Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Girls will be boys...

So, between replying to student e-mails and prepping classes, I just read this article in the NYT, intriguingly titled, "Afghan Boys Are Prized, So Girls Live the Part."

The piece describes, in Afghanistan, a practice of families enabling or encouraging daughters to live their childhoods as sons. I started reading it b/c I thought it might be interesting to assign in ANTH 100 to discuss the construction of gender and expectations that surround women's fertility and preference for sons.

It might be just me, but I find the tone / language in this piece a little bit off: The girls are described as "masquerading" and "disguised." There are "real boys," and then there are the bacha posha, which we are told means "dressed up as a boy." Yet, the author describes how the bacha posha live as "both" boys and girls, wearing the clothes of boys and having the freedoms associated with them, but also socializing with girls. (We are told that this all changes abruptly with puberty, and the expectations of marriage that accompany it.) Not only parents, but the community at large, including school administrators, participate in allowing for bacha posha. So, I find unconvincing the characterization that this is a masquerade and a disguise.

In fact, I feel like the story is even more interesting than as told here. What I find wanting is a consideration of gender beyond the it-sucks-to-be-a-girl-especially-in-Other-Cultures perspective that is taken here.

The author quotes an historian who observes: “Segregation calls for creativity. These people have the most amazing coping ability.” Which I think expresses a stance that I hope to cultivate in ANTH 100 students: Recognize the conditions and constraints - in fact, the inequalities and injustices - surrounding gender, but also the capacity of human beings to devise solutions to the problems that they also create.


  1. hey, Sallie--

    i've been enjoying your blog and meant to comment on stuff before but always put it off. anyway, i just read this too and found it fascinating. i'm thinking i'll introduce it in my freshman seminar class, although i won't have the useful lens of anthropology to offer them to dissect it.

    it might be interesting for students to look at the comments that the article has generated. the ones the editors highlighted seem a good sampling -- they include both the condescension of the enlightened (oh these poor backward people) and much more nuanced responses, including one from someone who lives and works in Afghanistan. anyway, i'd be interested to hear how your students react!

  2. hey, Soo La! Thanks for commenting... Are you still blogging? I had not seen the comments when I read the piece last night - I definitely will take a look now.

  3. Sadly, not too much blogging these days, although Printculture is still being kept alive by 1 or 2 people (the site seems to have crashed in the last day or so!). The last post I did was on becoming a parent.

    And sorry to have used your name in my comment! Not thinking . . .