225: The Self-Empowered Woman: Heidi Kingstone

Dear Followers,

The Self-Empowered Woman blog has been on hiatus for way too long because my attention has been focused on completing, promoting and publicizing my new book—a memoir titled “One Woman, Four Decades, Eight Wishes.” Finally, everything is up and running–the book is on Amazon  (http://amzn.to/1glO34o) and the video is on YouTube (http://youtu.be/aSSgWWx20KI.)  So today, I’d like to write about an issue that I think is important and, at the same time, introduce you to a book written by one of my former London colleagues.

Heidi Kingstone and I worked together at The Daily Mail back in the late 1980s.  I returned to the US due to health issues, and Heidi went on to be a fearless freelancer for a variety of papers in faraway places like Israel and South Africa.  She is the type of woman who thinks nothing of going into areas of conflict in order to get a good story.  Her first book “Dispatches From The Kabul Café” is now available on Amazon (http://amzn.to/1glK08u) and deals with her experiences as a journalist in Afghanistan.  She writes honestly about her personal life and the conflicts she experienced as an outsider in such a gender-repressed environment.

The reason I start this blog mentioning Heidi’s new book is because there is another equally-valuable new book that also reminds us how lucky we are to be American women. “The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan” by Jenny Nordberg (http://amzn.to/1glNV54) is an unsparing look at a secret cultural movement called “Bacha Posh.”  This is the name for the practice in which prepubescent Afghan girls are dressed and passed off as boys in families, schools and communities.  Back in 2010, the New York Times wrote an article about a woman named Azita, who was elected to be a member of Parliament from an area from rural Afghanistan.  Her husband is a poor farmer, so she borrowed money from a friend to campaign, and then she won the election.  The problem, however, with being a public figure is that she has four daughters and no sons, which is considered a sign of weakness in her culture.

So Azita and her husband turned her five year old daughter into “a son,” which gave her more credibility in Parliament and in her personal life because her husband’s other wife also only gave birth to daughters.  The girls who spend a few years “passing as boys” enjoy a temporary membership into the male-dominated world that will inevitably end with  puberty.  To those of us who believe strongly in gender equality, it’s hard to grasp the idea of little girls having to masquerade as little boys.

What Nordberg’s and Kingstone’s books have in common is that—like most Westerners—they must reluctantly accept that they are powerless to change the society they (temporarily) call home away from home.  Their shared guilt at leaving the women of Afghanistan behind is summed up in this terse sentence, “I do what we all do. I get on the plane and just  leave.”




About Marilyn Murray Willison

The author of six non-fiction books, Willison worked as Health and Fitness Editor at the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, and wrote book reviews, health, beauty, fashion, and travel articles on a regular basis for the Los Angeles Times. Her byline has appeared in a wide variety of American newspapers and magazines.