The other day I was talking about movies with a Georgian friend.
“Have you ever seen The Pianist?” she asked.
“I don’t think so… what’s it about?”
“It’s by Roman Polanski,” she said.
“The rapist?” I asked.
“Oh, you Americans. He was never convicted!” she said, laughing. “Why do you Americans all want to throw him in jail?”
Now, I admit that by saying “the rapist?” I could be interpreted as picking a fight. However, that’s honestly the first (and only) thing that comes to mind when I think of Roman Polanski. That’s what he’s been in the news for in my lifetime. He hasn’t been to America since he fled the country to escape his rape sentence, so it’s not like he’s so notable to the average American. I don’t know what movies he’s made or really anything else about him other than the fact that he plied a 13 year old girl with champagne and possibly narcotics and then raped her and then got away with it and now is rich and famous and beloved by millions of rape-apologists throughout the world.
(And for the record – I looked this up – he was in fact convicted of “unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor;” his side of events amounted to “she was asking for it” and while this seemed to satisfy the prosecutor, whose job it is to get convictions, the judge, whose job it is to seek justice, didn’t buy it. Polanski and his supporters have attacked the judge, saying that he treated the child rapist unfairly; I think that anyone who says “you should be more fair to child rapists” should be castrated just as a precaution. In any case, I don’t think that anyone with more than a passing acquaintance with the facts of the case has any doubt that Polanski is a child rapist, so if you don’t believe me, go do some damned research.)
Now, I don’t think there’s anything peculiarly American about opposing child rape. I think that many cultures and many nations believe that they have an interest in seeing child rapists brought to justice. Even in France, where Polanski lives, a general consensus developed that whatever else you could say about Roman Polanski, that whole child rape thing that he did was Very Bad.
But when it comes to Georgia – and I admit I have been known to become argumentative about this issue in the past – I cannot help but be reminded of the fact that rape is enshrined in a certain Georgian tradition that still continues to this day. And if you’ve read the title of this post, you can guess which one I’m talking about.
So first of all I want to preemptively address all the comments that I’m sure people are formulating as they read this about how bridenapping no longer occurs, or if it does, it’s really just elopement, and anyway it’s illegal, yadda yadda yadda.
Again, I think that anyone who has a serious acquaintance with the facts of the matter has to admit that bridenapping is still an issue, albeit perhaps not as much of one as it was in the past. Independent organizations that do studies of bridenapping all report that it still occurs in Georgia. Again, if you have any doubts, I suggest you research the matter yourself; you can find links as easily as I can. The point of this post, however, is not to criticize or belittle Georgian efforts to deal with bridenapping – in fact, I think it’s great that bridenapping is now punishable by law and that occurrences of bridenapping seem to be on the decline – rather it’s more to explain why I (and other Americans, perhaps) have so little tolerance for this particular Georgian tradition and the traces it has left behind in Georgian society.
I was having a discussion with a fellow TLGer during my trip from Tbilisi to New York in which I found myself making the argument that bridenapping, as it is traditionally practiced, is essentially institutionalized rape. I started to feel a little silly, as I often do while pontificating in person about women’s issues to a woman, but fortunately she expressed her agreement. I’ll briefly reproduce my reasoning here:
As we all know, bridenapping (not elopement, but traditional bridenapping) involves a woman being kidnapped, held prisoner for some length of time, and then “agreeing” to marry her kidnapper rather than be shunned by society for all time. This includes possibly not being allowed back into her own house by her own family because of the shame that it would bring them. This includes dying alone, because no only does her own family shun her, but she cannot marry into another family because Georgian men will not take a woman who has been bridenapped by another man.
So this is the choice that a woman faces after she has been kidnapped: she either marries her kidnapper – in other words, she publicly agrees to have sex with the man who forcibly abducted her, whenever he wants, for life; to serve him and his friends; to raise his children; etc. – or, she tries to convince her family to take her back, and then lives with the stain on her and her family’s name for the rest of her life, or, failing that, she leaves her home, family, village, and friends behind and tries to make it on her own in a cruel world with no place for young poor single unmarried women.
All of Georgian society is geared around family, though, and so the vast majority of bridenapping victims choose to protect their family honor by marrying their kidnappers.
So to me, what happens is that through force and coercion, the young woman (in many cases, these women are in fact teenagers) is induced to become the sex slave of a savage brute who gets what he wants through force and violence; and what’s worse, the entire thing is dressed up as a tradition, condoned by family and society and the church, and swept under the rug, so that in the end everyone just pretends that this is normal and acceptable. No one gets angry over it. It’s just the way things are.
Well I’m angry. I’m angry when I read stories of women who have been living with their rapists for years. I’m angry when people pretend that bridenapping doesn’t happen any more just because it might happen somewhat less frequently these days. I’m angry that there are still people in Georgian society who would shame women for not being virgins to the extent that bridenapping is still a feasible way of getting a woman to marry you. I’m angry that there are young couples who elope and call it bridenapping, because that’s an incredibly gruesome and inhuman name to put on something romantic.
Bridenapping is, simply put, not taken seriously in Georgian society. The culture that allows bridenapping to function – the virginity institution, the shaming of women who fail to adhere to that institution, the code of silence surrounding domestic violence and sex crimes, the widespread denial of any kind of problems in Georgian interpersonal relations – is thriving.
And now, in modern times, you have young couples who stage “bridenappings” in order to elope. Why? Because they can’t get parental permission to marry – in other words, because they are horny teenagers who want to have sex and the only socially acceptable way to do so is to stage a bridenapping so they can get “married” so they can bang.
So let me get this straight – in Georgia, it is not socially acceptable for two consenting teenagers in a relationship to have premarital sex, but it is socially acceptable for a Georgian man to kidnap and rape a Georgian woman, and so when two young people want to have sex, in many cases they will say that what is occurring is actually rape so that their families and neighbors will not be able to say bad things about them.
My friends: that is a COLOSSALLY fucked up scenario.
I mean, really, I don’t understand how someone could fail to be disgusted by this. And when people ask me why I get so worked up over things like the virginity institution, or the shame that women face for being sexually active in any way, or the gender roles that are enforced by Georgian society – well, it’s because a culture that functions based on gender inequality and shaming of women always has a dark underside. It always has victims who suffer in silence. It always serves to remove freedom and agency and humanity from women (and, I might add, from men). A culture of sexual repression always creates human beings who are coerced into being outlets for that repression, and this is never anything but ugly and horrible.
I personally believe that the only way for things to get better is for people to confront these demons boldly and honestly. I keep hearing about how young Georgian people are sneaking around and having sex under the older generations’ noses, and so I should stop worrying. But my point is not to encourage people to have sex – people don’t need my encouragement, frankly, and I bet the older generations were doing it under their parents’ noses too – my point is to encourage people to be honest about it. My point is to remove the shame and the stigma. My point is not that people should be promiscuous, it’s that a person shouldn’t be called “promiscuous” just for doing something that is completely normal and natural, especially if they are responsible about it.
Because as long as people aren’t being honest with themselves, their friends, and their families, we’re going to continue to live in a society where rapists get to be proud husbands and fathers while women who have done nothing wrong are forced to bear the burden of guilt and shame for their whole lives.
And that’s bad.