Author:Alexander Novik (Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography, Russian Academy of Sciences)
Paper short abstract:
Among the highlanders of Northern Albania we can still witness a very specific social institute of sworn virgins – women who left their expected role of wives and mothers and lead a manlike mode of life. Men started treating such a girl as a member of their community with equal social status.
Paper long abstract:
Among the highlanders of Northern Albania we can still witness a very specific social institute of sworn virgins (Alb. virgjëresh|ë-a) - women who left their expected role of wives and mothers and lead a manlike mode of life. As a rule, the reason for such a decision could not be explained by women's sexual preferences or disappointment in life, but by the sense of duty towards their own family.
When the family lacked a male heir, one of the adult female daughters could make a decision to become a sworn virgin, i.e. she willingly refused to marry and have children remaining chaste. We can speak of several reasons and factors for that:
- Young ladies chose such a fate to represent their families in local councils and remote administrative centers, where various economic, legal, and political problems were discussed by men.
- A girl could become a sworn virgin to avoid the unwished marriage.
- This decision was a way to keep the face in situation when a marriageable girl was not proposed and there was a chance to become an old maid. The newly-obtained high social status of a sworn virgin allowed such girls to enter councils of a quarter, a village or a region.
Having become a sworn virgin, a girl drastically changed her mode of life and behaviour: she could wear men's clothes and weapons (a gun, a rifle or a dagger), devote her time to male work and abandon all female duties.
Patriarchy as a heritage?