There are no children in Afghanistan

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5 Responses

  1. Thanks for this interesting post and drawing our attention to the subject.

  2. A.J. Sutter says:

    I confess I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make by your conclusion. Is it some sort of general indictment of the “construct of femininity”? If so, isn’t that a little sweeping? Why should we not draw from this situation the lesson that there is something messed-up about Afghan society, rather than about male and female roles generally? Also, dare I ask, what connection are you trying to draw from these Afghan practices to legal issues? This angle seemed to be missing from the post.

  3. A.J., the reason I would not conclude that bacha bazi/bacha posh practices indicate that “there is something messed up about Afghan society” is that such an observation does not strike me (to put it diplomatically) as particularly meaningful or thoughtful. It sounds far too much like a knee-jerk, Western superiority response (“oh, those people over there, with their crazy oppressive practices!”) for my taste. What makes these practices so interesting and tragic is precisely that they are not, at least structurally speaking, unique. Afghanistan is certainly not the only place where gender essentialism produces negative consequences. And mistakenly identifying gender transposition as the cause of such consequences, rather than underlying gender constructions themselves, is a problem that surfaces, for example, in the response to the sexual abuse of men in prison in America (as mentioned in my original post). The larger point is that examples of extremely restrictive gender roles – e.g., in Afghanistan – highlights the artificiality of gender construction and what damage can be done by the refusal to recognize it as such.

    As for your last point, allow me to rephrase it into something helpful: “What are some of the specific ways that a discussion of gender roles in Afghanistan can or should impact law and legal theory?” Thank you for the question – I appreciate the implicit acknowledgment that theories of gender necessarily implicate law and legal practices (given that law deals with persons, and how persons act towards other persons, and so the way that persons are defined and regarded in the law is of general significance). Here are a few things that come to mind: How should Afghan law respond to the practices of bacha bazi and bacha posh, if at all? What can be done about the gap between formal promises of equality (according to its constitution, “The citizens of Afghanistan – whether man or woman – have equal rights and duties before the law”) and the harsh reality of the denial of basic rights and opportunities to women and girls, and the apparently widespread sexual abuse of young boys? Given that the U.S. justified its involvement with Afghanistan partly on the basis of the country’s oppression of women, what responsibility does it have for the continuing oppression of women under the regime it helped put in place?

  4. A.J. Sutter says:

    Concerning my last question, thank you for “rephras[ing] it into something helpful”: and I acknowledge that your proposal to do so did not constitute “a knee-jerk, Western superiority response” (emphasis added). To clarify, though, the question was also an implicit acknowledgment that this blog relates to law. At least that was my (white, male, middle-aged, Western, active bar member-ly) construction of it after reading it daily for several years.

    As for the point about Afghan society, the purpose of the question was not to suggest that you do anything so meaningless or thoughtless as to conclude that “there is something messed-up” about it. I, for one, never had any doubt that you would abstain from drawing such a conclusion. Rather, it was to point out a rhetorical failure in your original post, viz., the failure to present a clear justification for why a reader should draw the conclusion you put forward rather than such an alternative (among other possibilities).

    If I may put forward my own, tiny claim to hetereity by association, I live in a non-Western country where gender roles are constructed very differently from those prevalent in the US, e.g. with many transvestite and transgender celebrities, cloyingly cute boy bands, etc. It also has a plummeting birthrate. It strikes me that while recognition of the artificiality of gender construction is very humane and reasonable to a degree, there may also be certain practical limits to it. Whence my concern about “sweeping[ness]” in my prior comment.

  5. Your acknowledgment is cheerfully noted. Fortunately, I am aware that this blog relates to law, as might be apparent from my invitation to be a guest blogger here. Granted, you may have specific ideas about what does and does not qualify as “law-related,” and my post may well not fit those. I am untroubled by this state of affairs.

    The fact that you were personally unable to follow my conclusion may not in itself constitute evidence that there was a “rhetorical failure” in my post (although some form of failure may indeed be at work here). Of course it is true that I did not offer a fully comprehensive analysis of Afghani drag practices – then again, this was a blog post, not a dissertation.

    I admit I find your final paragraph mystifying. How is the plummeting birthrate related to boy bands or transvestite celebrities? Is the decline in the birth rate a good or a bad thing? What would it mean to have “limits” on “recognition”? I also do not follow your qualified claim that it is “humane” or even “reasonable” to recognize the constructed nature of gender. To recognize the artificiality of gender roles is to recognize an aspect of reality; it is not, in itself, an ethical position.