In the film Osama, the first film to be shot in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban, a mother cuts the hair of her daughter and dresses her as a boy. The two cannot manage in society without a male to protect them and so the frail little girl has to transform into a boy. The film is set during the terror reign of the Taliban and despite the beautiful shots and sterling acting, its heavy going. The girl’s life moves from one horror to the next, culminating in a scene that is almost unbearable to watch.
But I’ve only just found out that actually the tradition of dressing girls as boys is a time honoured practice in a country that like many of its neighbours, still prizes boys more than girls.
So if you don’t have a son, and are tired of facing pity and prejudice from society around you, it’s easy; just cut off your daughter’s hair, put her in pants, and voila, you have a son.
But then there’s the problem of what happens when the girls reach puberty and have to go back to being a woman. They’ve had no years to practice what it means to be a woman, to think like a woman, act like a woman.
When my girls clomp around the house in my high heels, smeared in makeup, and wearing my most absurdly feminine clothing, they’re parodying what they see as a grown up woman behaviour, but they’re also practising. The games they play with their friends, the books they read, their interactions with me and the rest of the family - all are essential to the way they will fit into society when they’re adult. I don’t hold truck with the “butch feminists” as I call them. My girls will learn that they’re the equal to any man when it comes to their sense of self worth, both in the family and in the workplace. And lipstick and My Little Pony videos are not going to hinder their sense of equality.
So it burdens my heart to think of parents who describe the “fun” a girl can have if she masquerades as a boy, just so the family will gain some acceptance in society. But then again, I have to ask, is this not a better option than female infanticide, practised in neighbouring India? Or the abandoning of girl babies as they do in China?
I don’t know. I only know that I have a fervent hope that by the time my daughters have daughters, the time when girls weren’t considered as valued as boys will be a thing of the distant past.