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.

My First Mentor Meeting: 9/16/19

“As a scholar and teacher of international relations, I have frequently asked myself the following questions: why are there so few women in my discipline? If I teach the field as it is conventionally defined, why are there so distant from women’s liven experiences? Why is the subject matter of my discipline only by their absence in the worlds of diplomacy and military and foreign-policy making?”[1]

[1] J. Ann Tickner.    “Preface.” in Gender in International Relations, (New York: Columbia University Press,     1992), ix.

As a student of International Studies, I consistently spend a lot of time questioning and analyzing the voices participating in the conversation of International Studies. However, as an aspiring researcher, I am currently struggling to understand the role my own voice plays in the conversation. One of the most exciting parts of the Olson Scholars Program is the opportunity to be paired with a faculty mentor who has made extensive, influential contributions to the conversation in areas that spark our curiosity to help us also find our place in the conversation. Thus, I feel incredibly privileged and excited to spend the year being mentored by Professor Ann Tickner. Professor Tickner has spent her career paving the way for Feminist IR theory and has used her voice to create space for the voices of others and for the experiences of women to be a part of the conversation of International Studies. Additionally, she has played a crucial role in sparking my own interests in International Studies and personal desire to participate in the conversation.

While Professor Tickner was unable to meet until yester (September 16th), we began email communication about two weeks before school started. We started off by introducing ourselves and discussing my research interests. Professor Tickner was familiar with the practice due to the fact that she had also read The Underground Girls of Kabul, the book that first introduced me to the practice of the Bacha Posh.[1],[2]Since I had read the book a while ago, I shared how I was currently going through and marking up both The Underground Girls of Kabul and a memoir called I am a Bacha Posh to find any interesting ideas I didn’t catch before.[3],[4] As with any research, in order to participate in the conversation, you have to know what the conversation is. In this case, I needed to familiarize myself beyond the conversation of the Bacha Posh to the conversation of Feminist IR theory. Thus, as soon as I shared my research interests, professor Tickner lead me to a variety of places and scholars to start looking into in order to both familiarize myself with conversations surrounding Feminist IR theory and to find possible broad connections to my topic.[5] She first led me to the International Feminist Journal of Politics where I found many interesting pieces relating to females and masculinity.[6]

Once school started, I met with Professor Boesenecker to discuss my research interests. He recommended that I look beyond the Bacha Posh in order to find my specific puzzle. I emailed professor Tickner sharing how the nature of the practice (an association to masculinity giving girls and women power) has reminded me a lot of women who join the front lines such as Kurdish women fighters.[7] I also shared how I thought about life after the frontlines: how many women combatants who were participating in war (a very masculine concept) are forced to demobilize and fit more feminine roles, the same way once a Bacha Posh reaches a certain age, she has to turn back into a girl.[8] Professor Tickner highly recommended that I look into pieces by Laura Sjoberg who she stated, “has written a lot on violent women and how they are viewed, negotiating between women and soldiers.”[9] She led me to a book that she and Caron Gentry co-authored titled, “Mothers, Monsters, Whores” and the 2015 revised edition, “Beyond Mothers, Monsters, Whores”.[10],[11],[12] She also recommended I look into Cynthia Enloe who has lots of books on militarism and masculinity.[13]

On Monday, September 16, Professor Tickner and I met for the first time in person. She came in with a suitcase of books leaving me with titles that include Women and Wars by Caroline Cohn and Gender and International Security by Laura Sjoberg.[14],[15] We first began by discussing how my research course was going and I shared how we just began learning about ontologies and research methodologies. Since Professor Tickner has written pieces on the limitations of positivist research on issues surrounding gender and Feminist IR theory, she suggested that I read Brooke Ackerly and Jacqui True, two authors who have used positivist methodologies, and Politics and Gender volume 5 (2009) issue 2 and 3, a great forum by those who use positivist methods in feminist research, for a wholistic view. She also mentioned reading her own article, “What is your Research Program?” in International Studies Quarterly Volume 49 no.1 (2005) for her arguments surrounding interpretivist research.[16] We then began to dive into the puzzle I would like to explore. One area she recommended I look into more before our next meeting was the demobilization process for the Bacha Posh and the experience of girls and women while demobilizing and after demobilization to see if there is a puzzle to find there. In the memoir I am a Bacha Posh the author refused to turn back into a girl and continued to live her life as a boy.[17] I am curious as to how her experience differs to those who join more feminine roles.  We additionally discussed one of the most puzzling aspects of the practice which is why this practice happens specifically in Afghanistan and not in other culturally patriarchal societies. For instance, why is “turn daughter into son” the solution to having a daughter in Afghanistan’s society and only in Afghanistan’s society wherein many other culturally patriarchal societies, you tend to see solutions such as infanticide. The latter direction is something I am particularly very interested in and want to explore more of especially since turning daughters into sons seems to be something that would be very taboo for a culturally patriarchal society, yet still exists and, while kept private, is accepted. The discussions we had about my puzzle gave me a lot to explore before our next meeting. We decided to keep up consistent email communication to discuss any interesting findings/ideas and the readings I am doing. Furthermore, we set up bi-weekly in person meetings. I am excited for the coming weeks to keep working on further developing my research puzzle with Professor Tickner.

[1] J. Ann Tickner, email message to Rhea Tuli, August 22, 2019.

[2] Jenny Nordberg, The Underground Girls of Kabul, 1st (New York: Broadway Books, 2015).

[3] Rhea Tuli, email message to J. Ann Tickner, August 24, 2019.

[4] Ukmina Manoori, I am a Bacha Posh. (New York: Skyhorse Pub, 2014).

[5] J. Ann Tickner, email message to Rhea Tuli, August 22, 2019.

[6] Ibid.

[7]  Rhea Tuli, email to J. Ann Tickner, September 2, 2019.

[8] Ibid.

[9] J. Ann Tickner, email to Rhea Tuli, September 7, 2019.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Laura Sjoberg, Caron E. Gentry, Monster, Mothers, and Whores. (London: Zed Books, 2007).

[12] Laura Sjoberg, Caron E. Gentry, Beyond Monster, Mothers, and Whores. (London: Zed Books, 2015).

[13] J. Ann TIckner, email to Rhea Tuli, September 7, 2019

[14]  Caroline Cohn, Women and Wars. (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2013).

[15] Laura Sjboerg, Gender and International Security. (London, New York: Routledge, 2010).

[16] J. Ann Tickner, “What Is Your Research Program? Some Feminist Answers to International Relations Methodological Questions,” in International Studies Quarterly 49, no. 1 (2005): 1-21.

[17] Manoori.


Research Interests

“To every girl who figured she could run faster, or climb higher, in pants”[1]

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.”[2]

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.[3]

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”.[4] 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.[5]

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?

[1] Jenny Nordberg, The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan. (New York: Broadway Books, 2014).

[2] Wayne C Booth et. al., The Craft of Research, 4th edition. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2017), 16.

[3] Rhea Tuli, “Rhea Tuli Olson Scholars Application”, (American University, 2019).

[4] J. Ann Tickner, Laura Sjoberg. “Feminism” in International Relations Theories: Discipline and Diversity, 4th edition. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016)

[5] Nordberg