Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Heroes and Villains

Heroes and Villains

A response to the commentaries about the October Presidential Elections in Georgia

‘A hero/ine is a person who goes above and beyond what would be expected from someone. Typically, the hero/ine does this in order to save others that are in harm’s way.  Heroes and hero/ines are the protectors of those who are ‘weak’. Some other characteristics of a (modern) hero/ine is that they display a great deal of courage. They take action regardless of being afraid, they are decisive,  they take action with no second thoughts or hesitation, they are helpful  to those who are in need, they have a strong dedication to selfless service and they are always willing to place their own lives in harm’s way first before placing the danger on some- one else.  A hero/ine always does the right thing; they are determined to be honourable and loyal in their actions.’

When I read this I do not think ‘Politician’(1) or ‘Dictator’ (2). I could think ‘Firefighter’ or ‘Police Officer’ but that would be my little girl me regurgitating gender stereotypes I was bought up to believe in. What I actually think of is ‘Mother’.

Which is a bit strange really because the role of the Georgian mother is a myriad of contradictions.  I started to explore this in my previous blog Language and Waiting http://sarahcobham1.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/language-and-waiting.html.  However,  now I  want to reflect on the Georgian woman from a grass root experience and what I know myself to be a certain reality. Revered in the traditional Supra toast (by men) and linked through superstition and Orthodox ideology to Mary, the virgin Mother, the public hero/ine in a  Georgian family is simply Deda.

My experience of Georgian women is a complex one and part of me feels like I am betraying fellow women by seeming to criticise them. However, in my experience the differences in culture and identity are so vast, so yawningly cavernous it is almost like I am writing about a different species.  I think the aspirations of what a hero/ine is  are similar but the actions and  context in which perceived heroic behaviour is demonstrated  are poles apart. In other words what we see as being villainous they see as being heroic.

Those who read all the blogs and articles that come out of Georgia will recognise patterns of behaviour when it comes to Georgian mothers.  As guests are seen as ‘gifts from God’ the generosity of the Georgian family is overwhelming but there is a realisation by the female guest that there is an assumption that nothing can or should remain private. Especially around issues of ‘morality’. It soon becomes clear that any lack of perceived morality immediately opens a door into villainy, and villainy must be punished and the punishment is the right of the hero/ine to administer.

Questions of the most intimate nature are asked and assessments are quickly made. The woman is categorised with absolute certainty.  What clothes do you wear? What face cream do you use? What size are you? What colour bra do you wear? What do your parents do? What age did you say you were? Do you have boyfriends? Have you been married? Can you have children? How can your skin be so white? Do you smoke? Do you drink? Why will you not eat? Eat more, Drink more. How can you have a child already? Are you married? Where is your God? Who is your God? What car do you drive? Is that your real hair colour? Are those curls real? Are you a good girl or a bad girl? Are you a virgin or a whore?  It’s relentless. Questions from mothers, mothers of sons, friends of brothers, aunts, wives, cousins, all related through marriage or baptism and  all with a right, a claim, an opinion and all in the name of the host.

So,  no matter what characteristics of a hero/ine the girl may have, whether she is a mother or merely a mother in waiting, the potential villain in the piece is now, the girl.

A villain is a person capable of a crime or wickedness. The word comes  from the Anglo-French  and it means ‘base or low born’. It would seem however that heroes can be villains and villains can be heroes. This is reinforced according to some recent Stalinist propaganda films financed by Bank Constanta (3) however, this particular double think seems to pertain more to men, men of power. Saakashvili, I vanishvili and Stalin, whose statue will be restored on December 21st, the dictator’s birth date, to Gori, his place of birth. (4) 

Where are the women in this? In my experience the women are condemning other women who speak out. They are creating villains, villains who cannot be hero/ines. The mothers are grooming their daughters for marriage, ensuring they are virgins and if they are not then they are financing operations that ensure that, on the wedding night, they appear to be. (5) Women are encouraging their sons to have sex with prostitutes and non-indigenous women ( preferably Western) and are paying for their son’s first sexual experience at about the age of 14. Many boys are taken to Russia for their ‘first’ time. Women arrange for their daughters-in –law to be sterilized once they have had children and take them to have selective sex abortions. Mothers encourage sons to continue to visit prostitutes even after they are married and sit in judgement of their daughters if they complain. Georgian women are encouraged to have sex merely  to have babies – any form or enjoyment makes her a bad girl. Often the only form of sex, when married, is in the missionary position. A friend of mine wondered if the women had to be covered with a sheet with a hole in it and if the woman made any kind of noise was she then considered a whore?

I know it seems extreme but for a country which is in so much turmoil as it pushes and pulls against itself and tries to be heroic and not villainous I wonder why the women are perpetuating such villainous behaviour amongst themselves.

Of course not all Georgian women are like this.  And there are women all over the world who perpetuate oppression of other women. And, many of my friends and contacts in Georgia are finding their own place within marriage (and outside of it) and society, in-spite of the gargantuan political turmoil that rages above and around them in the run up to the election in October. Interestingly, no candidate is looking at women’s issues as  potential vote winner.
And old habits die hard as hard-line matriarchs align themselves to the patriarchal regime which seems almost impossible to break away from.  

Look no further than at the recent International Day against homophobia (6)  where amongst the 10,000 ‘protesters’ thronging the streets women  were there, brandishing nettles ready to sting and punish anyone who did not fit into their world.  Were they hero/ines? 

I think they thought they were.

Medieval punishment: Elderly ladies brandish bunches of stinging nettles with which they threaten to lash them on gay activists

I guess the most terrible, shocking and depressing thing that was ever said to me when discussing what characteristics were needed to be a true hero/ine  were said a whole year before this march took place.  

We were talking about actions that defined us and how Georgian history gave clues and guidelines to help address these thorny issues.

I was told that the most heroic thing that I could do if I had a son who was gay… was to kill him. The father would then kill me, then himself – how else would he live with the shame?

Sarah Cobham 30th July 2013

2              http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-21656615 Stalin hero division
3              http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_N96Uzqdt3M&feature=uploademail  Propaganda film about Stalin under the guise of a Cultural production


  1. You bring such wonderful perspective to these situations Sarah! Great insight!!

  2. The patriarch of Georgia is now promoting Stalin as a positive influence in the lives of Georgians.