Yeah, the title is a mouthful.
I realized something, just now, that I regard as so important that instead of going back to sleep (it’s 6am and I’ve had less than five hours) I’m going to stay up and post about it. Hopefully at the end this post will be worth it. Who can say?
So this is what happened: I was surfing the internet (following up on facebook links, etc) when I came across an old article that I had seen before, but which I considered worth a reread: Schrödinger’s Rapist: or a guy’s guide to approaching strange women without being maced. I posted the article on facebook, saying that it should be required reading for all men in Georgia. In reality, I think it should be required read for every human on Earth – but yes, especially Georgians, and I’ll get to why.
The basic gist of the article is this: due to the shockingly high number of American women who get raped (the article says one in six, some say one in four, I don’t care to argue over numbers this time so we’ll go with “shockingly high”) or otherwise assaulted or harmed by men, most American women incorporate concern for their personal safety into every aspect of their daily routine in ways that men are perhaps unaware of. One of these things is assessing the threat level of strangers. If you are a stranger, there are various subtle and not-so-subtle ways that you can influence that assessment in either direction, and the author describes some.
Most significantly, the author points out that if you behave in ways that suggest that your desire to interact trumps a woman’s right to be left alone, most women will (quite sensibly) up your estimated threat level because the idea that your desires trump a woman’s rights is the idea that underpins rape. Anyway, read the article; she says it better than I could.
Now, the principle reason that an article such as this needed to be written was not, in my opinion, that well-meaning men needed advice on how to approach strange women. The more important reason, I believe, is that the article frames the “all men are potential rapists” argument in such a way as to expressly avoid impugning the character of each and every particular man. In other words, it collapses the false dichotomy between a woman’s rational concern for her own safety and a man’s desire to be seen as a good and moral person.
I think it’s incredibly important for every man to realize that no matter how nice and good and un-rapey you are, a woman cannot read your mind and therefore you must not expect her to trust you until she is good and ready.
So this is what’s on my mind when I write about issues like male-female interactions in Georgia. I have an internalized understanding that the reason why it is bad to pull over your cab to propose to the American girl cowering in your back seat late at night not once, but three times, is not only that it is disrespecting her time and her right to use a public conveyance unmolested and disregarding her words and her clearly expressed lack of interest – but more importantly, it is bad because each time you pull over to propose you are ratcheting up that threat level. You are making another human being increasingly terrified that you are going to rape her.
And to a lesser extent, the same thing is happening every time a Georgian man is “persistent” with a foreign woman; every time a Georgian stranger follows a foreign woman, or shouts proposals at her; every time a host-male-relative gets a little too friendly or takes the patroni thing a little too far.
And I would never think to spell it out this way, because to me it’s intuitively obvious, but I’ve come to realize that this is not the case for Georgians.
What’s the Georgian party line on male-female interactions? We’ve all heard it, say it with me: “Georgian men know how to treat women. Georgian men know how to respect women. Georgian men were the most desired husbands in the entire USSR. Women are completely safe in Georgia.”
And then if you complain about the behavior of a particular Georgian man: “Don’t be insulted. He didn’t mean anything by it.”
This baffled me. I admit, I was not the best intercultural communicator – rather than try to understand what Georgians meant when they used the word “insult” over and over to describe a situation that was clearly not about insults, I simply assumed that every single Georgian I spoke to about the matter was stupid or ignorant or misusing the English language. Not once in the fourteen months since Sex in Georgia went up did I ever stop to try to understand why all these Georgians kept using that same word – “insult” – until today.
It turns out – and this is just a theory – that to Georgians, being propositioned for sex might be considered insulting.
And I feel like an idiot for not realizing this before. Because Georgians were saying it – I was just not listening. Hell, *I* was even saying it.
Georgian men are primed to think of foreign women as potential prostitutes – this is what we’re all told and what I’ve repeated several times. And that’s why, we are told, some Georgian men act the way they do towards Western women. And that’s why, we are constantly told, Georgian women aren’t subject to the same levels of harassment as foreign women.
And so I think – and again, just a theory – I think that when we complain about this behavior, Georgians think that we are upset because Georgian men implied that our women are whores.
See, in Georgia, prostitutes are morally inferior people (and anyone who does not strictly conform to the virginity institution etc. is considered a prostitute/slut/ნაშა/ბოზი/etc.) and thus implying that someone is, or might be, a slutty slutty ho is a giant fucking insult. And so when Georgian men proposition Western women for sex, what they’re really doing is heavily implying that all Western women are whores.
Georgian men, by the way they behave towards us, are basically saying that our women – our mothers, our sisters, our daughters – are dirty, dirty whores.
I never realized this before, but they’ve been insulting us this whole time.
And THAT’s why, whenever any of us get pissy about it, they all rush to assure us that they didn’t mean any insult. That’s why, in the mind of a Georgian person, the response “it’s not their fault, it’s just that Russians women are all whores so they thought your women were whores too” actually makes sense as a response to the statement “Georgian men harass Western women all the time.”
So let me try to put this as clearly as possible. Georgian men: Westerners don’t care if you think Western women are prostitutes. We understand that you consider allowing women the autonomy to make their own sexual choices scandalous and immoral. We understand that you choose to see the world in terms of mothers and whores and to be brutally honest, we pity you for it. We understand that your idea of respecting women corresponds almost exactly to our idea of degrading and humiliating women, and we judge you, not ourselves, accordingly.
So again, the problem is not that you are insulting Western women. The problem is that you are frightening them. The problem is that they are alone in a strange country where they do not speak the language and do not understand the customs, and you are behaving towards them in a way that increases, rather than decreases, their discomfort and apprehension. The problem is that they are already on high alert because they are in an unfamiliar situation, and then you come along and badger them and ignore their verbal and nonverbal cues to leave them the hell alone, all of which leads them to the (reasonable, in their position) conclusion that you are unacceptably likely to try to rape them.
In other words, the problem is that you consistently put your desire to interact with Western women above their right to feel safe and secure in their person.
And it’s sad, because there are a lot of great Georgian men out there. You who are reading this might be one of them. And if you are, my advice is this: read that article. Consider your approach. Approach Western women with an understanding that her estimation of how much of a threat you are is not a condemnation of your character, but a product of her environment, personality, and past experiences; but also with an understanding that you can mitigate some of that if you behave in a way that is respectful and non-threatening.
But also – be reasonable. If she’s 22 and you’re 50 and drive a cab, she’s not going to marry you. Let it go, dude.