According to a story in the International Herald Tribune, women in Albania could until recently decide to live as men. To do so, they had to dress and act like men, and take an oath of celibacy, but once they did, they were freed from the extreme limitations placed on women and entitled to both the greater freedom and greater responsibility assigned to men. They could even pray with men in the mosques.
They call them "sworn virgins," which immediately made me think of Marion Zimmer Bradley's Renunciates (also called Free Amazons). Of course, Bradley's characters got to have sex and lived in an all-female guild, but they did give up their right to be protected as women.
Apparently a lot of Albanian women made the choice because their fathers had been killed and the family needed male leadership, which is not dissimilar to Bradley's idea that women took oath as Renunciates due to terrible experiences.
It seems to me that I have heard of a similar practice in another Central European country, though I have the idea that those women were allowed to marry as men as well. I believe there were similar practices in some of the Native American nations as well, and I suspect something similar may have taken hold in other cultures when there was a shortage of men.
I find myself wondering what I would have done if my only choices had been to live as a man or conform to a very limited role as a woman. I'm not sure how I would have felt about giving up sex -- especially when I was young and my hormones were raging -- and I hate to make permanent choices about anything, including gender. Still, I know how hard I would have found it to spend my life stuck in a traditional female life. Nothing frightens me more than the 1950s concept of the homemaker, and the Albanian role for women was even more limited than that. Living as a man might have been an easier compromise for me than living as a woman in that world.