Wednesday, September 22, 2010

It's a Girl!


I'm on a New York Times streak....

In yesterday's paper, Jenny Norberg writes about families in Afghanistan who choose to raise their daughters as boys. Mostly, they do this because it erases the shame the family feels for not having a son, but it also gives the child and the family more freedom (you can't send a daughter to the store for a loaf of bread...do they have loafs of bread in Afghanistan?) and the child gets more educational and occupational options. Read Afghan Boys are Prized, So Girls Live the Part.

The cultural issues are fascinating, but that's not why this article caught my attention. In psychiatry we deal with issues of gender identity and we haven't fully figured out how much of gender identity is determined by unknown genetic influences versus cultural influences versus other factors-- intrauterine exposures, viruses, you name it: we don't know. It was interesting to read the article and read that some girls remained comfortable in the male role-- their 'conversion' to their biological gender with puberty, often heralded with an arranged marriage, was confusing and uncomfortable. One of the women continued to wear pants in private, while another girl was uncomfortable with the male role and wanted to be live as a girl, even though boyhood gave her more freedoms. I wondered, too, how much of the gender switching was random selection---did parents sense that a girl might blend into male life more easily and so pick her, rather than one of her sisters, to live a switched childhood? Does seem like this would make for some wonderful research into gender identity....