The Null Device

Girls will be boys in Albania

The New York Times has a piece on the traditional Albanian institution of sworn virgins; where women could swear an oath of lifelong virginity and assume the role of men, dressing and behaving like men and wielding male authority. Some did this to escape undesired arranged marriages (or, presumably, the restricted world of female gender roles in general), while others did this out of obligation to provide a "male" head of their family or avenge the family honour:
“Back then, it was better to be a man because before a woman and an animal were considered the same thing,” said Ms. Keqi, who has a bellowing baritone voice, sits with her legs open wide like a man and relishes downing shots of raki. “Now, Albanian women have equal rights with men, and are even more powerful. I think today it would be fun to be a woman.”
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.
While Albanian culture formally codified a way for women to assume male gender roles, it would not surprise me if other traditional societies had their share of women who, disaffected with their prospects, secretly pursued lives in a male disguise.

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