Afghan boys are prized, so girls live the part.
September 21, 2010 6:46 AM   Subscribe

Facing social pressures, families disguise girls as boys in Afghanistan. (slnyt)
posted by killdevil (15 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
I guess that's one way to piss off a Pashtun pederast.
posted by codswallop at 6:56 AM on September 21, 2010 [4 favorites]


I saw this in the NYT today too and found the article intriguing and well-written. Google searches don't turn up much on the practice; I even tried in French and didn't come up with more than this:
- Bacha posh (Wikipedia)
- Agony and Ecstasy, linked in that wiki article: "... an emotionally moving story of a family that undergoes a trial of strength in the face of insurmountable odds. In the Taliban dominated Afghanistan a young girl is forced to disguise herself as boy so as to be able to work and buy food for her family. The film was shot in the ruins of the city, and acted by people the director found in the street. It was the first film to roll out of Afghanistan after the collapse of the Taliban rule."

The searches in French only pulled up commentary on the NYT article, and a Kabyle fairy tale called "La jeune fille habillée en garçon" ("The Girl Dressed as a Boy"). It's not online, though; only its title is given as part of a printed collection.
posted by fraula at 7:30 AM on September 21, 2010


Kabyle is a language spoken in Algeria, btw, not Afghanistan.
posted by fraula at 7:33 AM on September 21, 2010


Heartbreaking. Of course this would last until the girl were 11/12 and got her period or grew breasts. Would she be killed for the disguise?

Then there is the brilliant, haunting, amazing -and tragic- film about this, Osama.
posted by nickyskye at 7:34 AM on September 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm a gay male and I don't understand why conservative heterosexuals hate women so much.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 8:28 AM on September 21, 2010 [4 favorites]


I read an article (probably linked here) that said young Saudi women would dress up as men to be able to go outside their homes and explore their, well, country. They would be proud of how well they could cross dress and exchange tips.

At least these Afghan girls don't have to hide it from their families.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 8:37 AM on September 21, 2010


I'm a gay male and I don't understand why conservative heterosexuals hate women so much.

It's not really hate per se. They're part of a hierarchy. You can't have a top without a bottom. You can't walk around saying, "Wow, isn't it cool that we can go wherever we want" unless there are people that can't go anywhere they want.

Sadly, this cultural attitude puts a large burden on the parents of women and girls in that society. Them being unable to work and large doweries makes women a luxury, not an asset. What type of cargo do you think is the first thrown out of a plane?

(Oddly, isn't it Iran that has doweries that work the other way, where the man's family pays the woman's? Still not good for the state of women, but it at least lessens the family burden of raising a girl in that society.)
posted by Lord Chancellor at 8:47 AM on September 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm a gay male and I don't understand why conservative heterosexuals hate women so much.

It is a toothy problem.
posted by stet at 9:19 AM on September 21, 2010


Risky climate for women candidates in Afghan elections
posted by homunculus at 9:34 AM on September 21, 2010


I'm a gay male and I don't understand why conservative heterosexuals hate women so much.

Think of it as a traditional form of BDSM where the roles are assigned by the flip of a coin at birth and remain permanent throughout one's lifetime.

Society: What the fuck, dude?
posted by Sys Rq at 9:36 AM on September 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


See also: 'Sworn Virgins' in Albania.

I have come across a theory that women-performing-as-men is common in any hypermasculinised society, especially those which which have blood feuds. The theory goes that you end up with a system in which the family cannot survive without males, but the laws of biological chance (plus the added attrition on males from fighting) means that numerous families will have no male children. In those circumstances finding males is life or death - and an obvious option is to use the females you already have.

Sorry, I can't remember exactly where I read this, but I can tell you it was in the context of pre-Christian Scandinavia being a possible example - the counterargument being that there were unlikely to have been many spare women with the probability of female infanticide.

So situation in Afghanistan is terrible in terms of us as a species being terrible.

nickyskye: Of course this would last until the girl were 11/12 and got her period or grew breasts.

Probably not. Men seem to be totally rubbish at spotting women disguised as men; female soldiers in the US Civil War were usually only 'discovered' if they were wounded, and you can cite many examples more, from James Barry to Mary Read (Read's early life seems eerily reminiscent of these kids' lives). So yes, they always run the risk of being exposed as female, but I don't know how great the risk is.
posted by Coobeastie at 9:42 AM on September 21, 2010


The SF Chronicle ran a story called Afghanistan's Dirty Little Secret, about the Afghan custom of 'boy play', in which men take young boys (as young as 9) as lovers and trophy playthings. With girls masquerading as boys... okay, I'll stop there.
posted by grounded at 10:06 AM on September 21, 2010


I read this this morning and it made me sad and furious.

“Yes, this is not normal for you,” Mrs. Rafaat said in sometimes imperfect English, during one of many interviews over several weeks. “And I know it’s very hard for you to believe why one mother is doing these things to their youngest daughter. But I want to say for you, that some things are happening in Afghanistan that are really not imaginable for you as a Western people.”


Ain't that the truth.

Mrs. Rafaat had grown up in Kabul, where she was a top student, speaking six languages and nurturing high-flying dreams of becoming a doctor. But once her father forced her to become the second wife of her first cousin, she had to submit to being an illiterate farmer’s wife, in a rural house without running water and electricity, where the widowed mother-in-law ruled, and where she was expected to help care for the cows, sheep and chickens. She did not do well.

Christ, the waste...

When Zahra, 15, opens the door to the family’s second-floor apartment in an upscale neighborhood of Kabul, she is dressed in a black suit with boxy shoulders and wide-legged pants. Her face has soft features, but she does not smile, or look down, as most Afghan girls do.

She said she had been dressing and acting like a boy for as long as she could remember. If it were up to her, she would never go back. “Nothing in me feels like a girl,” she said with a shrug. [...]

Zahra, who plans on becoming a journalist, and possibly a politician after that, offered her own reasons for not wanting to be an Afghan woman. They are looked down upon and harassed, she said.

“People use bad words for girls,” she said. “They scream at them on the streets. When I see that, I don’t want to be a girl. When I am a boy, they don’t speak to me like that.”


I hate crying in my cube. /firstworldproblems
posted by rtha at 10:26 AM on September 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


What the fuck? I am bothered that we have lost so many American lives to bring democracy to a nation that still does not allow a woman to inherit anthing upon her father's death.
posted by Postroad at 10:52 AM on September 21, 2010


I am bothered that we have lost so many American lives to bring democracy to a nation that still does not allow a woman to inherit anthing upon her father's death.

Would that nation be the United States? If your father was a war hero, better hope you are a man, son, as you ain't doin' much combat time with boobs. Our own military sends knowingly neither gay men nor women in harms way in enough numbers to be statistically representative of its population as a whole. Surprised we'd support a patrimony? Hardly.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 12:12 PM on September 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


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