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The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of…

The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in… (2014)

by Jenny Nordberg

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Showing 1-5 of 56 (next | show all)
This book was absolutely fascinating. While on the surface the book is about girls that are dressed as boys for reasons of honor, practicality and standing in Afghan society, the discussions in the book go much deeper; I learned at lot about the political and cultural history of Afghanistan and how the ways that it has impacted the lives of women in Afghanistan. The book also expands its reach to talk briefly about women that have dressed as men in other extremely patriarchal societies. In the end, I can see why the prevailing myth regarding rainbows in Afghanistan is that if a little girl manages to walk directly underneath one, she will become a boy; after all, in a patriarchal culture where boys have all the freedom, and women have none, what women wouldn't want a little more control over her destiny?

I enjoyed this book. Highly recommend. ( )
1 vote VLarkinAnderson | Sep 24, 2018 |
Very fascinating read that made me think about gender, the roles of men and women and more. Because sons are so highly prized in places like Afghanistan, some families resort to treating one of their daughters as a son. The "bacha posh" or "dressed like a boy" do anything and everything boys do: go out without an escort, play rough and play football, work as employees in the family business, etc. They cut their hair short, hang out and play with boys, and often remain that way until puberty, when many begin to revert to their roles as women. But what is that drives families to do this? What happens to the women who "change back" at the onset of puberty or when their family gains a biological son? What about those who don't?
Author Nordberg discusses all of these roles, looking at it in the context of post 9/11 Afghanistan and the US withdrawal of forces. We have some history for these families during the Soviet invasion and nation-building, but the author looks at various women in more recent times.
The book gave me a lot of food for thought. These families admit that it helps them cope with the society they live in: less shame on the family, can give them more flexibility (as in the family with only daughters can have more freedom to move if their "son" with with them, etc.) it gives the girls a chance to experience more freedom, etc. Why is the author so hung up on that these young girls and women are being treated like sons? Why is she obsessed with the gender roles?
On the flip side, why should these girls be raised as sons just to have that freedom? Why must women be covered from head to toe, can only go outside with a male escort, etc? Why should a young woman, who has had the freedom to move about and do as she pleases by passing as a boy/young man only to be told she has to think about her family and getting married when her family gains a son or she reaches puberty?
But while this book gave me a lot to think about, I had to remember that I was raised in the West, as female and never had *any* of the restrictions Nordberg describes for these girls and women. Which also is worth nothing that Nordberg didn't either and we are looking at this through a Westerner's eyes, as detailed of a picture the author tries to paint. It's clear this isn't a scientific journal/paper, as Nordberg notes on more than one occasion her findings rely on someone remembering a distant relative in their childhood or a neighbor who had a friend whose daughter was raised as a bacha posh, etc.
And as mentioned in other reviews, I would have liked to have known what some of the fathers or brothers, etc. knew and felt. While we do see some discussion of it (fathers treating them as sons, husbands who knew about their wives' histories, etc)., it would have been interesting to see a little more: did the fathers ever think about changing how they interacted with their child? One father admits he doomed his daughter to a loveless marriage by marrying her off after she pretended to be his son. Do the husbands mind? It's a little hard to tell, and I am not sure if it's because the men would not talk to a foreign woman, because the author chose not to include that aspect as much, or what.
Overall, though, it was a detailed and great read. I think the book begins to bog down when the author starts discussing other aspects (tae kwon do practioners, the practice of young men and boys being trafficked for sex, upcoming weddings and the preparation involved, etc.). All of this was still very intresting, but I thought the author was much stronger when sticking mostly with the women's stories and interweaving the other aspects within their backgrounds and lives.
Great read. It took like a month or so to get it from the library but it was worth the wait. I wouldn't buy because I don't think I'd read it again for fun, but it might be a good resource for a paper. ( )
1 vote acciolibros | Feb 11, 2018 |
Necessity is the mother of invention. That’s the message of this astonishing work by the Swedish journalist Jenny Nordberg, who worked with women in and around Kabul in Afghanistan between 2009 and 2011. When she was told, discreetly, that a contact’s six-year-old son was actually a cross-dressed girl, Nordberg discovered that this was merely the tip of an iceberg. Her enquiries led her to unearth an open secret in Afghan society: an entire social practice, hitherto unreported in the wider world, of bacha posh, literally meaning ‘dressed as a boy’. Mixing biography, psychology and anthropology, this is a deeply illuminating journey into the social constructs of an unfamiliar world...

For the full post, please see my blog:
https://theidlewoman.net/2017/05/11/the-underground-girls-of-kabul-jenny-nordber... ( )
  TheIdleWoman | Jun 3, 2017 |
An absolutely fascinating expedition into the lives of Afghani women, and the interplay between societal expectations, culture, politics, and gender.

Jenny Nordberg investigates the cultural aspect of Bacha Posh, girls who are "turned" into boys to maintain a family's social standing, and the implications for these people, and society at large. ( )
  MarchingBandMan | Apr 6, 2017 |
The author of this book risked her life many times to bring us what is an important and insightful revelation. This book is larger than its parts and stories. Ultimately, it's about the role and effect of females in every culture.

The practice of bacha posh in Afghanistan is the focus of the book, however, this phenomenon has been in existence in many countries for many centuries. To the modern world of educated peoples, technology, and freedoms, dressing girls like boys and treating them as such may sound bizarre. There are, sadly, sound reasons for this practice where it exists, and the girls and their families cope with the dangerous and backward societies in which they live as well as they can. They're trapped, all of them, even the males who mistreat women and perpetuate the overpowering male dominance of society, however uneducated.

Readers who don't live in these countries will find the book eye-opening, educational, and thoughtful. Several stories bring us down to a personal level and inside families. It's an amazing achievement in such a country at this unstable time in history. An intelligent report on little-known activities and a closed culture, with ramifications for all of us, I hope the book will be widely read and more widely considered.

This book came to me by way of Goodreads Giveaways.

( )
  Rascalstar | Jan 21, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 56 (next | show all)
“The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan,” delves into the practice of “bacha posh,” in which prepubescent Afghan girls are dressed and passed off as boys in families, schools and communities. Through extensive interviews with former bacha posh, observation of present ones and conversations with doctors and teachers, Nordberg unearths details of a dynamic that one suspects will be news to the armies of aid workers and gender experts in post-invasion Afghanistan.
added by ozzer | editNew York Times, RAFIA ZAKARIA (Oct 9, 2014)
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To every girl

who figured out that she could run faster,

and climb higher, in trousers
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"Our brother is really a girl."
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
The Underground Girls of Kabul is about Azita, a female parliamentarian who sees no other choice but to turn her fourth daughter Mehran into a  boy; Zahra, a tomboy tennager who struggles with puberty and refuses her parents' attempt to turn her back into a girl; Shukria, now a married mother of three after living for twenty years as a man; and Nader, who prays with Shahed, the undercover female police officer, as they both remain in male disguise as adults.

Following the bacha posh through childhood, puberty, married life and childbirth, The Underground Girls of Kabul examines the profound effects the practice has had on generations of Afghan women and what it means for girls everywhere.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307952495, Hardcover)

An investigative reporter goes into one of the world’s most dangerous countries for women and uncovers a hidden custom that will transform your understanding of what it means to grow up as a girl

In Afghanistan, a culture ruled almost entirely by men, the birth of a son is cause for celebration and the arrival of a daughter is mourned. A bacha posh (literally translated to “dressed up like a boy” in Dari) is a third kind of child–a girl temporarily raised as a boy and presented as such to the outside world. Jenny Nordberg, the reporter who broke the story of this phenomenon for the New York Times, constructs a powerful and moving account of those secretly living on the other side of a deeply segregated society where women have almost no rights and little freedom.
The Underground Girls of Kabul is anchored by vivid characters who bring this remarkable story to life: Azita, a female parliamentarian who sees no other choice but to turn her fourth daughter Mehran into a boy; Zahra, the tomboy teenager who struggles with puberty and refuses her parents’ attempts to turn her back into a girl; Shukria, now a married mother of three after living for twenty years as a man; and Nader, who prays with Shahed, the undercover female police officer, as they both remain in male disguise as adults.

Following the tradition of intimate documentary journalism, Nordberg offers a fascinating, almost fairy-tale-like look at how girls are willed into looking, behaving, and acting as boys; why mothers and fathers would ask this of their daughters; and what ultimately happens when a bacha posh does not want to rescind the prerogatives that go along with living as a boy, and later as a man.

At the heart of this emotional narrative is a new perspective on the extreme sacrifices of Afghan women and girls against the violent backdrop of America’s longest war. Divided into four parts, the book follows those born as the unwanted sex in Afghanistan, but who present as the socially favored gender through childhood and puberty, only to later be forced into marriage and childbirth. The Underground Girls of Kabul charts their dramatic life cycles, while examining our own history and the parallels to subversive actions of people who live under oppression everywhere.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:47 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

An award-winning foreign correspondent who contributed to a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times series reveals the secret Afghan custom of disguising girls as boys to improve their prospects, discussing its political and social significance as well as the experiences of its practitioners.… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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