Archive of ‘Research’ category

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.

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