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.
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.
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.
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.
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.