The Steubenville rape and the Adria Richards fiasco have given me an idea of what Georgians mean when they say that women are more respected in their culture. I can’t imagine either of those things happening here. I would ask Western readers to keep in mind what I normally ask of Georgian readers: when I compare the two cultures, I am not judging, I am observing – not in search of some ideal way, or right answer, but simply in search of insight.
In Steubenville, Ohio, a young girl became intoxicated while at a party. While she was passed out, two young boys raped her. Many of their peers were around, looking on, making jokes, and posting pictures, comments, and videos to social media. The issue became controversial all over again after the verdict: it was incredibly lenient for the two rapists, and yet numerous commentators lamented the fact that two promising young boys had their futures ruined over one night of drunken antics.
There’s plenty of victim-blaming to go around. It’s especially obvious how twisted and disgusting victim-blaming is in the Steubenville case, because the girl was passed out. She was literally completely deprived of all agency and yet some people still find a way to make it her fault. They say she should not have been drinking, not have been partying with boys, not have let herself get out of control. They say she should not have been doing all the things that a normal teenage girl in America is encouraged to do, that she should not have been doing the thing that all her peers were also doing at that very moment, that she should, at 15 or 16 years old, have had the fortitude to defy social expectations and peer pressure and she should have been home studying or watching American Idol or whatever. This is the double-bind that all women in America face in many, many situations: no matter what you choose, you fail to live up to society’s expectations, and you are punished for it.
In Georgia, the situation is rather different. Georgians would blame the culture. Georgians would say society has failed. Not only should women not have become drunk, but young, unmarried teenagers should not have been allowed to party in mixed company without adult chaperones. Georgians have social mechanisms in place to prevent the thing that happened in Steubenville. Are those mechanisms fair to women? Absolutely not. Are they effective at preventing awful things like the Steubenville rape and the thousands and thousands of other incidents that don’t receive the same media attention? Yes, they are. Traditional culture embraces rape culture in many, many ways – in fact, one could argue that it embraces rape culture in the name of preventing rape (much like the state embraces terrorism in the name of preventing terrorism) – and yet for many people, in many cases, that directive of preventing rape is not wholly disingenuous. It’s true that eliminating the opportunity for rape by keeping men and women physically separated prevents some rapes.
If it appears to the reader that I am arguing that women’s liberation has caused rape, I assure you, I am not. What I am saying is that traditional culture had a set of (very imperfect) mechanisms to prevent rape, and Western culture has undermined those mechanisms *without replacing them* with an equally strong, but more strongly equitable, set of mechanisms.
We are stumbling in that direction. Our rape prevention campaigns are just starting to shift their focus away from educating women on how to protect themselves and towards enculturating men not to be rapists – and in the wake of Steubenville, we’ve had calls to see how we can encourage bystanders to do something about rape or potential rape. We’ve asked ourselves why no one intervened, and how we as a society can make it so that next time someone does intervene.
When I talk about rape culture in Georgia – or in any traditional culture – I am not trying to Americanize or Westernize Georgian culture. I am trying to encourage Georgians to be proactive, rather than reactive. I am hoping traditional cultures can learn from Americans’ mistakes. Because there will inevitably come a time when Georgian traditional culture gives way to a more equitable and free society, and when young Georgians start having unsupervised contact in mixed-gender groups with alcohol involved (as they already do in Tbilisi, or so I am told) it would be really helpful to Georgian men and women to have some kind of backup social norms already in place to stop things like Steubenville from happening here.
But what I would absolutely not encourage is for Georgians to look at Steubenville and say “this is why men and women can’t be friends.” It would be very facile for a traditional or conservative person to point to this or any number of other incidents and say that they are the inevitable consequence of abandoning traditional norms. On the surface that argument appears to be motivated by a respect for women – but at the same time, on a perhaps more subtle level, that argument amounts to using the threat of rape to control women. That’s what rape culture is. In traditional societies, women are compliant and that threat is not carried out. In American society, women are non-compliant, and the threat is carried out. That’s not an argument for compliance.
As for Adria Richards, she has been given rape and death threats for tweeting a photo of two guys who were making jokes of a sexual nature at a tech conference. This whole scenario seems like it would also be very unlikely to happen in Georgia. In America there is a certain amount of debate over whether or not it is right or appropriate for men to make sexual jokes in the company of women. In Georgia, there is no such debate. Such behavior is unacceptable, and if a woman chooses to publicly call out a stranger who engages in that behavior, she would be virtually guaranteed to have the support of the crowd.
Of course there are caveats. The injunction against making off-color commentary around women is clearly an example of romantic paternalism, and if you want to know why that might be problematic, go ahead and follow that link. The quote at the top is from this court case. The gist is that the attitude that women should be spared sexual remarks often goes hand in hand with that attitude that women shouldn’t be in places where sexual remarks might be made, such as traditionally male-dominated fields of employment.
Georgia seems to have dodged that bullet – I never hear of Georgian men complaining about women entering traditionally-male fields, or complaining about having to restrain themselves in their comments because of the presence of women. If anything Georgian men are proud to live in a society with nominal, if not actual, equality of employment opportunity. We’ll see if that situation lasts as more women enter more fields – and if it does, I might just have to bite the bullet and acknowledge that maybe Georgian men really do have something to teach Americans about respecting women.
So of course, I think there are things we can learn from each other. Georgia and the US are at somewhat different stages of the same general cultural shift – towards more fair and equitable societies – and it helps to compare notes. Not so that one culture can copy the other’s – Georgia doesn’t want America’s rape culture any more than America wants Georgia’s paternalistic one – but so that we can gain deeper insight into the challenges and solutions that societies face and learn from each other’s successes and mistakes.