In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Becoming a Georgian Woman
  • Rebecca Gould (bio)

This is not a story about the oppression of Caucasian women, nor is it about the oppression of one particular female constituency. It is the story of how one person, a foreigner, attempted and failed to assimilate to a culture that was not her own. It is not about the drudgery of washing dishes, serving meals, being silent during supras, and nodding your head obediently while men laugh at you. As isolated incidents, none of these is in itself a tragedy (for it is no great privilege to speak at a supra), and while a modern feminist may hope for all of these "traditions" to be abolished, that labor may be left to another person.

My story is about the unseen side of being a Georgian woman (in my case for two years rather than a lifetime). The dimension of female experience described here is rarely reflected in public writing. It has no presence in contemporary Georgian literature or in scholarship concerned to uncover the textures of contemporary Georgian life. The entire Georgian population is nonetheless affected on a daily—or, more precisely, nightly—basis by what I am about to describe. They are touched by this condition of Georgian life, in some cases without knowing it, in their deepest, most intimate, moments, in the nonpublic junctures that make possible the public realm. For just as the public has no existence without the private, in precisely the same way does patriarchy, a discursive and institutional phenomenon, depend on patterns of private, cross-gender intimacy.1 I am concerned here with one particular pattern that emerged during two years of life, fieldwork, and research in Tbilisi and its environs and that pertained not only to the goal of exposing patriarchy in the abstract but to my own physical body and to the bodies of those closely related to me.

Georgians often claim that theirs is a "Christian" country, by which they mean a society kinder to women and indeed to all human beings than the societies of their Muslim neighbors: Iran, Azerbaijan, and Turkey. My experience of becoming a Georgian woman (to employ the phrase figuratively) suggests that the line dividing Christianity from Islam is far less significant [End Page 127] in the realm of gender relations than the line dividing men from women, the line that creates patriarchy. If the former impacts Georgian self-perception, and therefore may be consigned to the superstructure of ideology, the latter overdetermines a body's trajectory; it adjudicates over life and death to the extent that religious and cultural differences become surrounded in halos of triviality. The common thread linking contemporary Georgian to Iranian and Muslim Chechen culture is patriarchy, the domination of women not (only) by men but by structures that actively militate against their welfare and that women in large measure participate in consolidating.

Recent transnational feminist scholarship has clarified that patriarchy is not overdetermined by religion, and has helpfully focused on patriarchal continuities between Western and non-Western societies, suggesting among other things that the controversy over veiling in Islam displaces deeper problems in the social organization of gender and the public adjudication of sexual difference.2 I seek to contribute to this body of work, albeit on a more personal level and through the medium of a different discursive genre. Female autonomy is not guaranteed by the European genealogy with which Georgians align themselves when they contrast their Christian civilization with the putatively more primitive culture of the Muslim Chechens. According to the U.S. Department of State, as well as other institutions entrusted with disseminating public information, the religion and culture of the latter represent an impediment to the achievement of female equality.

When one observes as I did during my life in Georgia that the achievement of female equality is far more profoundly impeded by factors common to the daily lives of Georgians and Chechens than by cultural and religious distinctions, the assessments of the State Department and other influential generators of public knowledge appear misguided and productive of dangerously misleading assumptions. Contrary to the popular assumption among both Georgians and many European and American observers that Islam alone propagates the...