Relative Status of Men and Women

The issue of the relative status of men and women is a difficult one, given that Kalymnians themselves constantly debate "who's in charge," and whether they used to have "matriarchy" or "patriarchy" on the island. The fact that Kalymnos is part of Greece, a country with a largely androcentric dominant ideology, cuts against the grain of local practices of matrilocality and matrilineal inheritance. And Kalymnos's history of resistance to outside control—Ottoman, Italian, and in some cases the Greek state—make all claims to "authority" ring somewhat hollow. Thus sexuality is an area in which, at least in the past, men have had greater freedom than women. By contrast, women clearly predominate in economic and family decision-making, and they gain symbolic status given their more direct association with family continuity.

The vagaries of status and control are illustrated in the following joke, popular among Kalymnian men when I conducted fieldwork:

A study is being conducted of whether men or women run things. The researchers offer a horse to each household where the man is found to be in charge and a chicken to each household where the woman is found to be in charge. The researchers go through the entire village rewarding chickens, only chickens. Finally, they reach a house off on the mountainside where a large, heavily mustached man sits in traditional dress, sharpening his knife. When they ask him who runs his household, he responds with great offense that it should be perfectly clear that he is the boss—whatever he says, goes. The researchers tell him that he will be awarded a fine horse, would he like a white or a black one? He asks them to wait a minute, calls to his wife, and says "Wife, which horse shall we take, the white or the black one?"

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