The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan
by Jenny Nordberg
Crown (2014), Hardcover, 368 pages
The Underground Girls of Kabul introduces the phenomenon of the bacha posh (translated as “dressed up as a boy” in the Dari language) to a Western audience. Jenny Nordberg interviews girls that are either forced, or have decided to dress as boys from a young age, from various Socio-Economic strata throughout Afghan society, in order to keep their family’s honor intact within an ancient tribal society. What she presents is a window into old world beliefs fueled by a male dominated society, that relegates women to second class status.
To be clear, this book is much more of an ethnographic study, rather than being written from a feminist point of view. It is an in-depth view into the practice of ostracizing whole families who are unlucky enough to produce nothing but girls, in a society which equates family pride, security and economic strength with the birth of boys.
An interesting aspect of the story deals with the fact that many young girls are happy to disguise themselves as boys, simply because of the freedom and respect they are accorded-freedom and respect that they would never experience as girls. What I found most compelling is the re-adjusting that must take place once these bacha posh hit puberty, when they are expected to embrace their womanhood once again, after spending their childhood as boys. These young women are to marry and raise children of their own, without the benefit of being socialized as women-the psychological turmoil of this change can only be imagined.
The interviews conducted by Nordberg go a long way to help the reader understand the conflict felt by those who have experienced this tradition which is so foreign to Western society. That said, The Underground Girls of Kabul may open Western eyes to the many similar prejudices women in our own society have been living with to this very day.
(4 out of 5)