Sworn virgins? What could this post be about?
Last night I was incredibly fortunate to be able to host the Albanian author and documentary filmmaker Elvira Dones who screened her new documentary Sworn Virgins for our students and then led a discussion of the film.
The film was really a perfect teaching tool. Because it raises a very complex topic–women who choose to live as men and are then considered men and accepted as men by both men and women in Albania–the students were forced to confront their most basic notions about sex and gender and what they mean in the modern world. And at 52 minutes this film is just the right length for classroom use.
Before seeing the film, several of my students were of the opinion that, well, “the women were just lesbians.” After watching the film, it was clear that, with perhaps one or two exceptions, these women were not lesbians, but women who had become men in every way except anatomically. Once that perceptual barrier had been surmounted, then we all (me included) could begin to explore exactly what it meant in the context of Albanian, East European, and European society to be a woman who had become a man.
Because we had Ms. Dones there to quiz about the film and its making, we were also able to gain so many valuable insights into the choices a journalist or documentary filmmaker makes when she selects a subject, decides who to interview, and decides which interviews to include or exclude from the final product.
For more on the film and on Ms. Dones’s extraordinary career, see these recent stories in the Washington Post and the Baltimore edition of the City Paper.