Saturday, June 28, 2008

Woman As Man

Found this fascinating NYT article by way of Mefi about an ancient Albanian custom, described thusly :

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.

The idea of being able to overlay their feminine identity with a masculine one by making some fundamental lifestyle choices (concessions perhaps) is intriguing to say the least. It makes you consider gender and sexuality in a whole different light. The subtext of this arrangement seems to suggest that a woman who lives and dies childless and a virgin is not a "true" woman and can be as such "deemed" to be a man.

You wonder if the same rationale applies to the acceptance of virgins in many religious orders - if forsaking their sexuality and motherhood is the only way for women to transcend the "limitations" of their sex and attain parity with men.

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