WOMEN WHO KNOW THEIR PLACE
.........A point of view.
Barbara Walters, of Television's 20/20, did a story on gender roles in Kabul, Afghanistan, several years before the Afghan conflict. She noted that women customarily walked five paces behind their husbands.
She recently returned to Kabul and observed that women still walk behind their husbands. From Ms. Walters' vantage point, despite the overthrow of the oppressive Taliban regime, the women now seem to walk even further back behind their husbands, and are happy to maintain the old custom.
Ms.Walters approached one of the Afghani women and asked, "Why do you now seem happy with an old custom that you once tried so desperately to change? The woman looked Ms. Walters straight in the eyes, and without hesitation said, "LAND MINES."
Unfortunately, the story fails as humour on a fundamental level. Humour works by a reversal of expectations: the punch line must be unexpected, or it is not funny.
But this is exactly why women have walked behind men in all violent countries, from the beginning of time. This is exactly where the custom came from: the man walked in front to protect the woman from attack. This is no doubt also why the man traditionally walks on the outside in North America and Northern Europe: so that, if a carriage veers from the road, or disturbs a mud puddle, or, in older days, an open sewer, or if someone dumps offal from an upper balcony, his body protects hers from harm.
It is, of course, the same reason that, when you have an official procession, the VIP, king, or president, appears at the rear, not at the front. It takes a certain perverse procrusteanism to interpret this as anything but the place of honour.
Nor is there the slightest evidence that Afghan women ever wanted to end the traditional customs of their country. That was always a demand of Western feminists, maternalistically thinking they knew better than native 'savages' what was best for the latter—albeit they might have been joined in this at times by the tiny minority of Western- or Soviet-educated Afghanis.
The same ethnocentrism is shown in the present gag in the reference to the time “before the Afghan conflict.” The author seems to think there was no fighting in Afghanistan until NATO showed up. For an Afghanistan without land mines, you would probably have to go back to 1973—almost before feminism became well known in the West, let alone Afghanistan.
No doubt, if and when Afghanistan becomes a much safer country, women will indeed walk closer to their husbands.
But I hardly think this is the most important breakthrough Afghanis could look forward to.