Berkeley College Online Book Club discussion

The Underground Girls of Kabul - Discussion Thread 3

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message 1: by Matt (new)

Matt (mlabrake) | 95 comments Mod
Please note there are 3 threads available with different questions in each. Feel free to participate in one, two, or all of the threads. Each will stimulate a different kind of conversation!

Remember, if you have questions for the author, submit them in the “Ask Jenny Nordberg” thread to be asked at the live event on May 5th.

Thread 3

1) Under what circumstances would you consider raising a daughter as a son? And in what situation or circumstance could you imagine disguising yourself in exchange for greater freedom?

2) Did you ever wonder how things would have been different had you been born a child of the other gender? Did you ever wish, at any stage in your life or in a particular circumstance, that you could be a different gender?

3) In what way were you treated like a boy or a girl, respectively, when you were little? Were there things you absolutely couldn’t do due to your gender? Do you see a future in which gender roles will be less strict, and how is that a good or a bad thing for men and women?

4) Do you agree with the author’s conclusion that women’s rights are essential to human rights and to building peaceful civilizations? Why or why not?

message 2: by Nancy (new)

Nancy | 5 comments I'd really like to answer each of these, but I have a paper due tonight! LOL But, in response to #3 --

I was one girl with three brothers. Were we raised differently? Absolutely! My brothers were riding motorcycles, playing in dirt, wrestling with each other. I was coloring, playing with dolls, pretending to be a princess. At the same time, there was nothing that held me back from doing anything, except the time I wanted to go into my brothers' treehouse, and they wouldn't let me.

I remember I spent a lot of time with my mother, helping her cook, helping with household chores. My brothers had the more 'manly' chores of cutting the lawn, taking out the garbage, cleaning the gutters. They were roles we took on, that's our culture, I suppose. After all, my dad was the 'breadwinner' and my mom was the 'homemaker'. My own parents had a hard time comprehending the role-reversals in the 80s/90s when women were working and men were staying home to raise the family...they really did feel that a child was better off raised by it's mother while the father worked. It was their culture, what they were raised believing.

In the 80s/90s, I was making more $ than my brothers, traveling for business in cities none of my family had ever been to, and succeeding in my own way. I know if you were to ask my parents, they'd say they were very proud of me and my success as an individual, their 'little girl'. I know because they've told me. And that's a great feeling to know you've earned your parents' pride and respect.

I wish all little Afghani girls were able to have a sense of pride in who they are and what they're capable of accomplishing -- to have the men in their lives (much like my own father and three brothers) value their opinions, seek their advice, and treat them as equals.

message 3: by Jessica (new)

Jessica (librarygeek611) Because I'm a little behind, I'm only going to answer one and two.

I want to say that in the situation, I would take a stand somehow and raise all of my girls the same - boys or no boys. But reading Azita's story, I feel a connection with how she has handled her life and her situation. She obviously believes in advocating for change as a parliament official and she knows when to push boundaries in a smart way. Even she partakes in bacha posh with her daughter because she believes it will help her family. I think I would follow a similar path if in her shoes. The author has presented so many situations where the alternative for an all-female household can be deadly so the cons of bacha posh don't seem as bad. If disguising as a boy would help my family eat, I'm sure I would consider it.

As a girl who feels like I have very stereotypical "boy" traits, I don't know how different I would be as a boy. In elementary school and younger, I was feminine but not a "girly girl" at all and I suppose that's just continued. I have one younger brother and never really got into princesses or pink or many "girl" things. If I had a Barbie, it was alongside something Nintendo that I played with my brother. Or I played soccer instead of dress up. My parents were also not the typical stay at home mom/dad once I hit the age of really remembering my childhood. My mom stayed home until I was about 10 and then started getting her master's degree and working. So I had two working parents and a mother who was much more educated than my father. They were both the breadwinners and I was always told I could pick any career I wanted. I think having both the "traditional for our culture" ideal of stay at home mom as well as a working mom have shaped what I see as possible for my life. The women in my extended family had a similar impact in being very strong heads of their households while their husbands seemed to be "along for the ride", I guess you could say. Because of that I don't think I've ever wished to be another gender. For me, girls have always been equal to boys - playing together as children and as partners as adults.

message 4: by Izabela (new)

Izabela | 5 comments Hello Nancy,

As you said you were 1 on of the girls who had brothers, me I was raised in a family of 3 girls just like in the family we meet of Azita,and how her youngest had to be , she was to pretend a boy.

I have a younger sister, of course it makes think that if my parents were raising us in Afghanistan in that time period she would have to be acting, and being a boy. But we don't see it that way, we take some things for granted, especially when it comes to how the children in families are raised.

What I mean by how children are raised, is what role is given them. For example; I am the oldest of 3 girls and I have more on my shoulders to handle then my little sister. I have always worked since freshmen in high school, always help my parents. Now my little sister she doesn't have to worry about that because she knows others have provided for her.

In my sense the girls in Afghanistan, especially the ones who are the youngest with only sisters, are in some sense somewhat like my situation, only that I was the oldest and I had to make sure my parents had enough money.

message 5: by Izabela (new)

Izabela | 5 comments Hello,

I for starters would like to answer #1, I haven't gone to finishing the book but almost I have been caught up with my class work and making sure in between I read.

AS the questions asks , the circumstance that I would raise my daughter as a son, would be similar to Azita's, of course I wouldn't exactly d it so others wont hate me but in the eye of the government in order to survive I would make sure my youngest is raised a son. The circumstance with government is , as it shows in Afghanistan very strict, in order not to shamed out of anything you had to make sure it was as its supposed to be with having that one son.

I personally, even thou we refer to this great book, I wouldn't turn my daughters world around, Id turn my around and run away for a better life making sure she can be a little girl, and grow up with dreams of becoming a princes, I as a mother wouldn't want to take that away from her. But in this book we do see that the families sacrifice the daughters life in order for the family to be free and live.

In my thought right and mind, I don't think I would be able to distinguish my gender for any freedom. Right there pretending to be someone you are not s a girl a boy and boy a girl, is taking away your freedom that is how I see it.
Taking away your pride is like taking away your freedom, that is how I see it so I wouldn't under any circumstances. I would pursue my life hoping that maybe it can accepted, or if not send out to where it would be.

This book even thou I am half way through is a great book to learn how different countries look at gender roles at home. Sorry I can't answer anymore, but I have 2 papers due!!!

message 6: by Jessica (new)

Jessica (librarygeek611) Izabela wrote: "Hello Nancy,

As you said you were 1 on of the girls who had brothers, me I was raised in a family of 3 girls just like in the family we meet of Azita,and how her youngest had to be , she was to pr..."

I think you make a really good point, Izabela, about how children are not just children but also siblings. So making a girl into a boy can not only affect that child but the dynamic between all of the children. Any of us who grew up with siblings (of the same gender or not) have a certain relationship with them and within our birth order. So making a girl into a boy can create a whole new relationship that may have been different if bacha posh wasn't done to a sibling. This could be better or worse for all children depending on their situation.

message 7: by Mancy (new)

Mancy Rivera | 2 comments I cant say i would consider raising my daughter as a son in any circumstances but that might be because i live in the land of the free. I might disguised myself in exchange for freedom if it meant a matter of life and death and it would give my famliy a better life. again i read about what goes on but i cant really feel what these people felt or feel so i cant say yes or no for sure. sometimes we only know the answer for sure if we were actually in their shoes.I never wonder or wish i was a different gender. Growing up when i would play my mom would be like "dont play with boys they play rough" or " girls dont do that thats for boys" So there were things that my mom would not let me do or told me i shouldnt do because it doesnt look right for a girl to do, but it didnt mean that i couldnt do it. I feel that there are some women that can do what a man can, some cant and others do better. I fel that a womens rights is essential to human rights because we are human and flesh and blood like the opposite gender.

message 8: by Izabela (new)

Izabela | 5 comments Hello Jessica,

As you have mentioned growing up with sibling's of same gender makes you feel different about a situation with having one pretend to be something else.

message 9: by MT (new)

MT (mtregan) I will speak to #3 a little right now and come back for the others later.

First I wanted to share something very interesting that came my way recently and that, I think, provides an interesting companion story to that of Underground Girls: this podcast, How to Be a Girl, is about a mother and her transgender (male to female) daughter. Her daughter was born a biological boy but announced at the age of three that "he" was really a "she." There are only a few episodes so far, but the mother has illustrated a video for the first episode and it was really nicely done. Worth checking out. Perhaps most interesting here is when she asks her daughter, "Who gets to decide whether you're a boy or a girl?" And her daughter says, "Me!" Check it out here:

The conversation around gender identity is starting to really pick up in the US--with individuals like Bruce Jenner coming out as transgender, Laverne Cox (from Orange is the New Black) being featured on the cover of Time magazine, and Amazon streaming show Transparent recently winning a Golden Globe.

So back to the question: I envision and hope for a future in which gender lines are less starkly defined and in which kids can enjoy what they want to enjoy without concerns that they are interested in the "wrong" things--whether they be "boy things" or "girl things." Personally I think I enjoyed a bit of freedom in this regard growing up, having always felt pretty comfortable with both "masculine" and "feminine" (stereotypically speaking) sides of myself. That said, there was definitely pressure as a boy to play sports, be assertive, and be competitive--to do "boy things," to "walk off" any pain or injury, not to show any emotions or express feelings. And obviously any interest or desire in "girl things" would've brought shame, embarrassment, familial skepticism/disapproval. I think rigidly defined gender roles are still very present in the West and that they are at the heart of many problems. Folks here have pointed out the wage gap, but look at some of the more extreme examples: Nordberg mentions that marital rape was only fully criminalized in the US in the 90s. And look at online videos like "10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman" ( which demonstrate that we've got a long way to go. And in fact I think a lot of homophobia and transphobia is, at its heart, fear and hatred of women and femininity.

message 10: by Klevis (new)

Klevis | 4 comments Did you ever wonder how things would have been different had you been born a child of the other gender? Did you ever wish, at any stage in your life or in a particular circumstance, that you could be a different gender?
I think if I was born a woman I wouldn’t have the freedom I had when I was a teenager. The only time I wanted to be a woman was when I started to work at younger age while my sister was able to stay home and enjoy her adolescence.

message 11: by Emasia (new)

Emasia Craig | 3 comments 1.) Personally I would never raise my daughter as a son until she decides she wants to be a son. I’m sure as parent it would be hard but if it’s for a better life, there is not much I can say. If my daughter had to live a life she did not want or unhappy with. I would disguise her to make her feel like she is herself. I cannot imagine leaving the life of someone else because society says it’s not okay.
2.) Every day I wonder what life would be like as a man. Would I have the drive to succeed as much or would I walk around like I’m king tut. Men do not have to worry about as much as a woman. Everyday a man takes a job away from a woman because what’s between his legs. When I was little I wanted to be my father to the point I followed him everywhere he went and even dressed like him. It used to upset my mother her daughter did not want to be a daughter but a son her dad would look up too.
3.) When I was little my sister would call me Jawanna man because I loved basketball and had a mustache. Due to my disguise there was nothing I couldn’t do

message 12: by Cathy (last edited May 19, 2015 07:19AM) (new)

Cathy | 1 comments I have not yet read ' Underground Girls...' but am intrigued by the discussion board on this profound topic, Baca posh. Two other books, 'The Kite Runner' and 'A Thousand Splendid Suns' by American Afghan born Khaled Hosseini , though both fiction based on real cultural events, compelled me to learn more about this culture that once seemed a forbidden fruit. As well, reading ' Three Cups of Tea' by Greg Mortenson -- the premise no less engaging but set in northern Pakistan whereby a K-2 hiker (Mortenson) becomes lost and rescued by villagers in a remote Taliban controlled territory-- provides another fascinating look. As multiculturalism is my favorite genre, ' The Underground Girls..' discussion also brought to mind other books with complex subjects -- ROOTS and reader- friendly Pulitzer Prize winner ' The Known World' by Edward P. Jones which tells the story of a southern black farmer and former slave who is given his own Virginia plantation, and, in turn, becomes a master/ slave owner. Who knew?

message 13: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Calderon | 1 comments 1.) I would consider raising a daughter as a son under the same circumstances in which Azita raised Mehran as a son. Azita just like many other Afghan mothers had no choice but to raise their daughters as sons in order to gain approval, respect, but most importantly to keep their families safe. She partakes in “bacha posh” to protect her family from pity and segregation. In addition, if I lived in a world where men continued to perpetuate such discrimination and segregation against women, I can definitely imagine disguising myself in exchange for greater freedom. I feel like I would sacrifice anything for my family and for freedom. I strongly admire Azita and the women on Afghanistan.

2.) I always wondered how things would have been different had I been born a male. Growing up in the middle of three brothers who treated me differently my whole life was truly a blessing and a curse. A curse because sometimes it gave them the right to exclude me or degrade me since I was a girl. This made me wish I was a boy all the time, because I wanted to be just as athletic and vigorous as they were. However, it was always a blessing because now I feel like I can do anything they can do. Ever since I was in high school I have always competed with them and I have proved to be just as athletic and smart as they are. Therefore, I really encourage other females to not be afraid to compete with men whether it’s in the work place or in world of sports. As women we need to embrace our abilities.

3.) These questions really get me going just because I can relate so well with my own experiences. I remember being treated like a boy only when I started playing sports because sports in my family ware a guy thing. Sometimes I could not sit and watch spots on TV because I had to help my mother with dinner or cleaning, I hated it. I guess that is why today I hate to cook or clean. I do see a future in which gender roles will be less strict because people should be able to do what truly makes them happy. The idea that one gender is inferior to the other in my opinion is ridiculous and destructive.

4.) I also agree with author Jenny Nordberg’s conclusion that women’s right are essential to human rights and to building a peaceful civilization because the goal is to create a society where gender does not stop anyone from being happy or successful. We must support each other and stop controlling people with stereotypical gender roles.

message 14: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Wolfe | 3 comments 1) I would only raise a daughter as a son if her safety was in jeopardy or if that is what she wanted to be raised as. I would not have any problem disguising myself in exchange for my freedom, then again I am not a fluffy girly girl either.

2) I have never thought about being a boy because I grew up the youngest of four girls and my dad's last hope for a boy. It was just luck for him that I enjoyed playing sports, climbing trees, and working on cars with him. However, given that I live in the U.S. I have the luxury of doing all those things and then putting on a nice dress with killer heels. I have never felt limited by my gender, if anything I feel empowered by it because I feel like I have the best of both worlds.

3) I answered part of this in question 2. I do see gender roles getting less strict because as I previously stated in another post, women are raising children on their own more and more and have no choice but to "be the man" in the family. I don't see this as a bad thing, if anything I think it sets a good example for our children that they should never feel limited or incapable of achieving success.

4) I do agree with the author, all people should be treated equally and should have all the rights that are bestowed upon any other individual. When we stop looking at people in general as inferior we can then realize the strength of the human population as a whole.

message 15: by Andrew (new)

Andrew Spitz | 1 comments I would never consider raising my daughter as a son, just to please the public or provide a greater standing for myself. I will not raise my children in regards to gender. I will make my kids try everything, let them explore the world in order to create their own ideals and ideas about themselves. I believe with raising a child under specific demining gender-rolls, they grow up assuming they must provide the appropriate standard for their specific gender.
The problem with disguising yourself, is that you really aren’t getting greater freedom. In fact you are trapping not only yourself, but making it harder for all others that come after to face the fact of, you are who you are. A personal example is me being gay. I have disguised myself, for many years. I felt everything but freedom. I felt trapped, like I wasn’t allowed to be me. To love whom I had fell in love with. I have disguised myself once, and for what seemed like “freedom” it wasn’t worth it.
I have thought of what it would be like to be the opposite gender. I do not wish or want to be the other gender. I don’t know who or how it would be different. If I would still be gay, or if I would really be any different than the way I am now.
I was and am always told I should play basketball, which I don’t. I don’t feel as though my gender has ever really stopped me from doing anything. I think that in the future gender roles will be less strict and good for everyone. It will give the opportunity for everyone to find themselves, to be who they are and fulfill themselves to their potential. The problem I noticed is that the world goes through cycles. Each generation gender and general equality rotates between good and bad. I have also noticed though that its very much like two steps forward one step back, meaning we are gradually moving more towards good in the long run.
I do agree that women’s rights are essential to human rights, because women are humans. Every human should be given equal rights no matter what. Gender, race, religion, sexuality, or anything else should have no effect on human rights. All simply because, we are all human.

message 16: by Andrew (new)

Andrew Aguilar | 3 comments 3 Looking back, I can only think of one time that being a guy changed how I was treated. When I was younger, I liked the song "Breakaway" but my dad got upset when I listened to it once. I didn't get why he was not a fan of it, but it was probably because he thought it was too feminine for me to enjoy. As social rights progress, I can see gender roles diminishing. I think this is mostly a good thing. However, there are certain physical differences that will never change. Men will always, on average, be physically stronger then woman. Woman will, for the foreseeable future, be the only sex to be able to give birth.

message 17: by Elyse (new)

Elyse Oravits | 1 comments 1) The only reason reason why I would raise my daughter as a son is if I absolutely have too. If I had to disguise myself in order to have a greater freedom is if it would keep my family safe and happy.

2.) When I was younger I would thought about being a boy. Also I would never wish to be a different gender only if I have too.

3.) I was never treated like a boy when I was little. I do see a future where gender roles will be less strict, for some it will be good because people are able to be the gender that they feel like they are.

4) I agree with the authors conclusions that women's rights are essential because women have a more a choice now then they did in the past.

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