The girl who was raised as a boy so she wasn't abused says a lot about society

Why would any mother be driven to change the gender of their child?

Share
Related Topics

We know sexism is a reality of life for many people.

Well, most of us know it, anyway. But imagine being a mother who believes it so inevitable that girls and women cannot ever be safe that she raises her daughter as a boy – even hiding her true sex from her own father.

This is exactly what a mother in Brazil, who cannot be named, is being investigated this week for doing. She changed the baby’s name to ‘Samuel’ and amended her sex on her birth certificate, then registered ‘Samuel’ as a boy at a municipal office in the central Brazilian city of Senador Canedo. The child has, not surprisingly, been placed in foster care while a judge considers the case.  

The mother’s decision to raise her daughter as a boy to protect her from potential child abuse has shocked many, and, needless to say, the most important thing is the child’s health and wellbeing. But compassion isn’t a finite resource, and just because the mother’s actions may well have been damaging for the child, there’s also room to ask why any mother would be driven to do such a thing – and at the very real risk of losing her child?

She’s not alone in what she did. In fact, in some countries, it is an accepted practice. In Afghanistan, for instance, it isn’t uncommon for mothers to raise their children as basha posh (“dressed up as a boy”), until they reach adulthood, so that they get to enjoy the same rights, privileges, and safeties as men, until they get married. Afghan mothers also raise basha posh as a way to dispel some of the “shame” laid at their door if they repeatedly fail to produce sons. (Perhaps if someone had told Henry VIII about this England would be a Catholic country.) 

Brazil is, Needless to say, not Afghanistan – nor is it sixteenth century England for that matter. But the mother’s decision would appear not to be motivated primarily by a wish to project opinions about gender as a social construct on to her child, or anything of that nature, but rather, a desperate wish to protect her daughter from the abuse that she herself experienced as a child and presumably believed to be almost an inevitable rite of passage, or at least a likely one, for girls. It’s easy to call this mother paranoid or deluded and demand that her child be removed forever, but for a lot of abuse survivors, this feeling is actually a fairly natural reaction to the experience. It can feel very much the case that abusers are facilitated and protected by society, as if the law is on their side - and that you need to make your own rules, to protect yourself, and your loved ones. Sadly, this is far too often the truth. Hopefully, this woman will get not only judgment, but also the support and care that she so obviously needs.

There are feminist activists like Julie Bindel who have attacked gender reassignment surgery as comparable to “gay cures.”  While that argument fundamentally misunderstands what it means to be transgender and is surely not applicable in such cases, it may be a useful analogy in relation to this one.

Forcing a girl or woman to masquerade as a boy in order to be treated like a human being is a strange kind of inverse objectification, where the female body and its sexual possibilities take priority over the needs of the person inside it. It will be interesting to see what decision the judge makes in this case, and what help will be offered to this poor woman and her family.

Perhaps, one day, she will be able to take care of daughter again. And perhaps one day we will have a world in which it isn’t considered an inevitability that, even from birth, possessing a female body will open you up as a red flag to violence.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Assistant / Credit Controller

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are an award-winning digit...

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour and the Liberal Democrats would both end winter fuel allowances for pensioners with enough income to pay the 40p tax rate  

Politicians court the grey vote because pensioners, unlike the young, vote

Andrew Grice
US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping have a drink after agreeing a deal on carbon emissions  

Beijing must face down the perils of being big and powerful – or boom may turn to bust

Peter Popham
Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable