“To every girl who figured she could run faster, or climb higher, in pants”
Last week, I was struck while reading the beginning of the Craft of Research. I was fascinated when reading how, “no place is more filled with imagined voices than a library…when you read…you silently converse with its writers—and through them with everyone else they have read.” The authors of the Craft of Research go on to explain how, “every time you go to a written source for information, you join a conversation between writers and readers that began more than five thousand years ago.” However, the authors remind us that “the research you see walking these sites is only part of the story.”
When I first heard about the Olson Scholars program, I applied due to my yearning desire to participate in the conversations around me and furthermore, go on to add my own voice to the story. However, I have also been constantly questioning voices participating in the conversation and the story being told.
Through the Olson Scholars program and beyond, I want to understand “Whose voices I am hearing and accepting as truth? Why some voices louder than others?” and “How do these voices impact the way I view the world and those around me?” Specifically, I want to understand the role Identity, Gender, Race, Culture, and Class play in the crucial puzzle of who gets to a voice in the conversation of International Relations and whose story is told.
However, I feel as though there might be an interesting way to look for a piece to this puzzle.
During “World Politics”, I became incredibly curious when reading about the characteristics International Relations Scholars J. Ann Tickner and Laura Sjoberg described as “masculine” versus “feminine”. Specifically, I was interested how in class, we discussed how those who possess masculine traits are allowed a voice and a place in the public sphere, while those who possess feminine traits are silenced and hidden in private. While feminine traits are stereotypically associated with women and masculine traits are stereotypically associated with men, I became curious about whether the possession of those traits, regardless of gender, play a role in who is given a voice or silenced.
This thought-provoking conversation about masculinity and femininity reminded me of a book I came across during High School by an investigative journalist named Jenny Nordberg called, The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan. Nordberg’s book sheds light on Afghanistan’s decades long practice of the Bacha Posh. Bacha Posh, which literally translates to “Girls Dressed as Boys,” is a practice wherein families are “secretly” permitted to turn their daughters in to sons, while authorities turn a blind eye. The practice has allowed young girls to participate in the public sphere and enjoy rights and freedoms otherwise reserved for boys and men. Additionally the practice has been utilized as a means of security. However, when a Bacha Posh reaches puberty, she is forced to live her life again as a girl and return to the private sphere.
Throughout the year, I hope to explore the practice of the Bacha Posh and understand if and how masculinity is utilized by women as a means of power and/or security.
This practice has risen many questions I have about the Gender IR lens. How does the Gender lens can explain the practice of the Bacha Posh? How is a girl who dresses up as a boy allowed a space in the public sphere even though her family knows she is a girl, but when she turns back into a girl, she is not allowed in that space anymore? In a world where women are gaining prominence in the in the public sphere, how do masculine and feminine traits play a role in regard to who is given a voice versus who remains silenced? Most importantly, how does the practice help us understand and possibly change the way we look through the Gender IR lens?
 Jenny Nordberg, The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan. (New York: Broadway Books, 2014).
 Wayne C Booth et. al., The Craft of Research, 4th edition. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2017), 16.
 Rhea Tuli, “Rhea Tuli Olson Scholars Application”, (American University, 2019).
 J. Ann Tickner, Laura Sjoberg. “Feminism” in International Relations Theories: Discipline and Diversity, 4th edition. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016)