coming from and up until now I’ve been reticent about explaining my background because that is a difficult task that doesn’t really relate to my experience in Georgia.

But now I think it’s important to go over these things explicitly.

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

First, let’s establish some indisputable facts about Georgian society. Georgian society has strong gender roles. Many jobs in Georgia are almost exclusively performed by people of one gender and not people of another gender. Teachers and bank tellers are almost exclusively female. Taxi drivers are almost exclusively male. In the police force, patrol police are almost all male while phone operators are almost all female. I don’t feel the need to enumerate every profession here – suffice it to say that there exist a large number of jobs or professions in Georgia that are strongly gender biased and many jobs or professions that are almost completely gender-graded.

In the household, Georgian women do all of the cleaning and household chores. They do almost all of the cooking – the exception is that Georgian men are in charge of cooking meat during a barbecue. Georgian men are expected to be the providers.

When dating/courting, Georgian men are expected to pay for all dates, including taking out his girlfriend and her friends and paying for all of them.

During supras, the Tamada is supposed to be a male. I was at a supra last Saturday with a female Tamada and one of the Georgians – a young woman of about 25 who lives in Tbilisi – remarked on how strange and unusual this was. During supras, there are different roles and expectations for men and women. Men are expected to drink more. During some toasts, men stand and women sit.

Now, what I just described is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of Georgian gender relations – it’s the most superficial and obvious stuff that leaves little room for argument. Many people – in Georgia and elsewhere in the world – would argue that the above system of gender roles is right and true and ordained by God or determined by the biological differences between men and women. Many people would argue that deviating from the above system creates social dysfunction and interferes with the development of moral adults.

My opinion is different. My belief is that a society with such pronounced gender roles is completely dysfunctional. There is no reason to restrict men to certain behaviors, roles, and jobs and restrict women to other behaviors, roles, and jobs. Doing so interferes with a person’s basic human rights, which include self-determination, and also interferes with the ability of the individual to attain enlightenment, self-actualization, or whatever other goal he or she may set for his or her life.

Many people would argue that people in Georgia have equal rights, that if a woman wanted to become a taxi driver no one would stop her – and that may be true from a legal perspective, but socially, people who step out of line are shamed and ostracized. In Georgia, family is considered one of the most important aspects of life, and friendship is another. In Georgia, family and friends are quick to voice disapproval with people who step outside the bounds of social strictures. Women don’t become teachers and bank tellers in Georgia because their nature inclines them towards education and finance – they do it because their families present them with a limited amount of acceptable options and if they do not choose one of these options their families inflict severe emotional damage upon them.

This is real and it’s happening now. The enforcement of gender roles in society is a brutal and alienating process that harms men and women alike – and I’m not even talking about things like domestic violence, sexual violence, the mother/whore dichotomy, the ridiculously high rates of prostitution, abortion, and hymen reconstruction surgery that goes on here, the stuff that’s hidden and not talked about in polite circles – I’m only talking about the very obvious clear superficial stuff like who participates in what activities in the workforce.

Now, one could argue that the deeper and more hidden and more private issues are more damaging in the long run. But of course the issues are related, and in most places, the liberation of women from socially-imposed gender roles preceded, and laid the groundwork for, the struggle for equality and human rights in private life.

I spend a lot of time focusing on the edge cases – on women I know who have been egregiously attacked or harmed or damaged by Georgian men in overt ways, like being beaten or kidnapped or raped (and yes, I do know women who have experienced these things, and not thirty years ago, either) – but that allows people to point the finger elsewhere and say “well a few bad apples don’t spoil the bunch.”

But even in the average case – even in the case of the every day Georgian person who thinks that everything is just about as it should be – everyone in Georgia participates in the enforcement and promulgation of gender roles. And you have to ask yourself the philosophical and psychological questions that this process brings up: What does it to do a person to be forced into a particular gender role? What process does it take to turn someone into a gender enforcer? What effects does living life in a constant fear of shame have on a person’s soul/psyche? What are the characteristics of a society built on the strict enforcement of gender roles, and are those the characteristics of a society you would like to live in?

Because when I look around at Georgian people – people in Tbilisi in the year 2011 – I see people victimized and oppressed by gender. I see people who live entire lives in hiding, ashamed of themselves for wanting to be themselves, people who tell friends one thing, family another thing, strangers a third thing, and themselves something completely different.

And yes, I do tend to hold Georgian men in contempt – I consider the way they relate to women to be less than barbaric, among other things – but I also recognize that they’ve been harmed – they’ve been stunted – by the gender system in Georgian society. Every day I work with Georgian boys who have the potential to turn into truly excellent human beings, but their society offers them no real avenue to accomplish this. Their society tears them down before they can really find out who they could be. I think it’s tragic.

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

I’d like to talk more about my views on gender roles and society, but my time is running out for today. In the future, though, I intend to explore these ideas and the reasons for them much more deeply. I feel I owe that to the public if I ever expect to be truly understood on this blog.

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21 Responses to Gender in Georgia

  1. Mach says:

    I understand that you’ve said that this is just a tip of the iceberg, but most things you’ve listed are pretty trivial and the connection between that and dramatic second half of the post can not be seen. The jobs you’ve listed are pretty trivial. I don’t think it’s somebody’s dream to be a taxi driver or to work in a shop (shop assistant?). I can not think of a single popular profession that is socially considered to be gender-limited, If I think harder I might score a couple at most. I’m not necessarily saying that you are wrong, on the contrary my gut feeling says that you are not, but you have yet to present your evidence which I am looking forward to.

  2. pasumonok says:

    i have said it before: i would much rather be a woman in this society than a man. becoz the list of musts is so much longer for a man. the list of things he has to do and things he cannot do to be considered a man. also, woman that breaks some gender rules, sometimes she gets a pass. i know bunch of girls who don;t cook and clean, they have enough money to hire someone else to do it. but if a man breaks even small gender rules, he is criticized a lot. and that is becoz society is much more interested in men and thus builds a whole code of what constitutes a real man.
    so no thanx, i get more freedom being female–i can get away with little things they can’t.

    • panoptical says:

      Yeah but the “rules” for Georgian men are things like “sit around and watch TV all day” or “play Nardi with friends while drinking and smoking cigarettes.” That doesn’t strike me as particularly onerous.

    • Hmmm..... says:

      I agree with panoptical – the gender rules for men are much less burdensome. And if they break it, then they can, and *do* get away with it. One of the gender rules for men is that they support their family by having a job – but how many men do you know who don’t work, and instead of looking for a job just sit around the house, drink, smoke, and pass time with their friends? In most cases, their wife works *and* cooks, cleans, and takes care of the children while he does nothing. The man doesn’t get criticized a lot – in fact, if his wife were to demand that he help out around the house, SHE would be criticized more than him.

      “i know bunch of girls who don;t cook and clean, they have enough money to hire someone else to do it” – well, that’s only a very small part of Tbilisi, and if someone’s that rich (man or woman) they always hire maids. That’s not representative of the country or Tbilisi – most people are still poor, only about 10% (if that much) of the population is rich.

      • Mach says:

        uh… men not having jobs are stigmatized. Besides the demand of men having jobs is world-wide.

        • Hmmm..... says:

          Men not having jobs is stigmatized….but not as much as a woman not cooking, cleaning, taking care of the children, etc…. If a Georgian man doesn’t have a job (and many don’t), and he decides to drink with his friends/play nardi/birja with his friends, then it’s not as looked down upon as a woman who would do the same. In fact, in the villages, a girl having pre-marital sex (or not being a good wife) is more looked down upon than a man who doesn’t have a job, doesn’t want to work, and drinks constantly.

          Let’s look at the reality here – how many men do you know who don’t have jobs, pass time with their friends, and don’t help out around the house? Now how many women do you know who do the same? Who is judged for it more harshly? That’s what I’m trying to say.

          As for the world-wide part, in most parts of the world women do all or most of the household chores, and many times have jobs as well, while men aren’t expected to help with housework/raising the children. The demand is there, but that doesn’t mean that the men always meet it, or that they get stigmatized for it.

          Georgian women (especially those in the cities) do everything – this might be a reason why many foreign men marry Georgian women, while the reverse is not true. It’s just an idea of mine, but it’s something worth thinking about.

        • --> says:

          Yaah, right, stigmatized my ass. A story from last summer – an 18 year old boy who managed got married and have a kid (sic!) gets a job (the position is ‘arranged’ by a relative) in a construction company. At the first day of work he yells and throws hard had at his supervisor because quote ‘being told to follow orders’ which his pride nature can not allow.

          Result – he is sitting home, chatting with his teenage buddies and drinking wine, while his mother and 17 y/o wife working 12 yours per day to feed him, child and themselves (in this order).

          Don’t even tell me that it is not a typical Georgian story. They boy and family do not live in Tbilisi, but does it change the picture?

          DoDon

        • Hmmm..... says:

          I sense a little hostility here. Notice how the person that I replied to managed to make his point in a calm manner. If you read my post, you would see that some of our ideas matched up (i.e. the woman is expected to do much more in Georgia than the man).

          I take it you’re Georgian (as am I) – could you not take things so personally? You sound very angry from your tone.

        • --> says:

          No hostilities, just a stating a fact. I don’t take things personally, life in States taught me that.

  3. Mari says:

    I frequently visits New York and Chicago and I have yet to see a female taxi driver or a construction worker because overwhelming majority are males. Aren’t you from New York? How come you never criticize Orthodox and Hasidic Jews who much like Georgians follow traditional gender roles?

    • panoptical says:

      If you draw your attention to the large text at the top of this page, you might notice that this blog isn’t called “Borough Park On My Mind.” That’s why I don’t criticize Orthodox and Hasidic Jews.

    • Left Eye Looking says:

      @Mari

      “I frequently visits New York and Chicago and I have yet to see a female taxi driver or a construction worker because overwhelming majority are males.”

      Mari, I’m an American female and I used to work in construction in college to help pay my tuition My aunt who is super tiny in height and weight even by non-American standards, was a foreman/woman on a construction crew for a decade. I’ve seen quite a few women in the States working in construction. I’ve also seen a lot of female cab drivers in Oakland and San Francisco, some of them were gang members, BUT….they were still cab drivers.

      I’m just putting that out there….

      • sugarray@gmail.com says:

        Interesting…. I for one have never seen a female construction worker in America.

        I just wanted to add that many of your comments about Georgians are very insulting and offensive.

        • Left Eye Looking says:

          @sugarray@gmail.com

          “Interesting…. I for one have never seen a female construction worker in America.”

          It depends on the demographic of the areas that a person frequents and how the economy is affecting those areas even when the economy is doing well in the rest of the country. I have seen many American women from socially marginalized groups, including my own, doing work that is traditionally seen as “men’s work” or in industries that have historically been occupied by males.
          I’ve seen and made acquaintances with crane operators, construction workers, taxi drivers, bricklayers, welders, and sheet metal specialists who are women. I haven’t seen a longshoreman that is a woman…..yet. Maybe there will be longshorewomen in the future.

  4. Left Eye Looking says:

    @Neal

    “And yes, I do tend to hold Georgian men in contempt – I consider the way they relate to women to be less than barbaric, among other things – but I also recognize that they’ve been harmed – they’ve been stunted – by the gender system in Georgian society. Every day I work with Georgian boys who have the potential to turn into truly excellent human beings, but their society offers them no real avenue to accomplish this. Their society tears them down before they can really find out who they could be. I think it’s tragic.”

    Don’t you think it’s a two-way street, though? Georgian women are also responsible. The women also keep the gender roles imbalanced by spoiling their sons and not disciplining them so that they can’t grow up to be wholly functional adults who take responsibility for their own actions without denigrating and abusing the other gender? I guess it’s a chicken and egg thing, which comes first? I saw that a lot in Turkey and in North Africa and I see that a lot in Southern Italy. The mothers “baby” their sons and then they grow up to be adult-infants who have some deep seated problems (read: anger and rage) with their own mothers and take it out on other women.
    The other thing is that it’s not just in Georgia, it’s the whole region of the former Ottoman Empire (Caucasus, Turkey, North Africa, Middle East) have an obsession with a woman’s virginity or rather a woman’s hymen or lack thereof. The men and the women are obsessed with the hymen.
    It’s a regional hymen obsession that is one of the primary factors for the gender roles. The women are just as obsessed with it as the men and I’m talking about the older women who promote the sexism and misogyny just as much as the older and younger men do.

    I have expats friends who have been beaten and hospitalized by boyfriends (<–the bfs were locals, not expats) because they weren't virgins, i.e. missing an intact hymen. Naturally, I encouraged those expat friends to break up with those spoiled, sucking on their mama's tit, freeloading, arrogant in their own ignorance, waste of space SOBs.

    Off topic: From my evil, Western, satirical perspective…I wish Aaron McGruder from The Boondocks would make a cartoon about the male obsession with the hymen. I would watch that cartoon.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I am trying to recall in my mind which one of my married Georgian friends and acquaintances has a husband with a job, and I am blocked. The only one who I know of that has an employed husband is my American friend who is married to a Georgian (she wouldn’t marry a deadbeat). I have been living outside of Tbilisi for almost 2 years and have been immersed in the culture with mainly Georgian friends with the exception of my European NGO friends, but of course my work consists only of women. All of these women who are married, have unemployed husbands who do nothing. They race home after work to start cooking and cleaning, and of course who looks after the kids in the afternoon, Grandmother- the father is too busy drinking and sitting around with the friends. I am sure there are many exceptions-but I do not know any. And I have no Georgian male friends due to the taboo of male/female friendship, so I have no chance to meet any employed Georgian male friends. I know Tbilisi is possibly different, but not all of us live there. It is interesting how women can take the initiative and get out there and find some work but the men can’t.

    As for the other topic, I have been attacked (groped) twice in broad daylight completely covered with my coat. I usually just look at the ground and dress as unattractive as possible to avoid attention. If I wear the 5 inch hills and look pretty, (as many Georgians have noted that us foreign women do not dress up), I get more harassment. So my choice is to clip up the blond hair, wear no makeup, wear my glasses and sweatpants or get dolled up with my high heels and skirt and get called and looked upon as if I am whore and possibly attacked. When I go to parties and dances I will dress up and get enough of the comments on the street and men trying to get me into their cars. So I can’t win! Either way, I am so sick and tired of being looked at as an object of desire and “cheap” for being foreign. No matter what I wear I feel naked when I leave the flat. But of course I have to walk to work and I have much work to do. These are experiences that both myself and my female expat friends who live here have gone through. No one pays attention or bothers me in Tbilisi, but in my town- it is never ending. And it is completely different when I go to Armenia or Italy. The cat calls are flattering and enjoyable, as well as harmless in most countries that I have visited. It is disturbing and highly disrespectful in the methods they use here. My last trip to Armenia, people told my partner that he is lucky to have a beautiful wife or the comment of “ochen kraseeva” was made often. I have no problem with that approach and it is human nature to enjoy a compliment. Here is a completely different method and they actually think that I want to get in the car with them after this approach. Hmm…

  6. Man In A High Castle says:

    Sorry to inform you but studying feminist theory in gender studies class makes you seem rather brainwashed then enlightened in terms of gender politics.

    We, the human species evolved gender behavior based on evolutionary circumstance, we didn’t create it nor did it create us. males hunted while females stayed back and took care of the newborns, who would later replace their parents and continue the cycle of gene survival.

    Female and Male behavior is imprinted in our genetics and it’s an essential part of our natural selves. it’s pure biology and nothing less. (XY,XX, hormonal differences, body differences etc)

    You’ve said before that “gender is a lie and it doesn’t exist” – sorry but I gotta break it to you, it does exist and it’s not going away unless people like you continue the modern day eugenics which tries to artificially direct the evolutionary principals of our society and the human species in general.

    We, the humans have reached the top by these principals, principals that ensured the survival of our kind.

    Males and Females also strive differently and have different desires. they also have two very different bodies with limitations on them, limitations that make no female want to touch the Ranger School Training or go Seal Team Six whenever they like. their brains work differently.

    I would suggest you and all the feminists to stop the 1984 like communist rhetoric, you’re no different then NKVD enforcing communist policies in Soviet Union.

    • panoptical says:

      First of all, I’ve never said “gender is a lie and it doesn’t exist”. Aside from being rather stilted English, it does not accurately represent my views on gender.

      Theoretical gender roles in hunter-gatherer societies have little relation to modern society. Hunter-gatherer societies adopted gender roles as an adaptation to their circumstances. If humanity still consisted of 20,000 individuals spread out across the plains of Africa with nothing more advanced than Stone Age technology, it might – I stress, *might* – make sense to have some kind of social rule that men should be the hunters and fighters and women should engage in less dangerous work in order to ensure that the tribe could reproduce.

      However, now we live in a world in which billions of people are straining the planet’s ability to support us. Maximizing reproductive capacity is no longer a matter of survival – in fact, it’s pushing us to the edge of global catastrophe. I don’t understand how anyone who has lived in the 20th and 21st centuries could possibly believe that society should still be organized towards increasing the total number of humans given the facts of the world that we live in now.

      There are women who are being told, now, that their role in life is to find a husband, make a family, and then clean up after them until the day she dies. This happens not just in Georgia, but all around the world. That is not fair, and it is not necessary, and there is nothing to be found in human history or DNA that will make it so.

    • panoptical says:

      Also, this – http://thinkprogress.org/health/2015/05/11/3654568/gender-roles-women-health/

      TL;DR: Studies show that gender roles are actively, medically dangerous to women’s health.

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