Men of the House: Sworn virgins in Albania

There’s a really interesting story in the New York Times about sworn virgins in Albania, a custom that’s said to have declined because of an increase in gender equality:

The sworn virgin was born of social necessity in an agrarian region plagued by war and death. If the family patriarch died with no male heirs, unmarried women in the family could find themselves alone and powerless. By taking an oath of virginity, women could take on the role of men as head of the family, carry a weapon, own property and move freely.
They dressed like men and spent their lives in the company of other men, even though most kept their female given names. They were not ridiculed, but accepted in public life, even adulated. For some the choice was a way for a woman to assert her autonomy or to avoid an arranged marriage.
“Stripping off their sexuality by pledging to remain virgins was a way for these women in a male-dominated, segregated society to engage in public life,” said Linda Gusia, a professor of gender studies at the University of Pristina, in Kosovo. “It was about surviving in a world where men rule.”

Jill takes the words out of my mouth:

It’s an interesting look at the fluidity of gender butting up against the rigidness of gender roles — while it’s possible for people born as women to “cross over” and live as men (and be totally socially accepted and understood as men), the only way they can do that is to fully embrace traditional gender roles.


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