Title: The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan
Author: Jenny Nordberg
Release Date: September 16, 2014
Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir, Cultural
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Jenny Nordberg, an investigative journalist living and working in Kabul, becomes intrigued by the things she hears about the bacha posh, treating daughters as sons when there are no sons in the family. She looks into the phenomenon and finds a lot more than she expects underneath the surface.
In this mesmerizing investigative journalistic account, Jenny Nordberg discusses the hidden phenomenon of the bacha posh, the girl dressed up as a boy, and examines its social and psychological repercussions, as well as how it might be changing modern-day Afghani society.
When Jenny Nordberg was living and working with women in Afghanistan, she started hearing rumors about something called a bacha posh, when families without sons began to treat one of their daughters as a son. It made a lot of sense in a male-dominated society: by doing this, there would be another family member to work outside the home, to help escort mothers and sisters to and from the house. Though many denied this ever happened to Nordberg, she persisted in her investigation and finally uncovered the truth, which was a huge story in the New York Times. Now, in this memoir/investigation, Nordberg goes even more in depth with this phenomenon.
There are so many fascinating aspects about the bacha posh in The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan that I don’t even know where to start. From the origins of the tradition, to the way it’s a non-discussed but pretty relevant and widespread part of the culture in Kabul, to the overwhelming preference for sons in Afghanistan, there isn’t a single part of this book that isn’t utterly intriguing. Nordberg writes with a confident hand in an easy narrative style, bringing the women she discusses to life on these pages. The reader becomes invested in each of them, wanting to understand them and hoping for the best while also realizing that the bacha posh can be a detriment to being an Afghani woman.
Why? Well, imagine that you live in a culture and society that represses women. And then imagine you’re a young woman, but from a very young age, you’ve been raised with all the freedoms of a boy. You dress like a boy, you play with boys, and you see the women in your house being treated in an inferior manner. And then, all of a sudden, once you hit puberty, you’re expected to completely change who you’ve been your entire life and the identity you’ve created for yourself. You’re expected to become a demure woman, to sit down and be quiet, and be married off, subservient to your husband.
It’s these psychological implications of the bacha posh that captured me completely in The Underground Girls of Kabul. Do some of the bacha posh become women haters, repulsed by their own identity? Do some become outspoken strong women, something that isn’t viewed well in conservative Afghani society? Do some of these women refuse to ever turn back? Nordberg explores these fascinating questions, looking at bacha posh of all ages, current and former, to truly understand the damage that this, and that repressive treatment of women in Afghanistan as a whole, does to these women.