[Voice from Batumi] Women of Georgia — Natso Beridze-Gabaidze, 33

1 September 2017
Natso Beridze-Gabaidze (Salome Tsopurashvili/Women of Georgia)

Women in Georgia very often lack a voice of their own. Their opinions, feelings, dreams, aspirations, and achievements can be conveyed by others, often the men around them. The Women in Georgia project gives a voice to these women, allowing them to tell their own stories — in their own words. The project collected 150 distinct stories from women throughout the country. OC Media brings you a selection of these stories, translated into English and Russian. Below, in her own words, Natso Beridze-Gabaidze.

‘I am a feminist’

‘I’d like to start my story by stating that I am a feminist. It hasn’t been long since I started identifying myself as a feminist — my surname attests to that. My and my deceased husband’s surname speak of the evolution I’ve been through. I have often been asked, especially recently, if I would change my surname, to which I answer “no”. Back, when we registered our marriage, changing surnames seemed like a great adventure and I did not think there was anything wrong with it. Today, I wouldn’t do the same, obviously, but now it is part of my identity and history so I am not going to erase it.’

‘I was losing my identity in the eyes of others’

‘I’d like to use this platform to talk about my experience as a widow. This may be important for other women, because I think widowed women are an exceptional group of people.’

‘My husband lost his life in an accident because of slow emergency care at the Goderdzi Ski Resort in January this year. Temuri had never been ill and I never imagined that I would lose him some day. So I was not prepared either emotionally or financially.’

‘Rather than talking about emotions, I’d like to focus on the attitudes that this new experience brought into my life. My personality as an independent woman had been shaping for years. Temuri had never restricted my independence while we lived together. After his death, I discovered that it was not only my husband that I had lost. I lost my independence in the sense that I became a person to be pitied and urged to be strong at every turn, because the only thing that was expected of me was weakness. It was hard for me to face the fact that along with losing Temuri, I was losing my identity in the eyes of others.’

‘I’ll give you an example: Temuri and I lived together with our child and I wanted us to remain in that house after his death. Everyone around me considered this a bad idea. They expected me to move to my or Temuri’s parents’ home. One neighbour would keep asking me, “so, you are here most of the time?” ’

‘The first three times I politely answered with a “yes”. And when I was asked the same thing the fourth time, I replied in an irritated tone, “yes, I am here most of the time, because this is where I live”. Had I died, my husband would never have been seen as so weak and helpless that he could not live alone. For men, even while mourning, expectations and requirements are different. Temuri might have received offers of help in childcare — something that I will never receive because it is my job anyway. He would have received many calls offering help with cooking or cleaning the house, etc. while in my case, the main problem was that it was not “entirely proper” for a widowed woman to live alone.’

‘A widow clad in black is wearing a uniform’

‘Another critical issue is to stop wearing black. I know women who have worn black for a long time and I do not judge them. For some, wearing black may be a relief, and they, as part of our culture, may think it is respectful to the memory of the diseased. I believe dressing a widowed woman in black is a tool for controlling women. In our culture, widowed women wear black for the longest period of time, only exceeded by mourning mothers. A widow clad in black is wearing a uniform, which restricts her, and reminds her that if she deviates from cultural norms she will be punished. I stopped wearing black very soon. To say that I was not subject to criticism, would not be true. However, it is important that criticism did not come from my family. They did not interfere in what I wore or how it would affect my reputation. “Apparently she did not love him very much”, “She’s not that hurt”, “He’s the one to be pitied, she’s fine. She’ll get married and take care of herself” — such judgments came mostly from people who were complete outsiders, and had nothing to do with my life.’

‘If the opposite had happened, Temuri would have been advised that he had to get married soon, because the child needed a mother. A woman will NOT be told that in our culture. Besides, I am at such an age that I will not be spared — told it is time to stop mourning and get on with my life. My observations are that only very young girls are allowed to take off the black and remarry after a certain time. This permission comes from others, obviously. In my case, my unfavorable age is coupled with the fact that I have a son. In this culture, a boy’s mother must not get married and raise her son with another man.’

‘Because of such attitudes my friends advised me to wear black a little longer. I refused to follow their advice because I was sure I would be frowned upon anyway when I did take off the black — after a year or three, it didn’t matter. People need to get used to the idea that wearing black is not the only way of showing respect. And generally, my experience has taught me that if you are alive, you need to keep on living life. Widowed women are deprived of this right in our culture. Unlike many other women, I am very fortunate that my family acknowledge my freedom. Most women in this situation, after being widowed, stay with the parents of their late husbands or their own parents, where they are deprived of any private space.’

‘Taking full control over my sexuality’

Natso Beridze-Gabaidze (Salome Tsopurashvili/Women of Georgia)

‘I am well aware of and prepared for the next stage, taking full control over my sexuality. I have to live under constant scrutiny — who I go out with, who I talk with… I have never lived behind closed doors, and I am certainly not going to live like that now, because I need to communicate with people now more than ever. My son needs human relationships, that is why we can often be found in crowded places where people are having fun. My conduct is definitely going to be judged as poorly as my clothes. If we draw another comparison with a widowed man, his mingling, drinking, and having fun would be attributed to his trying to cope with sorrow. Nobody is ever going to say the same about me if I’m seen drinking — right?’

‘After Temuri’s death, my friends advised me to get away from here if I wanted to keep living my life. I could not have a private life free of control. On the one hand, I agree that it is like stepping on red-hot coals, and if not impossible, it is very difficult to keep walking. However, on the other hand, I don’t think running away and hiding is the way out. By staying, we give other people power to fight.’

‘Expectations about the sexuality of a widowed woman are very much like that of a virgin girl, i.e. she, just like a virgin, should not and must not have sex. While a virgin girl is obliged “to preserve her virginity” for her future man, I had a similar obligation to my past and my son. I try to see the lighter side of things, but the truth is that it is very stressful to live in an environment where, along with losing your beloved, you have to deal with further restrictions on freedom.’

‘I am often asked if I will make a “real man” out of my son’

‘If you are not mourning ostentatiously, people may easily decide that you don’t care. They can’t wait to see you falling apart. This is especially obvious when it comes to children. They keep telling me that Sandro is young so he will get over it more easily. Those who say this know nothing about child psychology. He certainly has his own way of expressing sorrow, but it does not mean that since he’s young he cannot feel anything. My main objective was to make sure that Sandro knew he was not going to lose me too.’

‘I am often asked if I will make a “real man” out of my son for Temuri’s sake — a real man who will stand up for himself. They seem to feel sorry for Sandro that he is left with only his mother. I reply that Temuri had always wanted a kind and hardworking son, and I am going to honour his wish. And by the way, I always stand up for myself too.’

The article is a partner post written by Ida Bakhturidze. The original version first appeared on Women of Georgia, on 26 june 2017.

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