For the Love of Women: Gender and Gay Identity in a Greek Provincial Town

For the Love of Women: Gender and Gay Identity in a Greek Provincial Town

For the Love of Women: Gender and Gay Identity in a Greek Provincial Town

For the Love of Women: Gender and Gay Identity in a Greek Provincial Town


This extraordinary book opens up the strange world of the 'parea' - a lesbian secret society based in a small-town bar outside Athens, whose members meet clandestinely to drink, dance and flirt. Though conducting intense sexual affairs under the noses of other customers, the parea's members - many of whom are married with children and have perfectly conventional lives by Greek standards - do not identify themselves as gay and have very negative images of homosexuality. Based entirely on fieldwork within the parea, For The Love of Women weaves stories of women's lives and relationships into an intriguing and perceptive analysis


Ritualistic incorporation in the realm of the parea

I saw her suddenly: and I thought ‘God, she is so beautiful’. I remember her in the dim light, warm and radiant and graceful, so alive. I was lost, abandoned in the sparkle of her eyes, gone. It was only a moment: a moment that lasted for so long. I wanted to embrace her, to close her in my arms tightly, in a desperate attempt to freeze time, to snatch the moment.

In the above passage, Zoi, an established member of the company, explains how she felt when she saw Athena, then aged seventeen, for the first time. Athena had no relationship with the group and thus Zoi decided to introduce her to the girls’ affective community before they engaged in an erotic relationship. Like Athena, the vast majority of the women who belong to the parea today are initiated members. According to what I was told during my early meetings with the group, this practice - more or less in the form that is found today - can be traced back to the late 1980s. I devoted considerable time and effort in my attempt to clarify how and why the girls began initiating others as opposed to merely relating to them. The older members of the parea insisted that everything happened by chance. As Rosita put it once: ‘it all started as flirting and then became more elaborate. Finally it took the form of a custom. ’ Most of the current members, however, agree that initiation is meant to ensure that the women who will finally become part of the group will respect the community’s claims to privacy.

As a friendship group, the parea bears many similarities to the male drinking parties described by Papataxiarchis who focused on ‘emotional alliances’ between men on the Greek Aegean island of Lesbos (1991:156). The friendships he observed flourish in the local coffee-shops, and like the parea are based on drinking and eating commensality being at once sites for the articulation of gendered emotions and ‘alternative to kinship bases of person-hood’ (Papataxiarchis, 1991:158). In both ethnographic contexts, recruitment is based on personal choice, while alcohol consumption and dance seem to be the means for establishing strong emotional partnerships. Kerasma (treating

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