I read The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad today. It is required reading for one of the classes I am taking during the fall semester. I thought I would get a head start on it and ended up reading the whole thing in one day. The book examines the life of family in Afghanistan and gives readers a fascinating glimpse of what life is like in Muslim countries. It also portrays the oppressions inflicted on Afghans by the Taliban.
It seems like tradition is almost an impossible thing for these countries to overcome. The author is a woman who lived with this family for some time. I don’t know how she could have tolerated the sexism that is described in the story. It would have been maddening to me. I understand that these women don’t see life the way that we westerners do. In much the same way that men from the Middle East do not seem to understand our absolute horror at the brutal methods employed by their dictators, these women in the story do not seem to comprehend our indignation at their subjugation.
I wonder if it was the same for our grandmothers and their mothers when women in this country first started to step outside their prescribed roles as mothers and wives? Was the shortening hemline viewed with the same disgust and trepidation as the casting off of the burka is by many modern Muslim women?
I cannot help but recall the stories I heard of my great-grandmother’s iron willed edict that no daughter of hers was going to be running around in bloomers. She was absolutely appalled by the attire my grandmother donned when she played basketball for her high school in the 1910′s. She almost had a heart attack when a few years later my grandmother saved her teacher’s wages to buy a car of her own. I know that one of the reasons for my grandparent’s elopement was the fact that my grandmother taught at a school where women were expected to “retire” when they married. Consequently she and my grandfather kept their marriage secret for quite some time because they needed the money that my grandmother earned.
Sometimes I wonder if she would be disappointed with my decision to stay-at-home with my children? I have suffered almost as much discrimination in my life by second wave feminists as I have men. In some ways , probably because I had a stay-at-home dad, I may have been more supported by the men in my life.
Some feminists seem to think that those of us who are mothers and wives have “sold out” the memory of the women who fought for equality in this country and that to be powerful, we need to be like men. I like to think that they were fighting more for the right to choose their own destiny rather than have it prescribed to them by society. I certainly appreciate the choices that are available to my daughters due to feminist efforts, but I also encourage them to explore their feminine and masculine sides.
I love the Dar Williams song “When I Was a Boy” I watch the way the prescribed gender roles we have in society damage both boys and girls. I am fiercely protective of Trapolin for this reason. I have a lot of hope for real change to occur in my daughters’ generation. They are pretty cool kids.
I hope that someday the author of this book goes back to check in on the younger generations of this family. I enjoyed the book and I am glad I read it. It will be interesting to see what other people thought of it, once class gets started. Until then it gave me things to think about. I think I am going to watch the Olympics. There are women in the group of athletes representing Afghanistan for the first time ever.