Yesterday’s New York Times featured a story about “bacha posh:” girls and young women who dress up to pass as boys. Families that lack a son make one up.
Ten-year old Miina goes to school for two hours each morning, in a dress and a head scarf, but returns about 9 a.m. to her home in one of Kabul’s poorest neighborhoods to change into boys’ clothing. She then goes to work as Abdul Mateen, a shop assistant in a small grocery store nearby.
She could never work in the store as a girl, just as her mother could not. Neither her husband nor the neighbors would look kindly on it. “It would be impossible,” Nasima said. “It’s our tradition that girls don’t work like this.”
And yet, they are working like that. Dressing the part is all it takes to gain admittance to the club. I find it confounding that if a girl dresses as a boy, she is a boy–with all the rights and responsibilities maleness entails.
Zahra, 15, has dressed and acted like a boy for as long as she can remember. She does not want to go back to being an Afghan woman. “People use bad words for girls,” she said. “They scream at them on the streets. When I see that, I don’t want to be a girl. When I am a boy, they don’t speak to me like that.”
It is deeply cruel to offer girls a taste of relative freedom before forcing them to adapt to second-class status later in life. Shukria Siddiqui, 36, grew up as a boy but had to quit the facade at age 20 because her family found her a husband. Now a married mother of three, she constantly thinks back to “[her] best time,” as she calls it. Asked if she wished she had been born a man, she nods.
It really blows my mind that anyone who bought into the idea of male superiority would allow a girl to take on the role of a boy for practical reasons. Girls masquerading as boys prove they are capable, strong members of a family and society; all the other girls living as girls are such a huge untapped resource.