The Kite Runner is a historical fiction novel written by Khaled Hosseini. As we all know, it follows the protagonist, Amir, and his experiences during his journey in Afghanistan and America. It was set during an era in Afghanistan where unfortunately, women were taken for granted due to a particular mentality being ingrained into their culture. This obviously caused a lot of turmoil, some of which is reflected in this novel. In literature, marginalisation of women is linked to the feminist theory as the impact of gender is often discussed as part of the author’s writing.
Feminists ideally believe in equality for both sexes, however, it was not the case in the novel, nor is it in Afghanistan itself. Through examining The Kite Runner using the lens of the feminist theory, it is observed that feminism remains a prominent theme due to women being seen as inferior to men in the patriarchal society of Afghanistan. This is portrayed particularly through the presentation of stereotypical gender roles, the marginalisation of women and the presence of male chauvinists. In such a patriarchal society, gender role is extremely dominant. Men are considered the more valuable gender. In the quote, it demonstrates that Amir knew there was an equal chance for him either to have power or remain powerless in regards to his gender. He compare the 50% probability of being either gender to winning the lottery.
This implies that being male is considered a win situation since that is the more valued gender. However, being born a female is implied to be more of a burden rather than a cause for celebration. Due to this mentality maintained in Afghanistan, males are given all the power in both, society and marital relationships. For instance, men are able to sexually abuse women without consequence due to their position in the hierarchical based society.
Such gender roles are also presented as double standards in the novel. Men are allowed to go out and engage in sexual intercourse as in when they please, and with whomever they please, regardless of whether they are married or not. However, if a woman were to engage in such activities prior to marriage, they are shamed for the rest of their lives. This was a so called ‘mistake’ committed by Soraya.
(quote) This enabled Soraya to begin to see the gender inequality that was faced by women. Despite being away from her homeland, she was still force to be ashamed of her actions. Unfortunately, such double standards are extremely deep rooted into the Afghan culture and hence, she is forced to conform.
She does not possess her own freedom and is unable to make her own choices. In Afghanistan, there are actual penalties imposed in the Islamic jurisprudence for premarital promiscuity, from which majority of the Afghan laws are derived. These include public humiliation, torture and potentially death by public execution. These are rather extreme, discriminatory and not in the penal code. Afghans even go to the extent of calling in medical workers to prove a woman’s virginity as it is a requirement for women preparing for marriage. Although there could be other factors that affect the results of the test, if they are deemed to not be a virgin, the marriage proposition is taken away and they are shamed by society, just as Soraya was. In addition, it would only be the women that would bear the brunt of such actions. (quote) Hosseini embeds this metaphor of a poisonous tongue to represent the Afghan society, who would go around spreading information that would shame the woman for losing her virginity.
This is also one of the prime examples of the marginalisation of women because women are treated as peripheral. Amir may have been unlike other Afghan men and accepted her regardless of her ‘mistake’, however, she never actually had a say in who she wanted to marry. Women’s choices were not taken into consideration. They were powerless in the decision of who they wanted to marry and they were overpowered by all the patriarchal society they lived in. In relation to marriage, Soraya’s mother, Jamila, was an amazing singer but was forced to abandon her dreams in order to get married. This was her final choice in the end because in Afghanistan, a woman must get married in order to get their status quo.
(quote) Even though she eventually resided in America, it goes to show that such values are so deeply embedded into the culture that no matter which part of the world Afghans migrate to, their values cannot be forgotten or disobeyed. Yet again, there is a double standard presented in the Afghan culture. Another example of not only gender roles, but marginalisation of women, is that women in society cannot be seen talking to men without being ostracised. Women’s rile is dictated by societal rules which portray women as lesser individuals compared to men. They are obliged to obey strict rules that dictate their behaviour towards every female in their society.
For instance, women are not allowed to come in direct contact with men, to the point that even eye contact is forbidden in public. Farzana was described as (quote). This demonstrates that women are considered subordinate to men. It also illustrates that women had no freedom of speech and for their own protection, they had to maintain a good reputation, which could only be done by complying and conforming to the societal rules.
However, strangely enough, if men flirt with women, men are never judged for their actions. As earlier emphasized, women need to comply with the rules for their own protection. An example of this is when (quote).
She gets beaten because women are not allowed to speak loudly to men. Needless to say, it shows that in their society, it is accepted and a permitted punishment for a man to hit a woman. This shows the male chauvinists’ mentality of treating women as objects. Only one side of the story is seen in order to blame the woman because in the Afghan culture, men are the dominant ones who do not need to abide by any rules as such. Even if she wanted to stand up for herself, she could not because otherwise she could be killed. Obviously, as illustrated, women are treated in a very degrading manner and do not get much respect from men. This scene from the novel depicts that obedience relates to women specifically and solely revolves around the patriarchal design, where inferiority in favour of men prevail. In this society, it is accepted and a permitted punishment to hit a woman.
Unfortunately, the presence of male chauvinists made life much harder for women in Afghanistan. Soldiers, especially, objectify women and speak of them as if they are just sexual beings. (quote) This quote illustrates the male chauvinist mentality in the society because it serves as graphic evidence of the way men portray women.
Men are given the liberty to do what they please to women in society, and women have to tolerate it without being able to stand up for themselves. Women are used as sexual objects because men were aware of the social divide and some abused it.Through, protraying stereotypical gender roles , marginalisation of women and presence of male chauvinist, hosseini reflects the reality being faced in Afghanistan, and it’s something he hope will end in the near future. Thus, feminism remains a prominant theme in the novel.