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 Girls dressing as boys for family honour

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PostSubject: Girls dressing as boys for family honour   Mon 17 Apr 2017, 04:54

I am reading The Underground Girls of Kabul by Swedish journalist Jenny Nordberg based in the USA.  She is writing of girls brought up in their early years as boys either because there are no girls in the family and that damages the reputation of both the mother and the father or to bring good luck in the form of a boy the next time.  Most of these girls turn back to girls at or just before puberty.  Their family knows they are girls, and apparently quite a lot of the community is probably aware of their actual gender, but it is a way of saving face. For three quarters of the book it has just been about Afghanistan but in the last chapter I have read she talks about other countries where similar practices take place.

She talks of warrior women in Ancient Rome, Syria, China and France.  She says Dutch historians Lotte C van de Pol and Rudolf M Dekker documented more than 100 women who lived as men between the 16th and 19th C.  Sailors and soldiers mostly.  (She doesn't mention the doctor James Barry.)  Some Swedish and German women served in the army or navy. 

Mostly she talks about Albania as a place with a similar tribal society to Afghanistan with a strictly patriarchal society with the family structure focused on producing sons and where women move in with their husband's family when they marry.  "Sworn virgins" they were called.  "At the core of the sworm virgin construct was an absoolute requirement to remain a virgin and never marry.  They would be dressed like boys with their names tweaked to male versions, and taught to hunt and shoot. As they entered puberty, they would master most exterior male traits and use them to compensate for anything girlish in their physical appearance."  Then she mentions the practice declining in recent years.  "Perhaps this decline speaks to how much women pretending to be men really is one of the clearest symptoms of a segregated society so dysfunctional that it inevitably must change. As the practical and financial need to be a man in Albania has lessened, with women able to inherit property and gaining rights to take part in everyday life outside the home, there is now a lesser need for women to disguise themselves as men." Begs the question of why this has happened in the last few years.

I didn't really know of this practice in Afghanistan or Albania.  The author seems concerned about what happens to the girls who have been what is called bacha posh when they go back to being girls.  Will they be affected badly?  Most of the examples she gives seem to have adjusted well to being women and the ones who have insisted on staying men have been happy (and supported) in that decision.  The odd one has felt out of kilter, neither happy in the restricted women's world or able to join the male world where they were happy. 

Do any of you know more of this and do you agree with her conclusions about why it happens?  She said Afghan women are not expected to be sexual beings at all - they are expected to have children but not to have any sexual feelings.  On the other hand the girls seem allowed to watch American television or Bollywood movies.
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PostSubject: Re: Girls dressing as boys for family honour   Mon 17 Apr 2017, 21:38

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PostSubject: Re: Girls dressing as boys for family honour   Mon 17 Apr 2017, 23:13

It's not something I've heard of before, but a preference for a son is something widespread in numerous cultures at various times, and it's not surprising that sometimes girls would be dressed up as boys for practical reasons.

The armed forces is often a place to find cross-dressing women in history (following a man seems to be a common reason).  A soldier in the New Model Army was once exposed as a woman due to his/her suspiciously feminine singing voice (although luckily for her, that same voice got her out of trouble because she was such a good singer that Cromwell - always something of a music lover - spared her the statutory flogging!).  On the other hand, in one painting I've seen of Mary of Modena (i.e. Mrs James II) she is dressed in male clothes because it was apparently considered very sexy at the time. 

In contrast, young boys at the time (and indeed into the 19th century) were dressed in a manner which often makes it quite difficult to tell them from girls; they were typically not 'breeched' about seven years old (although there are a few stories of some unfortunates who did not become bifurcated until many years later).  The main reason was probably for reasons of toilet training and the fact its arguably easier for a rapidly growing child to expand into a 'dress' than a pair of britches.  However, I have read that there was a folk belief in some quarters that the fairies were less likely to steal a female child.  The traditional christening gown still clings on as a survivor of the days of pre-breeching.
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PostSubject: Re: Girls dressing as boys for family honour   Tue 18 Apr 2017, 10:49

Women voluntarily adopting male personas historically in order to pursue a career are a rather different kettle of fish to females being forced through cultural convention to impersonate boys/men, I reckon. Though in both cases the culture in which they live has imposed a preferential status on being male.

Warrior women, on the other hand, are another kettle of fish again. In cultures where they arose they did not involve impersonation of the other sex but instead adopted a definition of being female which did not preclude activities "reserved" for males in other cultures. We really only know about Boudicca for example because Tacitus, like his fellow Romans, was simply wowed by the whole concept of a female warrior leader. Otherwise her rebellion might simply have merited a small footnote in his history.

The burrneshas in Albania, as far as I knew from reading about them before, were a tradition confined to quite remote mountainous areas in Albania, and also that this was a tradition which has been dying out now for several generations, discouraged under the Zog regime and practically outlawed under Hoxha when compulsory education was introduced for children in registered girls and boys schools.

Part of the burrnesha "pledge" (taken often by parents on behalf of their daughters, and can only be taken voluntarily by a daughter if she can satisfy everyone she is a virgin) was not to submit the burrnesha to a school education as their "honoured" status as "he-shes" (not to mention their vow of celibacy for life) might be compromised or threatened by mixing with their peers. Likewise they were in effect tied very much to the property they represented, almost to the point of imprisonment, especially in areas where the succession issue was complicated by blood feuds with neighbours (a tradition which is still very much alive and kicking in the same parts).

Their primary function was to ensure that property was kept in one family in a strictly patrilineal system where otherwise the death of a natural male heir to the property might temporarily have rendered the estate vulnerable to a takeover from another related clan. All very hillbilly stuff with some very extreme machismo thrown in. The burrnesha, as an honorary male, kept the thing legally ticking over until a "real" male heir within the family could be produced. The price was that once the pledge was taken it could not be reversed, so while the tradition may be close to extinction there are still several living burrneshas for Nordberg and others to meet and interview.

This GQ article from 2014 contains interviews with some extant he-shes in Albania today. The article states that there may be as few as under a hundred he-shes remaining and stresses that the tradition was always only ever pursued by a small minority, so much so that many Albanians today actually refuse to acknowledge that it ever really existed at all and prefer to regard the whole thing as myth.
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PostSubject: Re: Girls dressing as boys for family honour   Tue 18 Apr 2017, 21:28

@PaulRyckier wrote:
Never heard about it Caro.
But found this on the internet:
Yes and after a while also this:

Kind regards from your friend Paul.

Addendum to my message:

I thought further about the question, Caro.

As males were very important and had an high status in ancient societies and most ancient societies were patrilenial, having a son to so-called prolongue the family...otherwise the family could be extinguished...it is perhaps still embedded in our cultures from ascending of men?...from the time of the extended families, the tribes?...
So as Anglo-Norman said there was in many cultures a strong desire for male descendants. So as in China. Even to that extent, with the one child policy of the Communist directorium, that many women were nearly obliged (by their husbands?) to commit abortus if it was a girl (old customs even more surviving than the strong rules of the Communist party). The consequence is that there are now more males than females in China...and there is now the spectre of less babies due to less mothers and thus an againg population.

It is unbelievable how it is all changed that quickly in Western-Europe and perhaps even more in Belgium. The status of the women and the birthrate...Only from 1948 that there is voting right for women in Belgium. Not because they were so backwarts in Belgium, but just to the "playings" between the strong Catholic party against the Liberals and Socialists, because although the Liberals and Socialists were for the emancipation of the women, they were nevertheless afraid of those overwhelming quantity of Catholic women, which could alter the balance of votes. As many times reality was other wise than predictons...
If I hear about my grandparents from both my parents sides...(that's around 1870) all with seven to nine children (have to say also many dead borns too)...Nowadays the birthrate is not strong enough anymore for subsistence...if it wasn't from the Moroccon and Turkish Erdogan immigrants...
And the status of the women...even in my lifetime! I have seen a complete change...read yesterday in the paper that their are now a lot of women which earn more than their husband (as more women are high educated), even to the extent that there are more and more "house men" in the nowedays society. And the interviewed men didn't complain about that status...after all the women have besides their work the difficult task to bear the children?...

Kind regards, Paul.
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