Afghan girls dressing as boys

Here’s an interesting and heartbreaking article about the practice of dressing a daughter as a boy to pretend she’s a son. The practice allows the daughter to come and go from the house (daughters are confined inside), to play cricket and football and other outdoor sports with boys, to work, to help families with shopping, to obtain a better education, and to avoid the daily harassment and disrespect that girls and women endure. It also enables the family to avoid the stigma of only having daughters. Generally speaking, the practice ends at puberty, when the family deem it too dangerous for their daughter to be around boys any more. Many enter arranged marriages at this point. Unsurprisingly, it can be hard to adjust to the life of a woman, especially for those who have spent their entire childhood living as a boy. There are no official statistics, but when asked, many Afghans have stories of neighbours, friends and relatives who have dressed a daughter as a boy. The stories concern women of many generations.

5 thoughts on “Afghan girls dressing as boys

  1. There was a film in 2003 about an Afghan girl who dressed as a boy to support her family. It’s called ‘Osama’ — highly recommended!

  2. I find this article particularly interesting in relation to elp’s recent discussion of “the boys-being-pretty day/week.” One of the aspects that I find interesting is the complexities involved in gender presentation and challenging problematic gender norms within societies. In elp’s discussion, the “boys-being-pretty-day/week” seems to challenge problematic gender norms in ways that seem liberating to me (i.e. it challenges the idea that some things are for “girls-only” and some things are for “boys-only” allowing boys to be pretty without giving up their boy-status).

    In contrast, this article describes a similar phenomena (girls-dressing-as-boys) but because the particularities and the context is different, the challenge to the problematic gender norms seems quite different (i.e. it seems to uphold the greater freedoms of boys and men, rather than directly challenging them. Women/girls are temporarily allowed access to these freedoms, but only if they give up their status as women/girls).

    I recognize that there is a strong possibility that my interpretation is racist or culturally biased. Because I am not a part of Afghan culture, and I am only reading about it through a wester-writer’s lens, I might be way off here. There might be a deeper transformation going on in the Afghan case, since many of the women interviewed in the article discuss how being raised as boys was empowering and helped them in their political careers and so forth.

    What I find interesting, though, is that challenging gender norms is tricky business. It is individually difficult (in elp’s discussion her son experienced teasing, and in this case the Afghan women talk about the hardship both of dressing as a boy and of becoming a woman again at puberty), and similar kinds of gender-bending can have different effects in different contexts and can constitute a different kind of challenge to gender norms.

  3. bakka, it seems like the difference between the two challenges is one of internality/externality to gender. so, in the afghan girls case, what they might be doing is challenging (to some extent?) the pairing of girl (gender) with female (sex) and boy with male. in elp-son’s case, he seems to be challenging boyness: transgressing the rules of what constitutes boy (gender). i think…tho, interestingly, elp-son’s fairy alter-ego is a girl who has a penis. (he tells us that all girl fairies have penises.)

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