Once upon a time in northern Albania, there was a custom of women becoming men. They dressed like men, moved about in society as men, and were content to relinquish traditional female experiences like pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, and childrearing, and simple, normal human experiences like sex and the companionship of marriage, with its soaring joys, petty resentments, and sometimes-tragic disappointments.
The alternative was to watch their large extended families wither without male leadership in a society that recognized women as worth only 6 oxen to a man’s 12. Sworn Virgins were worth 12. In exchange for their sexuality, they gained freedom from the severe restrictions women faced.
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.
Both Muslims and Christians adhered to this 500-year old oral code of conduct. The last of the Sworn Virgins (about 40 of them) are in their 80s.
I know, I know, one doesn’t have to experience pregnancy or childbirth or breastfeed or raise children or have sex to be a woman, but CAN YOU IMAGINE?
I don’t know which would be worse — being a woman and thus unable to do anything but keep hearth and home (as sublime as that is), or to become a man in everything but biology and have every opportunity but those which are most instinctual. Except you would still be denied the human experience of sex and marriage, which, last time I checked, most men are interested in.
I’m not one to think that any of us are totally free from cultural absurdities or insane religious, ethnic, or traditional practices, but I just cannot even fathom having to make a choice like that. Give me the modern Mommy Wars any day!
Nowadays women in Albania have more freedom, more choices. They can “go out half naked to the disco” if they want. One Albania man said that “Women and men are now almost the same,” and that it’s “no longer a stigma not to have a man of the house.”
I think it’s a bit ironic that women no longer have to become men to get the freedoms that men enjoy, because “Women and men are now almost the same.” Only now those women can bear children, which, you know, is just one more way those uppity women want to be like the men.
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This weekend’s Things That Must Go Giveaway is for a $50 gift certificate to a cool online store.
Visit Fussypants for more reasons to be glad we’re not living in Albania 100 years ago.