by Catherine Tan

Performance of a specific gender can lead to power and acceptance within a society. From a Western perspective, women can gain power and acceptance through the objectification and sexualization of their bodies while men can gain power in Western society by portraying the aggressive, alpha male archetype. However, in Afghanistan as we explored the text, The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan, a woman’s only perceived power is her ability to be a wife and bear children while a man is given every opportunity for power (to go to university, to work, to make money) so that he is dominant. In both Western and Middle Eastern societies, the media assigns genders as specific set of characteristics in which if performed correctly, a person can gain perceived power and acceptance in society because they have established their specific gender. The underground girls of Kabul, also known as the basha posh, performed their gender as boys so that they could work for their families and contribute to their survival. Young girls were also not allowed by the authorities to be out of the house by themselves. The strict Islamic society in Afghanistan that empowers men, follows the ideal that men are the only gender with the ability to work and be successful members of society. Women in this society are expected by men and other women to be covered from head to toe as to not seduce the males. These practices and ideas form harmful stereotypes of each gender.

In the movie, The Mask You Live In (funded by The Representation Project), that my introduction to psychology class watched, the stereotype that young men are molded into was evaluated. The pressure exerted on young American boys to be “manlier” men is analyzed. In Western culture, boys are trained to act rough, tough, and emotionless in order to be recognized as a “real” boys or men by the rest of western society. Western society and the media’s portrayal of girls and women, objectify them.

The Representation Project aims to transform cultural stereotypes such as the idea that girls are objects and boys are dominant, into narratives that are not as limiting. The films highlight social injustices that hinder humans from reaching their fullest potential. The movement was founded in 2011 by Jennifer Newsom and she has turned it into a non-profit organization.

After being impressed by the film the The Mask You Live In, I decided to check out The Representation Project’s website to see what they were all about. They also sponsored the film Miss Representation which we will be watching in class about the ways in which the media underrepresents women in power.

On their website, I was able to sign up for the weekly newsletter that lets the activist know of small actions he/she can do to help make a difference in society. The weekly newsletters are highly informative and encouraging. I was also able to take the pledge on the website that is a promise to join the movement to increase consciousness of the representation of gender and its affects and to change our behavior so that these stereotypes are not perpetuated.

The website also advertised their social media campaigns that included the use of hashtags such as #DisruptTheNarrative and #MarchingForward. Several other hashtags were listed so that they could be explored and used to recognize others who are supporting the movement.

Joining the movement included the opportunity to attend a Global Youth Summit, be on the Global Youth Advisory Council or be an online advocate as a rep for the project. Taking the pledge to become a member to help end the perpetuation of stereotypes of gender has provided me with so many opportunities to get involved and have my voice be heard.

This form of activism is critical because this issue of gender strictness and formation is not one that is easily diagnosed because it is engrained within our culture. The misrepresentation of boys and girls in the media can easily go over people’s heads. It is important to point out the effects of acquiring power through constructed so that changes can be made, pushing for genders that are less constricting.

Personally, after being exposed to The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan and the movie The Mask You Live In, I have deeply evaluated how I treat my peers, friends, and family based on their gender. Involving myself in the movement of taking a stand and showing my support via social media and taking the pledge for The Representation Project to be aware of how I perceive gender, has given me more of a means to break the cycle of gender misrepresentation.

Gender performance is directly related to gender misinterpretation that the media and society portrays that causes people to conform to a specific gender. The performance of gender is often a quest for acceptance and power within a society.