Saturday, 31 March 2012

Pretend boys

In Afghanistan, I learn, it's common practice for girls to be disguised as boys - because boys are more prestigious.

Some girls spend their entire childhood pretending to be boys. Families without sons are often taunted and looked down on, regarded as failures. So desperate parents resort to trickery rather than admitting they only have daughters.

They justify their decision by saying they're just following the centuries-old tradition of Bacha Posh - disguising girls as boys - and avoiding being treated as social pariahs.

They also say that as "boys", their daughters will get experiences and opportunities that girls wouldn't get, thus giving them a better start in life.

But the fact is that they're colluding in a deeply sexist culture that sees boys as superior and girls as second-class citizens denied the same privileges. The collusion stifles any debate on increased freedom for girls and the ending of gender roles.

Criticis of Bacha Posh also point to the damaging effect on girls who feel they've missed essential childhood memories as well as losing their identity. After years denying who they really are, reverting to their true self can seem odd and unnatural.

Social traditions like these can be very powerful forces, maintained so insistently by so many people that they're almost impossible to resist. But someone has to be courageous enough to stand up and say that the deliberate repression of female identity is inhuman and barbaric.

Girls are not merely non-boys. Nor are they pretend-boys. They're fine just as they are - girls.

Pic: Mehrnoush the girl has become Mehran the boy

29 comments:

Bijoux said...

Well, sort of a parallel to my post, in a way.......

So sad to hear that in 2012, females are still third class citizens in many places of our world.

Nick said...

Bijoux - Parallel in a way, except that the boy in your post is actually choosing to become a girl, whereas these girls are forced to pose as boys.

Jay at The Depp Effect said...

How very sad .. but who's to say we wouldn't do the same, faced with insurmountable prejudice and the possibility of wider experiences for our daughters?

Nick said...

Jay - Indeed. As I said, social traditions can be hard to ignore. It takes a very brave or stubborn soul to take a different path.

JohnD said...

Personally, I try to avoid being concerned abut other cultural traits unless they are 'here' and they conflict with the standards and social mores off accepted society and laws within this country.

I see WASP-trannies everywhere and it does not bother me!

Nick said...

John - Some cultural traits disturb me whatever country they exist in, even though I know I can't do anything to change them. But then I can't do much to change cultural traits here either.

What are WASP-trannies?

JohnD said...

White-Anglo-Saxon-Protestant cross dressers! Not being sexist or discriminatory but used that expression to make my point that we have some 'odd' social behaviours as well and should be careful about criticising other countries for what they do!

Have you ever seen "Priscilla, Queen of the desert"? LOL!

nursemyra said...

I had not heard of this particular practice before. It seems very sad that the parents have found it necessary to do this.

Nick said...

John - Oh, cross-dressers. People who choose to wear "gender-inappropriate" clothes are very different from girls who're forced to become "boys" because of a rigidly sexist culture. We don't go to that extreme in the UK!

Myra - It is very sad. Why should young girls have to obliterate their real identity like that?

Secret Agent Woman said...

That's sad. And utterly different from adults who cross-dress or transexuals. They are kids who are forced into something which lets them know every minute of their young lives that they are not valuable as they are. Makes my heart ache for them.

Nick said...

Agent - That's it, they're being told they're not valuable as they are. It's appalling.

Macy said...

There might be a sort of insurance policy side to it too.. I remember how under the Taliban women weren't allowed out of the house on their own without a male relative. If a family didn't have sons, that would leave the female members housebound when the husband died

Nick said...

Macy - Good point. That's a very good reason for producing a "son" - by whatever means.

Baino said...

I wonder if they have access to education. Very rare for girls in Afghanistan. There's a similar practice in Eastern Samoa where the youngest sons become F'afafine and literally take on a feminine role. Then some cultures literally abandon their daughters the stigma is so bad.

Nick said...

Baino - That's interesting. Abandoning your daughter is dreadful, but again the force of social tradition leads people to do extraordinary things.

John Gray said...

... the damage that people do.....
how very sad

Wisewebwoman said...

Argh, where's my previous comment?
and it was brilliant.
XO
WWW

Wisewebwoman said...

OK I'll try and remember - I said it was all about choice in these situations. these girls have none.
And it put me in mind of the castrati of Italy.
Something like that.
XO
WWW

Nick said...

John G - Absolutely, how much damage it must do when you spend your whole childhood suppressing your real self.

www - You lose so many comments, I think you must have been cursed by the other www - the Wicked Witch of the West.

Well, at least these girls are not physically castrated, unlike all the wretched victims of genital mutilation. Or not as far as I know.

blackwatertown said...

What a sad situation.
There was the story from India today of a couple fighting to hold on to the boy baby they had been given in error, despite testing proving the girl given to a different couple was theirs instead. Apparently whatever happens, they don't want the girl.

Nick said...

Blackwater - That Indian story is dreadful, particularly being so desperate for a boy that they reject the official proof that he's not theirs.

Jenny Woolf said...

It is downright disgusting. It is really, really hostile to women. I know it's always been this way throughout most of the world- and worse. I still get furious about it but used to get even angrier before I realised you can't change peoples' cultural beliefs. It will look different to them, that's all I can say, I know it's true but I still hate it.

Nick said...

Jenny - Like you, I've become less angry since I realised cultural traditions are so entrenched. I still find this sort of blatant sexism shocking and outrageous though.

Liz said...

Gosh, does that really happen? What a dreadful situation.

Nick said...

Liz - I know, it's hard to believe parents and children could put themselves through such a complicated charade to fend off other people's criticism.

Rummuser said...

This is a complex socialogical problem which brings Western values in direct conflict with Eastern realities. In a highly male dominated society like Afghanistan there are other factors at play that require deep understanding of local social dynamics. Afghan parents of such girls, even the mothers are likely to feel very differently. If we can accept that their values and traditions are different rather than better or worse than ours, we need not flagellate ourselves with the conditions of such girls.

Nick said...

Ramana - I do appreciate that different societies have different customs and attitudes, but I don't see how denying girls their true identity and compelling them to disguise themselves as boys can be anything but oppressive.

Grannymar said...

I would hate to bring a child into the world and know it was compelled to be disguised or be killed because of its sex. Every life is precious.

Nick said...

Grannymar - Absolutely. The idea that a girl's life is less valuable than a boy's is pernicious.