An Anthropological Analysis Of Sworn Virginhood

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Possibility, Desirability, and Necessity: An Anthropological Analysis of Sworn Virginhood in Albania

Gender can manifest itself in diverse ways depending on the society in question. In rural Albanian society, some women choose to live as men, or “sworn virgins,” by taking an oath of celibacy and following specific social and cultural conventions (Crossing Boundaries). Several facets of rural Albanian society must be considered in order to understand this phenomenon: the understandings of gender and the relationships which make it possible, the advantages that men experience which make it desirable, and the strict cultural logic concerning gender-appropriate activities which sometimes make it necessary. Although sworn virgins experience advantages in their roles as men, this practice should not be considered emancipatory. Gender refers to the culturally constructed behaviours, roles, and characteristics that are attributed to men and women in a specific society. According to Albanian cultural logic, gender is understood according to symbolic markers of femininity and masculinity. One such marker is self-presentation. Typically, women dress in long skirts with aprons, as well as headscarves or veils (Crossing Boundaries). In contrast, men wear trousers, wristwatches, and traditional men’s caps (Crossing Boundaries). Another symbolic marker of gender is the division of labour. Women are generally charged with domestic chores, such as cleaning and cooking (Young 2000:79-81).

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