Women Who Become Men: Albanian Sworn Virgins

Overview

Most people conceive of gender as a culturally informed response to a biological imperative. But such rigid notions are overturbaned by certain women in remote regions of Albania who elect to 'become' men simply for the advantages that accrue to them as a result. They crop their hair, wear men's clothes, roll their own cigarettes, drink brandy and carry guns. In short, their lives are much freer and less regimented than other members of their sex - but at a cost. These women must foreswear sexual relationships, ...

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Overview

Most people conceive of gender as a culturally informed response to a biological imperative. But such rigid notions are overturbaned by certain women in remote regions of Albania who elect to 'become' men simply for the advantages that accrue to them as a result. They crop their hair, wear men's clothes, roll their own cigarettes, drink brandy and carry guns. In short, their lives are much freer and less regimented than other members of their sex - but at a cost. These women must foreswear sexual relationships, marriage and children. They have been dubbed 'Sworn Virgins'.

What is interesting is that in this region of the Balkans, simply to dress as a man and to behave as a man will earn these women the same respect accorded a man. This is no mean advantage in an area known for sexual inequality and where so many men have suffered violent, premature deaths, thereby heightening the need for more household heads. Traditionally as heads of household, men are revered and the women who attend them utterly subservient. But unlike 'normal' women, Sworn Virgins can inherit and manage property, and, in fact, may even be raised to assume the male role by parents who have no male heirs.

Based on extensive interviews, this book tells the frank and engrossing stories of these women, but also sets their lives within the wider context of a country undergoing radical upheaval and social transformation.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Women Who Become Men is a fascinating exploration of male and female social roles, and the ways in which cross-gendering can be a response to particular social or demographic pressures." —Times Literary Supplement

"A fascinating study of the phenomena that is the Albanian sworn virgin ... The importance of this book in anthropological terms cannot be denied." —Besa for Friends of Albania

"Young has undoubtedly produced the best and most detailed study in English of the way in which gender change is handled in one European society." —Peace News

"Antonia Young's book is doubtless a very great contribution to the knowledge of historical and contemporary Balkan cultures." —Anthropology of East Europe Review

"An invaluable contribution to Albanology and anthropology in general." —Illyria

"Antonia Young has written a provocative book ... A strength of Young's book is that she clearly articulates the primary motivations for becoming a sworn virgin in Albanian society. She provides the necessary background on Albanian history and culture, particularly on household structure, which explains why sworn virgins are a necessity to their families." —Dress

"It makes easy and balanced reading, this interesting work tells about an ancient tradition in modern times." —Newsletter Albanien

"The author has treated us to a delicious appetizer ... it has made us hungry for more." —Anthropological Theory

"[The book] rushes us through a medley of topics ranging from life after communism, through aprons and veils, to a wolrd tour of gender change." —SEER

"The importance of Antonia Young's book lies, first of all, in discussing a subject little known except to a few specialists and reminding us how important the institution of 'Sworn Virgins' became in in patrilineal societies of the Balkans as well as documenting their life histories, well illustrated with pictures of some of the Albanian cases." —The South Slav Jourbanal

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781859733400
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic
  • Publication date: 8/28/2001
  • Series: Dress, Body, Culture Series
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 6.14 (w) x 9.21 (h) x 0.41 (d)

Meet the Author

Antonia Young, University College London.

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