Bacha Posh

Today I watched the documentary “She is my son: Afghanistan Bacha Posh, when girls become boys” and learned about the consequences of a deep-rooted belief, in Afghanistan patriarchal society, that “Every woman must have a husband beside her. If not a husband, a son will do.”

And what happens when a couple has only daughters and no sons? Apparently, the daughter will do, as long as she dresses in male clothing, has her hair cut short and uses a male name. By doing so, she is allowed outside the house by herself and she can start working to help the family make money. These girls are known as “Bacha Posh”, which means “dressed up as a boy”.

This is a documentary directed by Alexander Avilov, which is available on YouTube and on the RTD documentary channel. To those interested, I’d say: Stop reading this post, press play and watch it now. The whole thing. It is worth it.

In less than half an hour you’ll have a glance at the lives of four girls: Fazilya, Asiya, Najla and Amena. My head starting spinning from the very first minute. I was, above all, interested in what the girls themselves had to say, how they felt and how they coped with the imposed gender-swap, so I typed the words of a couple of them here (mixed with the voice-over of the narrator for context).

Narrator:

Asiya likes the freedom that her boys clothes bring her. Freedom that her female friends can’t enjoy.

Asiya:

In Afghanistan people don’t have the same rights. In other countries men and women are equal, but that’s not the case here. Maybe that’s why I became a Bacha Posh. Women aren’t able to do what men are. Even sports! A man can play sports, but if a woman does, people say it’s a disgrace. A woman must stay at home and take care of children. People don’t want women to work like men. At school, they don’t let me be.

Amena:

Even though I’m a girl, I must become a boy. I want to do something good for my family, for my father, that’s why I’m a Bacha Posh.

Narrator:

Dressed in boys clothes, Amena goes to the center everyday to sell water. Outside of her father’s hearing, she confesses that she hates the job. It’s hard to hide from passersby that she is actually a girl. (She is bullied in the streets)

Two years ago, there was some hope to Amena’s parents. Mohammed’s wife gave birth to a boy. The family of modest means had only two months to celebrate the heir before he tragically died. Amena’s mother can’t have more children now, meaning that she will have to remain a boy for a few more years.

The person behind the camera asks Amena’s father:

How long do you want Amena to stay a Bacha Posh?

Amena’s father:

Until her sister grows up to the age of 11. Then I’ll make her a Bacha Posh and Amena will be able to continue her education.

Narrator (talking about Najla):

Girls dressed as boys is an Afghanistan tradition. It’s concealed but not taboo. But when Bacha Posh girls come of age, they go back to dressing as girls and their parents try to marry them off. Usually to a relative. Is a rare exception who refuses to start a family and have children. She wants freedom. And in Afghanistan only the men have that.

So many questions in what is now my very dizzy head. The biggest of all being: “Why?

Deep down I already know the answer and “The Second Sex”, by Simone de Beauvoir, comes to mind striking like lightning.

Thankfully, the book is carefully and proudly shelved in a special section of my personal library, which allowed me to quickly find the passages I was looking for:

Simone de Beauvoir:

In truth, to go for a walk with one’s eyes open is enough to demonstrate that humanity is divided into two classes of individuals whose clothes, faces, bodies, smiles, gaits, interests, and occupations are manifestly different. Perhaps these differences are superficial, perhaps they are destined to disappear. What is certain is that they do most obviously exist.

If her functioning as a female is not enough to define woman, if we decline also to explain her through ‘the eternal feminine’, and if nevertheless we admit, provisionally, that women do exist, then we must face the question “what is a woman”?

Thus humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself but as relative to him; she is not regarded as an autonomous being.

(Note to self: must read The Second Sex again)

 

Billie Jean

I’ve waited and waited for the movie Battle of the sexes until I finally watched it last night and it’s fair to say it’s been a while since a movie touched my heart so profoundly. This time it wasn’t the movie itself – which is well produced and has fine actors – but the details of Billie Jean’s story: a tennis player who, back in 1973, put everything she had conquered (dozens of titles) on the line, hoping that, by winning a match against a man, women would be seen and respected as athletes, not as “female athletes”, and, therefore, “less skilled”.

Billie Jean’s contribution to women rights is massive, has been continuous and happened both inside and outside the tennis court.

This movie is a good way to start, but if you wish to learn more about her, here are a couple of books she wrote:

 

Audiobooks

I was listening to Anaïs Nin’s essential words uninterruptedly on Audible, while making a cup of coffee and tidying my place, when it hit me. The freedom now available to me, or should I say finally noticed by me?

The mobility, the lack of attachment to a room, a sofa, a bed or a chair. The no longer needed quiet corner, for Anaïs’ voice would muffle the external sounds. From now on, I could not only walk all around the house, but also leave it and take her with me. She would whisper her many adventures in my ears on my way to work, while I wait for the tube or travel somewhere nearby or far away. She would help me sleep by telling me a story or singing me a lullaby, when my arms are too tired to hold the heavy books I keep buying and for which I rarely have time.

It would take adapting and open-mindedness. It would mean leaving behind my conservative view about reading – one that always made me so proud, but that now, I finally understood, was based on ignorance and prejudice about new technologies for readers. Truth is that I, deeming myself a true book lover, held on for too long to the desire to turn and smell paper pages, and was blind to the most recent ways of getting to know new words and revisiting old ones.

Reading books in digital format was the first step I took away from bulks of paper bound together, and The Diary of Anaïs Nin was the first thing I read on my Kindle – at the time, still quite cynical about how natural the reading experience would feel, until I finally surrendered.

So, in a way, it is no surprise – and serendipity comes to mind – that one year after getting acquainted with my electronic reading device, my first audiobook was also by Anaïs. She seems to take me further every time we meet. To guide me into the unknown. Her thirst for new ways of living, of loving, of being. My empty glass getting fuller the more I get to know her, no matter the path through which her words reach me.

 

 

The Unit

the unit, childless

I haven’t read The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist yet, but this synopsis got me very interested in making time for it.

Who is dispensable?” That’s the chilling 1984-esque question that Holmqvist poses in her near-future novel. Childless women aged 50 (and men aged 60) must leave their homes and enter “the unit,” where they will live out their days participating in government experiments and donating their organs to younger, more “productive” members of society. When Dorrit arrives at the unit, she is ready to accept her fate, but when she unexpectedly finds companionship in another “dispensable,” she discovers a reason to live. Indie bookstore Orinda Books says, “A taut, creepy, yet thought-provoking page-turner, The Unit is a meditation on the consequences of complacency, the value of human life, and what we’re prepared to give up for security and comfort.

Source of the text: Literature at every latitude