A man can sing and play better than a woman

The article was published in the journal Ethnomusicology 50 (3) 2006.


This article explores aspects of gender relationships in Georgian singing, as expressed in the setting of supra, a traditional feast where participants propose toast-speeches, drink alcohol and sing polyphonic songs. Two distinct levels emerge among the multiple practices, discourses and symbolic expressions of men’s leadership and patriarchal social order at the Georgian supra feast.

The first includes forms of observed behaviour and ritualised structural-formal components and rules such as the formal conduct of supra—practices of toast-speeches, constructive drinking of alcohol, performing songs and conversing in between songs and toast-speeches, in which men hold an exclusively central role.

The second level includes verbal discourses as articulated in standard toasting formulas and song texts as well as implicit gender-coded demeanours expressed in the difference between men’s and women’s singing styles. The verbal discourses and demeanours of the second level contain spoken and unspoken messages about the ideals of male authority and women’s acceptance of male power, both in the physical and social domains. While the ideal gender role distribution is occasionally altered by women’s adoption of men’s formal practices and rules of proposing toasts, drinking and initiating songs (the first level), these alterations do not seem to challenge the ideology of male precedence as articulated in the standard toasting formulas, song texts and singing style that constitute the second level.

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