Is Salvador Dali a French nudist, an Italian hairstylist or a Spanish surrealist? A television quiz show that portrays the ignorant answers of long-legged, skimpily clad female contestants to trivia questions is sparking an unprecedented outcry in traditionally patriarchal Georgia. Feminist activists see the debate over the show as limited progress toward gender equality in a country better known for its machismo.
The Dali question, which ultimately stumped two women models who recently appeared as contestants on “Women’s Logic”, illustrates the concerns. Unfamiliar with the meaning of “nudist” or “surrealist,” the models, after examining a photo of the mustachioed artist, chose “hair stylist” -- a word they both knew. “Now it’s trendy for men in the fashion business to have a moustache,” one model said, explaining her reasoning.
The weekly show’s male participants are not expected to give correct answers. Rather, they need to guess how the women with whom they are paired will respond to the questions -- or, as the show producers would put it, try to comprehend the world of “women’s logic.”
Such exchanges have left quite a few Georgian viewers fuming with anger. “Logic does not have a sex,” argued Ninia Kakabadze, a prominent journalist and member of the Media Club, a journalism advocacy group. “There are both stupid men and women out there.”
Not long after the show’s launch in March, a handful of protesters in Tbilisi gathered at the gates of Imedi TV, the show’s broadcaster, to demand that the station cancel the program, or change its format. Within a few days, more than 1,000 people -- both men and women -- had signed a petition drawn up by Kakabadze and several likeminded women echoing that demand.
The petition asserts that Women’s Logic violates Imedi’s own ethics standards and the country’s code of conduct for broadcasters as well as laws on gender discrimination and Georgia’s international commitments not to propagate discrimination. Imedi is now reviewing the complaint.
The activists say that the show and similar content in Georgian media only promote denigrating stereotypes about women, and damage any chance for gender equality. “The situation is dire as it is, and media should know better than to perpetuate damaging stereotypes and portray women as being inferior to men,” commented Teo Khatiashvili, a film critic and social activist.
Georgia, though, sometimes seems to contain a mixture of attitudes toward women. A comparative study conducted in 2010 by the Caucasus Research Resource Centers, found far greater support in Georgia for equal access to jobs and education than in Russia, Turkey, Armenia or Azerbaijan.
“In this respect, Georgians’ ideas about gender equality are much closer to western values than to the values of its own neighbors,” the report found.
But much of that may have to do with economic reality; the official unemployment rate stands at roughly 16 percent, though unofficial estimates sometimes soar over 50 percent. As in Armenia and Azerbaijan, the CRRC survey indicated that most Georgians believe that a man should be a family’s breadwinner. “The role of women is ultimately seen as a reproductive one,” Khatiashvili commented.
“The first question women are asked by perfectly well-meaning friends is ‘Are you married yet?’ If you are, the second question is ‘Why don’t you have children yet?’”
Gender researcher Nargiza Arjevanidze agreed. “A Georgian woman is not seen as successful in life unless she’s a mother,” she said.
Within that category as well, though, problematic attitudes toward women persist. A study commissioned by the United Nations Population Fund showed that every 11th married woman in Georgia suffers violence from her husband, and 34 percent of these women think that sometimes they get what they deserve. More than 70 percent believe that problems with physical abuse should be kept within the family.
Surveys also have shown a strong preference for male children among parents in Georgia and the rest of the region.
Against such a backdrop, Women’s Logic hit a raw nerve. “Programming like this perpetuates the stereotype that a woman must be pretty, well-dressed and brainless,” said Kakabadze. “Media have the power to both make and break the stereotypes,” and Georgian media bear ethical and legal responsibilities not to engage in the former, she added.
The extent to which Imedi TV understands those responsibilities, though, has been the subject of much past debate. Imedi is the same government-friendly television channel that in 2010 sent the Georgian public into a brief panic with a fake news report about a Russian invasion. Khatiashvili charges that Women’s Logic continues that trend of creating fake realities.
Yet not everyone agrees that scrapping the show is a good idea. Tamar Chergoleishvili, editor-in-chief of the news magazine Tabula, scoffs at Women’s Logic, but argues that critics exaggerate its potential impact. “[I]t is at best naïve to argue that, based on such a show, employers will conclude that women . . .are stupid,” she said.
Both Kakabadze and Khatiashvili agree that a onetime protest will not make a difference by itself in changing attitudes. Rather, they look to cumulative actions by all Georgians, male or female.
“You have to keep causing discomfort to those who perpetuate discriminatory attitudes,” Khatiashvili said. “And I, for one, will keep causing them discomfort.”
Giorgi Lomsadze is a freelance journalist based in Tbilisi. He is a frequent contributor to Eurasianet's Tamada Tales blog.