Article Comparison: 9/22

Right now, I am immersing myself in as much literature as possible in order to familiarize myself with the conversation of the Bacha Posh and Gender IR theory. While I have found multiple pieces of literature (memoirs, novels, magazine articles etc.) surrounding the practice of the Bacha Posh, for a while, Jenny Nordberg’s, The Underground Girls of Kabul, was the only body of research I had read that directly examined the practice. Thus, I strongly agreed with Nordberg’s argument of the practice of the Bacha Posh being a liberating resistance to Afghanistan’s patriarchal society. However, through spending the past few weeks diving deep into scholarly literature both directly and indirectly playing roles in the conversation of the Bacha Posh, I found that there is some discourse amongst scholars surrounding Nordberg’s outlook on the practice.

Rather than the practice being connected to Afghanistan’s culturally patriarchal society, Julien Corboz, Andrew Gibbs & Rachel Jewkes in, “Bacha posh: factors associated with raising a girl as a boy,” explain how, “it is against the background of the enforcement of patriarchal gender norms and practices and the male-centric nature of Afghan families that bacha posh occurs.”[1] They argue that “Bacha posh in the family is linked less to patriarchal gender norms,” and instead hypothesizes that the factors associated with turning daughters into sons are “(1)…related to the composition of the family, namely number of girl children/boy children, and marriage structure; (2) occur in families with higher levels of poverty and women’s engagement in work; and (3) occur in families with higher level of gender equity as assessed through education and gender attitudes.”[2] Using a positivist methodology, Corboz et. al attempt to find out the “the factors associated with raising a girls as a boy” by collecting quantitative data by asking women in Afghanistan from two different provinces, Kabul and Nangarhar, the question, “Do you have any girl in your family raised as a boy?”[3] The dependent variable being measured is whether or not there is a girl in her family who has been raised as a boy.[4] The independent variables in the study are “socio-demographic characteristics, family composition, economic characteristics, patriarchal gender attitudes and perception of community patriarchal attitudes.”[5] The study concludes that the practice is associated with “a low number of sons”, “more equitable gender norms” within the family, and, “greater engagement in work,” due to the mobility practice allows for girls, essentially allowing them to go out and economically benefit their families.[6]

Although Corboz et. al disagrees with Nordberg on how connected the practice is to Afghanistan’s patriarchal society, they agree with Nordberg’s view on the liberating nature of the practice. Scholar Mary Anne Franks, on the other hand, disagrees with Corboz et. al and, while she views the practice as connected to the patriarchy, Franks introduces an intriguing lens that sheds light on the idea that the practice’s forced masculinization of females for just a certain portion of their lives is not as liberating in nature as Nordberg presents.[7],[8] Using what I believe is an interpretivist methodology, Frank in her article “How to Feel Like a Woman or Why Punishment is a Drag,” argues that the forced, coercive feminization of women “is as unnatural and wrong…as it is for men to be,” and suggests that “the proper approach to forced feminization is to focus on its oppressive structure, not on its victims.”[9] Frank examines  both the practice of the Bacha Posh and the Bacha Bazi in Afghanistan illustrate that, “In bacha bazi, the feminization of boys results in sexual exploitation and a lowered social status. In bacha posh, the masculinization of girls results in increased personal freedom and social status.”[10] Thus, as Frank explains, practices demonstrates that, “to be feminized is to be punished, and to be masculinized is to be liberated.”[11] Therefore, Franks brings up the common idea of it being wrong for a man to be feminized, yet ok for a female to be.[12]

As someone who previously agreed with Nordberg and Corboz et. al’s outlook on the practice as liberating in nature, I am intrigued by Frank’s argument. My curiosity is currently driving me to want to explore the idea of forced masculinization and feminization of people who are Bacha Posh to see if there’s a puzzle within there. Particularly, how does the forced feminization of females after a lifetime of forced masculinization connect to the “oppressive structure” of Afghanistan’s patriarchal society?

[1] Julienne Corboz, Andrew Gibbs, and Rachel Jekews, “Bacha Posh in Afghanistan: Factors Associated with Raising a Girl as a Boy,” Culture, Health & Sexuality, (June 17, 2019), 2.

[2] Ibid, 4.

[3] Ibid,5.

[4] Ibid, 1.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid, 13.

[7] Ibid, 4.

[8] Mary Anne Franks, “How to Feel Like a Woman, or Why Punishment Is a Drag,” UCLA Law Review, 575-577

[9] Ibid, 61.

[10] Ibid, 576.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

1 Comment on Article Comparison: 9/22

  1. Avatar
    Dr. Boesenecker
    October 29, 2019 at 5:32 pm

    Rhea — you discuss two articles here that are relevant to your research. You’ve done a good job in identifying the main claims in each. However, the post would be a bit stronger if you were to engage some more of the specific methodological elements in each article. Looking ahead, it will be *very* important to think about literature that examines the *general* phenomenon that is at the heart of your puzzle. A good literature review (like Weyland’s) does not focus on a particular case, but rather focuses on the literature that provides concepts or theories that can help explain particular cases, In that sense, you should actively be seeking literature that treats *other* places than Afghanistan and that helps you conceptualize the practice/idea of the Bacha posh in more general terms.


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