Monday, June 23, 2008

The Male Female in Albania and Other Tales of Gender

Like many others, I have suggested that gender and sex are not the same thing. My focus has been on the ways in which attributes are gendered, and those gender divisions strictly maintained. More importantly, tose divisions not only serve to discipline the attributes or characteristics of biological sex, but serves to naturalize those gender attributions. This has significant political and legal consequences. I have shown how, with respect to those attributes viewed as the highest ideals of social behavior, most are male, those attributes serve not only to define maleness and social primacy, but also to discipline male deviation and by negative implication define the secondary, the passive, the female. have shown how those boundaries and subordinating rules have found their way into social, political and legal discourse by looking at the homosexualization of the terrorist attackers of September 11, 2201 and their American sympathizers, the way in which sexual and political corruption were cynically used to attempt to destroy the career and character of Anwar Ibhrahim in Malaysia, and the way in which sexual "deviation" among males was used as a foundation for the post colonial rhetoric and politics of Mugabe's Zimbabwe. See arry Catá Backer, "Emasculated Men, Effeminate Law in the United States, Zimbabwe and Malaysia" . Yale Journal of Law & Feminism, Vol. 17, No. 1, 2005 Available at SSRN:

These ideas, and their very real effect was brought home nicely in another example recemtly described by the Turkish press--the ritual of gender change in the Balkans, in which females, swearing eternal virginity, were permitted to become men in every sense but the biological. Dan Bilefsky, "Sworn to Virginity, Living as Men: In a Vanishing Ritual, Balkan Girls Take Over Leadership of Families, International Herald Tribune, June 24, 2008, at P. 1.
'Back then, it was better to be a man because, before, a woman and an animal were considered the same thing,' says Keqi, who has a bellowing baritone voice, sits with er legs wide open like a man, and relishes downing shots of Raki and smoking cigarettes. . . . The tradition of thew worn virgin can be traced back to Kanun of Leke Dukagjini, a code of conduct that has been passed on orally among the clans of nortern Albania for more than five centuries. Under the Kanun, the role fo women is severely circumscribed: Take care of children and maintain the home. While a woman's life is worth half that of a man, a vrgin's value is the same--12 oxen.
Id. "
Sworn virgins become the patriarchs of their families, with all the trappings of male authority, by swearing to remain virgins for the rest of their lives. . . . The ritual was a form of self-empowerment for rural women, living in a desperately poor ad macho country that was cut off from mainstream Europe for decades under a Stalinist dictatorship." Id. Here among a "primitive" people is exposed the most sophisticated understanding of the gender ordering of society--biology, social differentiation, hierarchy, institutionalization and policing through legal rules. Biological sex is not determination of social role. Acting like a man is--and since men; for a female seeking to become a man it requires putting off the social customs that reinforce sexual subordination as well as the biological mark of femaleness--penetration by a superior in the gender social order, a man. Even ISlam bends to the hierarchy of gender (ignoring sex). "Lording it over her large family in her modest home in Tirana, where er nieces served her brandy while she barked out orders, Keqi said living as a man allowed her freedom denied other women. She could work construction jobs and pray at the mosque along side other men." Id.

For the same reason, a man who seeks the sexual company of others acts in reverse. . .be assumes the role of a woman and will pay the price. In Albania, of course, homosexuality is still taboo. Id. The basis is likely, in part, rooted in the cultural understandings of ender that make gender migration is possible. And once within the system, it becomes self perpetuating. Another male female lamented that with the Europeanization of Albania, "women did not know their place." Id.

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