From the New York Times article, “Afghan Boys Are Prized, So Girls Live the Part” by Jenny Nordberg, I was shocked of what women, especially young females have to go through for society to accept them and their families.  Many families in Afghanistan commonly use the practice of “bacha posh,” which is when a young girl is dressed as a boy and thus becomes entitled to participate in Afghan life as a boy naturally would.

Mrs. Azita Rafaat, who endured several pregnancies, only to produce more daughters, states; “ I thought of dying…But I never thought of divorce. If I had separated from my husband, I would have lost my children, and they would have had no rights.” Given the limitations of society in which she lives, she and her husband made a deliberate choice to dress up their youngest daughter, Mehran, as a boy. Playing the part of a boy works well for sometime, since boys can easily gain education, work outside the home, and experience more freedom than girls are allowed by culture. From this article, I observed that Afghani girls dressed as boys were allowed to play sports freely, work jobs, and interact with both men and women, without society labeling or restricting them.

In Mehran’s society, the main responsibility for females is to maintain the family/household honor. As a result, to make sure that they do not disgrace their family, society limits women’s freedom and places certain restrictions on their behavior and activities of what they can and cannot do. The reasons for putting one’s daughter undercover as a son clearly originates from both sexism and traditional beliefs. Mrs. Azita Rafaat did not have much of choice when she decided to disguise her daughter as a male. The Afghanistan culture significantly regards a son as a prize to the family household. While, families without a son are dishonored and humiliated in the social aspect of Afghan culture. Consequently, Mehran’s passing as a boy was not a choice to make, but an obligation to improve life for her family. Guising herself as a boy allows Mehran to have an education and do simple chores such as buying groceries or doing laundry. With an education Mehran will have a greater opportunity of supporting her family financially. But in time how would cross-dressing as a male affect Mehran’s identity? Even though this may benefit her family, what are the psychological and cultural effects of bacha posh?

 Afghan Boys Are Prized, So Girls Live the Part 


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One response

  1. Claire Musanti says:

    It’s interesting to think of this practice and where it falls on a spectrum of trans identity. In the U.S., we think of trans or genderqueer identity as something personal, psychological, and inherent within an individual. In many other parts of the world, however, there are lots of cultural practices and customs that involve a blurring or changing of genders that aren’t considered psychological and personal. This story is a good example. These girls aren’t calling themselves trans and aren’t deciding to identify as boys because that’s how they “feel inside”. Instead, there’s a largely social, financial, and political push behind it for their families. They’re being assigned a new gender by their families and then have to ‘fake’ the role of a boy. Does this lack of personal choice and internal feelings mean that we shouldn’t try to analyze it using a transgender lens? I’m not sure.

    This also reminds me of a documentary I watched a while ago. I can’t remember the name of it but it was about the phenomenon in Iran of gay, male-bodied men identifying as trans and living as women and eventually undergoing sex reassignment surgery in order to avoid the social ostracization and criminal penalties that could come from being openly gay. In Iran, it is legal and more socially accepted to be trans because it is considered a medical and psychological condition that can be treated, whereas having a nonheterosexual orientation is illegal and considered immoral. This acts as a large push for gay men and also some lesbians to transition. Throughout the film, many of the men interviewed said they did not “feel” like women or female and would not choose to transition if there were no social repercussions for being gay. This obviously isn’t the same as the little girls being dressed as boys, but it has the same idea of there being a social or political push to change genders in order to benefit yourself or your family.