Tackling gender issues in Albania

Last week I had the honor of being featured on Top Channel (a fairly reputable television station here in Albania) thanks to all of you who shared my blog with your friends and families. So seriously, a big thanks to each and every one of you.

The topic of the program was foreign women who live and work in Albania. Four of us were invited to participate in the panel to discuss the projects we do to make this country better and to articulate just why we love this place so much. Easier said than done. When they first asked me this question, you know, Danielle you write on your blog all the time about how much you love Albania…why?? I couldn’t help but think what a ridiculous question that was. Why do you love your left hand or your right foot? I don’t know, it’s just part of who I am. This place has become my home. Plain and simple.

(here’s the first part of the interview)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8XzA-p_4MXs

As I was preparing for this interview I was getting all nervous and excited, mostly because it would take place all in Albanian. My Albanian is pretty good, but there’s nothing like a live television interview broadcast nationally with all your friends, students, and directors watching to make you forget every single word of Albanian that you’ve learned. Thank god for the 2 inches of foundation and make up they put on my face before the interview, you couldn’t see the 12 shades of red that my face turned every time they asked me a question.

At the Top Channel studio in Tirana

At the Top Channel studio in Tirana

Which brings me to my point, finally. I know, I’m a long-winded person and it takes me forever to get to the point, but we’ve arrived so don’t worry. Anyway, there I am on stage and the lady interviewing me asks her first question, “Do you have a boyfriend?” It takes everything I have not to roll my eyes. Why is this always the first thing people want to know! As if it’s not possible for a 24 year old woman to be proud and successful and single. Second question, “Do you want to marry an Albanian man?” Of course I smile and say “with any luck, it will happen!” Because that’s what everyone wants to hear. But inside I’m conflicted. I came all this way to talk about my work in the community and all the great projects my students have done to improve Shkoder, and all we get to talk about is my dating-life (keep watching the interview, we get to my work later on I promise!).

(…here’s the second part of the interview)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e1F5aK0vUI8

This is not something unique about Albania, I hate to say it. This is a problem that plagues women everywhere. As young women we are encouraged to be skinny, to flat iron our hair, to wear skinny jeans that show off your legs, to put on high-heeled shoes and walk around town, not to leave the house without mascara and lipstick, and to keep our hands freshly manicured. Sometimes it’s maddening. We’re taught to become these icons of beauty but the moment we attract attention from men, it’s shameful. Here in Albania, women can’t date a man openly ever and shouldn’t hold hands or hug or kiss in public unless their engaged. But they’re supposed to walk around town looking their best and showing off everything they have while men sit at cafes and watch them walk by. It’s such a strange dichotomy, to be raised to be a sex object who can’t have sex.

In every culture, it’s incredibly difficult for women to walk the fine line of beautiful not slutty, successful not intimidating, powerful not domineering, sexy not slutty. I want people to take me seriously regardless of how I look and regardless of my age. I want to talk about my hopes and dreams as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Albania without anyone trying to get me to marry their son. Wouldn’t it be better if we could just be who we are and not worry what people think about us as we walk by? Sometimes I want to wear sweatpants and not put on mascara. Sometimes I want to sit and drink beer outside, not sip tea for fear of judgement. Sometimes I want to eat an entire pizza without someone telling me not to get fat.

Maybe next time.

“It’s not better. It’s not worse. It’s just different.”

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3 thoughts on “Tackling gender issues in Albania

  1. You can also drink beer/wine/cosmopolitan in Albania as well or eat whole pizza. And I do know women wear sweatpants in public in they just can’t be bothered that day. Then again, my relatives live in Tirana and are quite modern in every sense (meaning that they aren’t superstitious or chauvinistic..)

    I do like your blog and admire your capability to live in Albania without stressing yourself too much, but sometimes it seems that Shkodra is a bit more conservative than Tirana. And btw. I did find both marshmallows and maple syrup at the East Gate Mall’s Carrefour last summer… so try that the next time your in Tirana, I think there’s a free shuttle from Skenderbeg square.

  2. Danielle
    Well, now that is more like the Albania I know. For all the great things this country has, hospitality, beauty etc, this is one of the ugliest characteristics it possesses. I know of girls who have been beaten up by their parents, locked in the house taken off school because they loved someone (granted this was many years ago but I believe it still goes on to some extent). I was stabbed in 1995, at an age of 18 (thankfully I’m still alive), because the girl’s family didn’t like me (despite the fact that we both liked each other). There will be people coming here, saying “that’s not true anymore” but every time I go back I find almost the same thing, bar Tirana as that city is a bit more advanced.

    I find it frustrating that we have one chance to prove to the world that we are equal opportunity country and we ask you “whether you have a boyfriend”? How is that any of their business, or relevant? I believe so much more has to be done in Albania to allow women freedom of speech and to encourage equal opportunities but this will have to start at school as I don’t believe some of the oldies can possibly apprehend the idea that their wife should have a voice…. And we need to make schools better, and make a place of education and not a means of “buying” a diploma certificate – which I know is as easy as anything.

    I for one appreciate the work you’re doing, but also the blog you’re kindly updating every so often. It seems honest and balanced to me. Keep the good work going, you should be an inspiration to women all over but Albania in particular.

    Thanks

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