Gender Is A Social Disease*

Unsurprisingly, yet another Georgian man has completely failed to comprehend my point in discussing gender roles in Georgia. This is unsurprising for two reasons:

1. My opinion about gender threatens the system that benefits Georgian men at the expense of Georgian women; thus, to comprehend my point in discussing gender roles in Georgia is against the perceived self-interest of Georgian men.

2. I have assumed some knowledge about feminism and/or gender theory on the part of the reader because I write mainly for prospective or current TLG volunteers – in other words, people with a Western-quality college education and a general liberal-leaning political and philosophical background.

So I would like to take this opportunity to clarify a few things about my thoughts about gender in order to avoid such confusion in the future.

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It has become clear to me that at least some of the confusion rests in the fact that people sometimes think that I am criticizing Georgia when I talk about gender roles in Georgia. I am not criticizing Georgia. I am criticizing gender.

A recent comment strongly implied that when I, or someone like me, criticizes gender roles in Georgia, we are indicating a preference for gender roles in America. This is not only untrue, it is profoundly ignorant. Gender roles in Georgia are not sufficiently different from gender roles in America for this to even make sense.

Doubt me? Here, let me describe the gender roles in one of the countries, and you just tell me which one I’m talking about:

Men are considered stronger and more intelligent and more capable and more assertive. Men are supposed to be the breadwinners. Men are more inclined towards binge drinking and partying with their friends. Men are more likely to cheat on their wives and to visit prostitutes. Women are considered more nurturing but weaker. Women are supposed to sacrifice their careers for their families, to take care of the children, to cook and clean and do housework. Men are supposed to fight to defend women’s honor. Women who have sex before marriage are publicly called sluts and worse. Men are supposed to be in charge and occupy the majority of leadership positions. Women are supposed to be subservient in the public and private spheres.

Does this sound familiar? If so, then you’re probably Georgian. Or American. Or Italian. Or Puerto Rican. Or Korean. Or a member of any other society on the fucking planet that shares these same exact fucking gender roles.

There are a few – a very small few – cultures that have substantially different gender roles. A few cultures are relatively more egalitarian; a few are relatively matriarchal; a few have well-defined and recognized third genders. There are some cultures that add an additional level of crazy on top of these gender roles – cultures that straight-up enslave women, cultures that practice female genital mutilation, etc – but again, these are in the relative minority, thank goodness.

So when I criticize gender roles, in Georgia, it is not because I like gender roles in America. I did not like gender roles there, I do not like them here, I do not like them Sam I Am.

The more salient difference between gender roles in America and gender roles in Georgia is not what the roles are, it’s how many people take them seriously and how overtly they are practiced. In America, if you say that women are less capable than men, or that women who have premarital sex are sluts, there’s at least a chance that people will call you out on being a misogynist twit, even if at least half the country secretly agrees with you. In Georgia, these two statements are uncontroversial, even if at least half the country secretly disagrees with you.

Gender roles are not worse in Georgia. What is worse in Georgia is their enforcement. It’s a symptom of the larger issue of conformity in Georgia – the belief that if you do not act like everyone else, then something is wrong with you. Many Georgians privately ignore gender roles but publicly pretend to conform.

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So why is it that I am so strongly against gender roles, as a whole?

There’s a whole set of reasons. Where do I even start?

Modern gender roles are an artifact of a time when a woman was the property of a man. A woman belonged to her father until such time as he “gave her away” at her wedding – a tradition that, at least in America, persists to this day, as a ceremonial nod to the good old days when women were chattel, I guess. Once married, a woman belonged to her husband. Women could not own property – that would be ridiculous! Property can’t own property! Women could also be stolen – yes, here I bring up bridenapping once more. And lest you think I pick on Georgia, bridenapping actually happens in tons of places.

All of our ideas about what men ought to do and what women ought to do are based on that paradigm – the paradigm of male ownership of women. So if you feel, like I do, that this paradigm of women as property and men as owners is wrong, then you should at least be willing to question all of the gender roles that are really just holdovers from the days when women were overtly enslaved.

There is still a large group of people who will claim that gender roles are actually benign and have nothing to do with women-as-property. They will offer something like raising children as an example of something women are naturally better at, not something that men relegated women to doing while they were off drinking and gambling and whoring and warring with their friends.

I find this assessment both deeply insulting and counter to my personal experience.

Partly it’s the fact that my parents divorced when I was quite young and my father took care of my sister and I. Partly it’s the fact that I look forward to one day raising my own children and I resent the implication that I am unqualified for the task just because I am biologically male.

Just go all down the line with these gender roles. Which of them actually benefit society? Women should do all the housework? Why? Women aren’t as intelligent as men? Nonsense. Men are physically stronger? So what if they are? This is the 21st century, where very, very few people are limited in their lives by the amount of physical strength they have. Even if you argue that “construction worker” or “police officer” requires a bunch of strength, the vast majority of modern jobs do not – so why hold on to the old stereotype of the man as the breadwinner when the only advantage men ever really had in breadwinning has been negated or even reversed by the modern economy?

Every gender role is an arbitrary limitation. It’s telling a person that they are not allowed, by society, to do something they are fully capable of doing because of an arbitrary unrelated biological factor.

I’m not saying that men should get pregnant or women should start to pee standing up (although there is a device for that). Different people have different biological capacities. However, my contention is that it is more fair and more efficient to assess capacities on an individual basis than it is to bundle unrelated capacities together into one of two categories and then assign roles to people based on what category they fit in rather than what their actual capacities are.

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That’s not even the worst part.

The worst part is that the existence of gender itself is basically a violent and unnecessary ritual that we put our children through for no other reason than the fact that we were put through it ourselves.

Everyone has the experience of growing up and being told, by their parents, their teachers, and their peers, that some of their preferences and desires are valid and others are invalid. In some cases, this is a necessary part of growing up. You tell your children that the oven is hot; they touch it anyway; they learn to trust you when you warn them not to touch things. You teach them what is harmful and what is healthy.

But for some reason, in addition to teaching them what they need to interpret their natural environment, we also teach them that boys play with trucks and girls play with dolls, that boys wear blue and girls wear pink, that boys don’t cry and girls don’t get dirty. And if they persist in certain behaviors we start to worry about them. There are literally parents who worry that if their kids play with the wrong toys they might turn gay.

The gender system is not easy to conform to. So many children grow up feeling guilty for liking the wrong colors or the wrong toys or the wrong movies – because of their parents’ irrational fears and prejudices. So many children get bullied with gender-based insults if they don’t conform. So many children are convinced they aren’t good enough just because their parents are disappointed in them for not living up to their gender stereotypes. Why? Why do we do this to our children?

“Because,” you will say, “it would be MORE harmful to let them grow up abnormal.” The real harm is if you don’t love your children enough to let them be who they are. There’s nothing society can do to a person that is worse than the effects of not having loving and supportive parents.

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Gender roles are dying in Georgia. The men are demonstrably not the breadwinners in a large number of families, and everyone knows it. With economic autonomy will come social and personal autonomy, and women will get to choose whether to conform to gender roles or not. Most of them will not choose conformity.

This process has already happened in America. Some women choose to be housewives and make career sacrifices to have a family. Others choose college and career. Some balance family and work. Women are outpacing men in higher education and the economic effects of that will be seen in the next decade or two as women assume more economic leadership roles. The same process is evident in Georgia.

My belief is that as gender roles are emphasized less and less, and the residual inequalities from centuries upon centuries of the women-as-property paradigm are surmounted, the enforcement of gender roles will decrease to the point where we’ll get to see what the true potential of a human being is when he or she is not shackled by the arbitrary whims of a shortsighted, medieval system of social and political restrictions aimed at subjugating half the people on Earth.

I view this as the inevitable progress of humanity, but I am happy to do what I can to help speed it along. Gender is a social disease, but it is not incurable.

*I shamelessly stole this line from Cam.

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14 Responses to Gender Is A Social Disease*

  1. tnlr says:

    > With economic autonomy will come social and personal autonomy
    Education is the best driver of changes. That’s why you are there, right?

    > issue of conformity in Georgia – the belief that if you do not act
    > like everyone else, then something is wrong with you.
    Do you know where such behavior is coming from?
    Hint – take a broader look at Asian culture countries and clan based societies.

    • TLG Dude says:

      Conformity doesn’t come from Asia. It doesn’t come from anywhere. Quit trying to pass off things that you find unsavory as concepts that are inherently non-Georgian.

      • tnlr says:

        Dude, I do not need you approval what I will write and what not.

        Secondly, before moving to the subject, can you please elaborate to the audience what YOU think is ‘non-Georgian’ and what is not? So at least we have definitions first.

        • TLG Dude says:

          Dude, you’re missing my point. You would be highly mistaken to think that there are qualitative things that can be described as Georgian or non-Georgian. Likewise with your original implication that conformity is Asian (or clannish). To assign a trait or quality to a country/location or a group of people would be a form of stereotyping. It can’t be included in a discussion with strangers (especially on a culture-related post on a blog read by foreigners). I can’t say with conviction that Americans are fat, Africans are dumb, or Svans are violent, because those statements aren’t true. You could share those thoughts with friends in private, but you certainly can’t be taken seriously if you said those things in a public forum.

          So, I disagree with your attempt to deflect conformity in Georgian society by saying that it’s not Georgian. It’s weak, and it’s anti-intellectual. And what’s with your gripe with conformity anyway? It’s not necessarily a bad thing… just because the entry author posited a connection between gender role enforcement and conformity doesn’t mean you have to pretend that conformity is an unnatural occurrence in Georgia.

          That’s all I’ve got to say.

  2. Bijia says:

    “Unsurprisingly, yet another Georgian man has completely failed to comprehend my point in discussing gender roles in Georgia. This is unsurprising for two reasons:”

    You should read his comment again. I think you are the one who failed to comprehend. He was just giving generic examples of what people think who move to other countries!

    • panoptical says:

      If you’re right, then he did a piss-poor job. That’s not a list of things that anyone experiences in any country they go to. It’s a list of what North Americans experience when they come to Georgia.

      So, either he’s completely disconnected from reality – which I doubt – or he’s deliberately, passive-aggressively invalidating the experiences of every foreigner who comes to Georgia – which I think is more likely.

      Either way, he has, in fact, failed to comprehend why I discuss gender roles in Georgia. It’s not, as “George” implies, because everyone who travels always discusses gender roles.

      • Babs says:

        I see what you’re saying, but I also see what Bijia is saying. I’m an American in Dubai and will admit I’ve thought many of the things that George listed in his comment before.
        However, I thought most of those things soon after arriving in my new country, and over the years many of those opinions have changed.

        George’s comment made me wonder if some of the opinons I’ve had, like “customer service is really bad here” is a product of my skewed American perception. Ultimately I’ve arrived at no, it is not simply a result of that.

        I would agree with George in that his list includes many opinions people have *initially* when they move to a new country. But, it’s not that easy. I’ve been in Dubai for almost 6 years now and have vastly different points of view on a lot of things, including gender roles here… Just like you said about how you can’t say “Americans are fat”, etc, I don’t feel that you can adequately make claims that “gender roles are insert-negative-adjective in whatevercountry”. I think it’s too broad- especially in a place like Dubai where 80% of the population is comprised of foreigners. With that comes a great variety of marriage types and differing gender roles.

        I have to say though, I’ve been reading your blog for a long time now (I am interested in teaching in Georgia in the future) and your aggressive and defensive comments have really put a sour taste in my mouth. I think the Internet is a great medium for having these (hopefully respectful) debates. To me, you’re not being respectful. People have different opinions on things and it’s an amazing thing that we get to listen to others’ opinions. That’s how we learn how the world works… Learning WHY people have an opinion helps people shape their own opinion. Your sarcastic, defensive, and I’d even say RUDE responses to some of these comments isn’t very attractive to me.

        Remember that these comments are coming from actual human beings. People seem to think it’s ok to be disrespectful, condescending, and rude to others online, but at the end of the day you’re still communicating with another person. There are better ways to express a conflicting opinion to someone. I don’t think the attitude that “I’m right so everything you say is ridiculous” gets you very far.

        • panoptical says:

          My tone and attitude are not for everyone. I am not going to stop being sarcastic towards people who annoy me and I’m not going to start being respectful towards people who come to my blog (or the TLG blog) and disrespect me (and my colleagues). Not all opinions are equally valid, as I told “George from Georgia”.

          But I see how the casual reader might not have picked up on why George’s comment irritates me so much or why I felt comfortable dismissing his and Bijia’s opinions. See, I actually do know why Bijia and George have the opinions that they have. George has his opinion because he is defensive about Georgia, and Bijia has his opinion because he did not correctly understand George’s comment or my response to it.

          Not to be disrespectful, but you also do not understand George’s comment. You say “I would agree with George in that his list includes many opinions people have *initially* when they move to a new country.” But that is not at all what George said. George said that every person, American or Georgian or otherwise, has every opinion on his list, and then some, every time they travel to a country with a different language and culture. That is not even a remotely accurate assessment of reality.

          Bijia made the same mistake by calling George’s examples “generic”. Many of the examples that George gave were not generic at all. “Food is more diverse in my country” is not a generic thing that everyone thinks in every different culture they go to. George lists it because one of the most notable things about Georgia is its relative lack of foreign restaurants and its relative reliance on a few staple foods. TLG volunteers talk about the lack of food diversity in Georgia all the time. This can maybe be generalized to developing countries – in poor countries, a few cheap staple foods dominate and imports are too expensive for most of the population, which pushes down food diversity – but it is not something that could possibly apply to a person from a poor country going to Toronto. I don’t know if you’ve been to Toronto, but one of the most notable things about Toronto is the diversity of Toronto’s population, including the availability of a stunningly diverse array of cuisines. It bothers George that people say that Georgia has low food diversity – even though it does, compared to a place like Toronto (or most other large North American cities). George thus puts it on his list in order to diminish the credibility of foreigners who talk about Georgia’s low food diversity by arguing that their comments do not reflect reality, but instead reflect culture shock.

          The same is true for the bulk of George’s examples.

          And that’s the heart of this issue. If people read George’s comment they might be inclined to believe that none of the observations Westerners make about Georgia can be trusted. I recently wrote a post about the wind in Tbilisi. George from Georgia commented on that post interpreting my objective statements about wind blowing clothes off clotheslines and penetrating the windows and walls of houses as complaints about wind and then informed me that wind is stronger in New York and that I was just suffering from culture shock. Culture shock might account for a lot, but last I checked a psychological phenomenon in my mind can’t actually remove clothes from clotheslines in my friends’ backyards in Saburtalo and Gldani. Needless to say I did not approve that comment, because it was asinine, but of course George included “Winds blow stronger here” in his list on the TLG blog.

          It has taken me quite a long time to write this comment explaining why George irritated me and why Bijia’s defense of George irritated me and why your defense of Bijia is misplaced. Ultimately it may be faster for me, in the future, just not to approve comments like George’s and Bijia’s and yours. If that happens, then the dialogue and exchange that you seem to value will be harmed, rather than helped.

          In conclusion, instead of me being more respectful towards idiots, it would be much more efficient and productive if people could just be less idiotic.

        • Babs says:

          What I mean is that I can understand where George is *coming from*, but like I said, to me it’s not that simple… Which is an opinion that agrees with your opinion that George is wrong. I was only stating that I can *understand* and *relate* to what I think is George’s point in some small way, but I do not think he painted an adequate whole picture. I do not see how those comments of mine have resulted in you being defensive and arguing with me when I see it as we both arrived at the same conclusion- that George is not ultimately right.

          I would also say that as a reader of yours, I value *your* opinion and the opinions of the other Westerners living in Georgia. No one is going to make me think that your opinions are invalid or your perception of Georgia is wrong. I specifically come to your blog and others so I can read about Georgia from *your point of view*.

          I never lacked trust in you and your opinions. That said, being over-the-top defensive and even editing opposing opinions out of your comments doesn’t make sense to me. You are clearly confident in your opinion (something that comes through in your writing and that I think your readers appreciate), so it doesn’t make sense to a reader like me when you are so dismissive, argumentative, and pissed off about someone saying something you don’t agree with.

          Maybe your attitude about this is *because* you live there. I could understand being that defensive and argumentative if someone tried to comment on my blog and defend the way people drive in Dubai, because it’s something I’ve been personally affected by everyday that I’ve been here.

          Thanks for your response.

        • Observer says:

          And so layeth he the smackdown.

  3. Left Eye Looking says:

    @Panoptical

    I agree that the gender roles in both the U.S. and Georgia, have much to be desired. Especially right now, while the debate over contraception rages in the US, (especially in light of Rush Limbaugh’s recent comments).
    You’re correct in asserting that the difference is that in the U.S., there is a constant criticism and evaluation of gender roles and in Georgia, there is little criticism or evaluation. Although I have to wonder if part of the reason why gender roles aren’t questioned in Georgian society, is because of its isolation from the world for decades and the culture of fear (due to the oppression by the USSR) which seems to have been passed down to the next generation.

    I suppose the only place where gender roles are closer to being equal are in the Scandinavian countries. Gender roles and equality (fairness) seem to be shit worldwide, except in the lands of the Vikings.

    Different, but slightly related:
    Although I will give props to Brazil for having an effective national HIV/AIDS and other STD prevention and televised sex education campaign that was targeted specifically towards those in the sex industry in the 1990’s and in the early 2000’s; and sex workers aren’t seen as pariahs in Brazilian society, as they are in US and in Georgia. Ironically Brazil is a “christian country” just like the US and Georgia.
    I’m not sure why Brazil is progressive in that particular area while the US and Georgia are not. Brazil is Catholic, the US is protestant, and Georgia is Eastern Orthodox; but only one of three countries has a more relaxed view of sex and human sexuality. However, before it seems like I’m putting Brazil on a pedestal (because I’m not) it still has similar gender roles like Georgia, the US, and most of the world.

  4. pasumonok says:

    i read a wonderful quote somewhere: homophobes are men that are afraid that gay men will treat them the same way they (the phobes) treat women.
    really, stricter the gender roles, harder to stick to them.my pet theory is that doing all the shit ur supposed to do to meet “i’m a man” criteria is harder than doing shit to meet “i;m a woman” criteria. women have a list of don;ts.
    thanx 4 writing.

  5. I want to give you a high-five for writing this. And a hug.

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