A number of years ago, I saw this movie. I thought it was really well done, if a bit sentimental.
I need to revise that opinion. This week in The New York Times runs an amazing story about girls whose families dress them as boys to survive and cope:
There are no statistics about how many Afghan girls masquerade as boys. But when asked, Afghans of several generations can often tell a story of a female relative, friend, neighbor or co-worker who grew up disguised as a boy. To those who know, these children are often referred to as neither “daughter” nor “son” in conversation, but as “bacha posh,” which literally means “dressed up as a boy” in Dari.
Through dozens of interviews conducted over several months, where many people wanted to remain anonymous or to use only first names for fear of exposing their families, it was possible to trace a practice that has remained mostly obscured to outsiders. Yet it cuts across class, education, ethnicity and geography, and has endured even through Afghanistan’s many wars and governments.
Beyond the details of how these girls “pass” as boys, and in particular the disturbing accounts of how they try to cope with reintegrating themselves as girls who must learn submission and purdah for the husbands their parents found them, was a small, very fascinating detail.
Nancy Dupree, an 83-year-old American who has spent most of her life as a historian working in Afghanistan, said she had not heard of the phenomenon.
She, along with her husband Louis, have literally written the books on how to understand Afghanistan. That Ms. Dupree has never heard of it is, frankly, surprising, though I believe she spent most of the Taliban era in Peshawar, and not Kabul. She never studied culture or society per se, but I find that ignorance really surprising. Not that I knew any better (let’s be real), but I’ve also not lived there since the 1950s.