Gender the Product of Socioeconomics

Neil Farley

Abuse is illegal in all developed nations and commonly considered one of the most low life behaviors. Other districts of the world though it is accepted and at times promoted to teach a lesson per say. Needless to say the abuse must come from the side of the man to the women in a relationship, but heaven forbid the tables turn, for that would be a monstrosity. Women as a whole are othered throughout history and to this day. Most assume this discrimination and abuse disgusts all women, but a recent study found that, “54 percent of women agreed [wife-beating is justified under certain circumstances]- if for instance, a wife burns dinner or leaves the house without permission” (Dubner and Levitt 5). This counterintuitive outcome is a result of the very different background of eastern culture. Difficulties in understanding this concept commonly occurs, so people, like Khaled Hosseini and Judith Butler, dictate this important lesson to readers through the written word, whether it be fiction or nonfiction. In A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini, gender is a product of the cultural situation the characters find themselves surrounded, by observed in the characterization of Mariam and Laila, in order to provide a thorough understanding of injustices accepted in eastern cultures and nations of lower development.

Socioeconomics provides the footwork for gender to then come from. Although the amount of money alone does not create ones perception on gender roles, money most certainly influences it. Cultural Capital is a wide set of non financial assets that as one acquires more, their social mobility will subsequently increase. Having “similar forms of cultural capital with others… creates a sense of collective identity and group position (‘people like us’)” (Cultural Capital). Much of this cultural capital is attained through economic means, which in turns creates barriers between classes. It is more likely that a lower class woman accepts abuse than an upper class woman, who is given schooling and taught self-worth. Dubner and Levitt capture this in eastern culture when they discuss how the introduction of the TV in rural India has spurred on a movement for more women’s rights and lead to lower birth rates. For a long while only upper class women with access to cultural capital, like that supplied by the TV, spoke out against injustices suffered, but once this gap of cultural capital attained economically and contributing to cultural was introduced it changed the ballgame. Due to that fact that many aspects of cultural capital, such as education, only the rich may afford the class one grows up in creates much of who they are as a person. One of these parts of the person formulated in this is gender as discussed before, a upper class family is more likely to support and foster a woman’s growth when compared to a lower class family who. So the disparity in economic status then determines what parents can afford to grace upon themselves and their kids, and the kids then learn what gender entails and the roles for both. Gender is a direct reaction of socioeconomic forces that tug at the strings of ones make up, and in turn develop and solidify who the person attached truly is.

Mariam is more accepting of the Taliban reign because the background that Mariam grew up in conditioned her to believe that women deserved less rights on all fronts if any, analogous to the Taliban’s belief. When the Taliban takes over Afghanistan and introduces new law over the land, Rasheed loves the changes as it coincides with a more traditional, or “the real Afghanistan” viewpoint (Hosseini 279). Counter to what most would expect of a woman, Mariam actually agrees with Rasheed and the Taliban’s thinking. Rasheed discusses his coinciding view with the Taliban’s changes and “for once, Mariam agreed with him” (Hosseini 279). Mariam only feels this way because of the background from which she came. When she was young she grew up in an underprivileged home with no access to education or true freedom, which provides the women with more independent thought processes making them more likely to thus seek and understand true freedom. She was always taught to be a subordinate of others because she burdened those around her, as the harami– bastard child- she is. Mariam grew up as a middle ground between property and a human because of that burden she brought on all those around her. This is also seen when she is married away without any consent to a man she never met before. Mariam accepts the Taliban because of her up bringing that has manipulated her mind to believe that is the way the world spins and that is the way that women should be treated.

Laila rejected the ideas the Taliban pushes because of her more privilege background that taught her differing values than a traditional Afghan setting would. Laila’s father values her far more than anyone values Mariam. This causes the very differentiated thought processes when the Taliban institutes the new laws, the ideas carried in these laws repulsed Laila for she comes from a progressive family that believes in more women’s rights, a sensitive and seldom discussed topic throughout most of Afghanistan. The idea that committing the most heinous of crimes makes one “only slightly more contemptible than a women” nauseates Laila, (Hosseini 279). And she wants desperately to “refuse to believe”  (Hosseini 279). As Judith Butler argues in Gender Trouble, “there need not be a ‘doer behind the deed,’ but that the ‘doer’ is variably constructed in and through the deed” gender is not an origin, but the aftermath of factors like cultural capital (195). Cultural capital is factors that affect social mobility, for example education and attire but not economic. Economic fortune affects cultural capital available though so that’s why upper class Laila possesses so much of this cultural capital. In her rich mind education is natural for women to have access to along with other factors such as having availability to dress how one wants and not cover the entire body. Because Laila grew up with these privileges and cultural capital she is more likely to assert herself for what feels like God given rights to her.

Khaled Hosseini uses the protagonists, Laila and Mariam, in A Thousand Splendid Suns to exacerbate the role that socioeconomic background plays when determining gender for individuals to provide a sliver of light on the plethora of reasons for controversial values in Afghan culture. Socioeconomic forces provide pathways to cultural capital and create one’s perception of gender and the associated roles. Mariam thinks the Taliban makes changes for the best because the situation around her conditioned her in such a way. The Taliban’s policies repulse Laila due to her upper class privileged early life.


Works Cited

Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge, 2006. Print.

“Cultural Capital.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 21 Dec. 2014. Wikipedia. Web. 15 Mar. 2015.

Hosseini, Khaled. A Thousand Splendid Suns. New York: Riverhead, 2007. Print.

Levitt, Steven D., and Stephen J. Dubner. SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance. New York: William Morrow Paperbacks, 2011. Print.