Hi all, this is an article I researched and wrote back on Christmas 2009. That day I had been thinking about my Christmas’s in Iran, and although I despise what happened to me, these women and girls (my students) made me feel warm and welcomed in a country where I was put into the most judgmental spot of all by Mohammad’s family. Iranian women are strong women they have to be, and in this country these woman accepted me and knew nothing of my past to judge me by and made me feel more secure in a female relationship than I even have felt in the USA. And also remember what these women must endure. When and if their daughter is hung (due to boredom by her husband so he accuses her of adultery) the COMPASSIONATE thing these barbaric men do and consider compassionate is to allow the mother to walk the daughter to the noose and spend a few minutes with her. These women are strong, as we all are, but I wanted to let you into the world I lived in for four years. (**BY NO WAY AM I ENCOURAGING YOU TO VISIT IRAN!!!!) I hope you enjoy and become enlightened. I wrote this for helium and it was the number one article for quite some time. Lori
*My students in Iran, Layla on the right was drowned in her fathers swimming pool for not being a virgin on her wedding night.
If you write a study, essay or a book, be prepared to answer even the most ludicrous of questions. What may seem to you as ridiculous or common knowledge is very foreign or strange at best when viewed by others that have no clue about the boundaries outside their comfortable little world.
The mere mention of Iran invokes suspicion and a sense of backwardness, fundamentalism, and terrorism. The name brings to mind conflicting images of men-bearded, militant, hostile and not least of all chauvinist, ….and women-veiled, oppressed, and submissive. Shrouded in their black chadors (the ultimate symbol of their oppression), women on the television screen are angry, holding their hands up and chanting anti-American slogans. The women are more than willing to fight.
Westernization and US domination in the region, they contribute in the process to their own oppression. What is the truth behind these images? Is there one single truth? Are the so-called truths only media propaganda, to feed a public hungry for answers to the unknown? Are some images manufactured collages that deprive millions of people of their humanity, denying them their voice and the right to a decent proud existence? Who is the woman, the individual behind these images? Her appearance typifies the ultimate inferiority and oppression of the “second sex” in the region. But I beg to differ…From an outsiders view that had the opportunity to view within, I’d like to add the following observations of these wise, proud, highly intelligent yet tactful if not manipulative at times heroes.
The Iranian woman is oppressed yet rebellious. She is subjugated yet unruly. She is controlled yet defiant. She is hushed and subservient. She is a religious fanatic living a secluded life. She is a revolutionary, a fighter, yet segregated and oppressed. Willing to die for her nation, she is a mother and a wife. The images contradict, with each emerging to deconstruct the others. Outsiders, foreigners, and bystanders, however tend to hold onto certain characteristics of these images, unaware of the role the West has itself played in the creation and perpetuation of a certain branch of Islamic revivalism.
For them, these stereotypical attributes contain momentous significance because they remain resistant to the passage of time, oblivious to the change of governments, and blind to the dramatic socioeconomic changes that has swept the country during the twentieth century. The undue loyalty to the convoluted images-perhaps even the psychological, political, and economic need to view these differences through the lens of inferiority-has induced many a viewer to avoid questioning the validity of such images (to avoid inquiring about the politics of the region and to avoid acknowledging the complete humanity of those who live there. The mere fact of difference signifies to the outsider a lack of change, transformation, and movement through time. The outsider is perplexed because of the extremity of these images. The difference testifies to the all-encompassing superiority of anything Western.
These images while contradictory have proven most resilient; they have enshrouded reality. A thick white fog has fallen. It is a beautiful and mysterious fog, but because of it, we have lost our vision. Image and reality, dream and nightmare, illusion and everyday life all become one. A true understanding of the humanity embedded in these convoluted pictures is denied.
No single image adequately can reveal the complexity of the lives that Iranian women live. To expect a manufactured image to explain amply the existence of more than thirty million women are unrealistic; no single image adequately can reveal the totality of any one person, let alone millions of people. The diversity of individual lives defies such confinement. The reduction of the lives of millions of women to a single familiar picture that appeals to the gaze of outsiders gravely distorts reality and minimizes the complexity of cultures and of individual lives.
Do all Iranian women share a history and culture that uniformly shape women’s lives and their experience? I will post part two on this when I get back from my forced sabbatical…until then…. Fight strong and Proud Iranian women you have earned the right…
Part Two Iranian Woman
Part of my goal in doing this is to partially educate myself on the thoughts of Iranian women who are in the USA, either by choice or displaced. When one lives amongst the subjects at hand, your focus becomes very blurred and biased. That is why I’m including views from when I lived there as well as views by Iranian women who live in the USA today. Also in doing this I hope to share a certain part of Eastern culture with Americans who are ignorant to the personalities, lives and hardships of those women that live in Iran.
Therefore, this study is not about the generic title, “Iranian women”. To the degree that the label “American women” is problematic because it overlooks racial, ethnic, and class differences, the title “Iranian women” also presents its own problems. Such general terms deny women their personal qualities, obscuring their diverse backgrounds and various lifestyles.
This article is not about Islamic feminism or feminism in Iran. Women’s lives and rights in Iran have received considerable mention/attention since the early 1980’s.
The dramatic changes introduced by the Islamic Republic only a few years after its ascent to power prompted many scholars as well as students of Iran to start studying up on as well as examining closely the position of women in Iran during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. While such study has revealed women’s veiled but volatile presence in sociopolitical domains, it has also exposed the fragile and nascent nature of modernization attempts that were begun during the Pahlavi regime.
Historical studies on Iranian women, e.g. have recorded the lives and excerpts written by individual women who tried to introduce the first schools for girls in Tehran (1907); or in other cities.
The founders of these institutions were denounced, attacked, harassed by the authorities and at times even by their own families. Ostracized and alone, these women nevertheless paved the way for the opening of the first public schools for girls by the year 1918. Despite their veiling requirements they still drove on and pushed for change.
A few years prior to these above attempts a small group of women from all social classes but mostly the upper-and upper-middle-class families became politically active, playing a noteworthy role on the side of Constitutionalists.
Condemning the Russian governments intervention in Iran’s affairs in 1911, these women formed secret societies using their veils, they transferred messages and arms to various parties involved. At the conclusion of this there were over 1000 women who were protesting Russia’s interference. In a country and at that historical milestone where society condemned any outside activity by women or ones that women were involved in were considered immoral. Despite this the women still managed to express their opinion on the future of their country. The gathering of more than one thousand veiled women outside the parliament on November 29, 1911, to reprimand the men for yielding to Russia’s ultimatum is a historical image never to be forgotten within the mind’s eye.
The Iranian Revolution started a whole new group of scholars anxious to study the frighteningly limited and oppressive lives women had lived at the turn of the 20th century. It also set the scene for these courageous and brave women to demonstrate to the world their insistence for social change and political integrity.
Historically, the “veil” created mystery; gender segregation brought seclusion, isolation and perhaps a narrow and limited worldview. Draconian laws and cultural practices created hardships for women’s mobility and their civic rights.
But the women of the 20th century showed a great deal of initiative in shaping their own destinies. If the new studies of women in 20th century Iran display or exhibit the hardships Iranian-women endured, it also brings to light their resilience and determination to change their lives.
The 1979 Revolution led to an arduous process of gender wake-up calls. Women’s lives both in the private and public realms became topics of conversation and debate. Parallel with this time frame the government tried to reverse the secular changes enforced during the 20th century to control educational opportunities and career options and instead to introduce a new image of the Muslim woman. The government was set to Islamacize the country and create an ideal Muslim image for all women to revere and embrace.
While laws, albeit secular or religiously based, affect women’s lives, their opportunities in terms of education, family life and career opportunities; and even their choice of dress style and color, women lived/live their lives both within and beyond the boundaries set forth by the government in power. Now I will start part 3 off with how these women deal with everyday life struggles and exhibit a layer of reality that reaches far beyond any concept of reality of what any government does and does not do.
Part Three Iranian Woman
POV: Moving to the USA
One woman who relocated to the USA during the revolution states the following: * Some excerpts were used with express permission by either the published authority or the women themselves.
“My move to the United States made my life both exciting and unsettling. The political turmoil in Iran further exacerbated the situation; cutting ties to my family back home. The Revolution had started and Iran was on the news every night. I remember days of darkness in 1979, living in absolute confusion about what was happening in the country not knowing if my family or people I knew were all right. All of a sudden, we, the Iranian foreign students, became the enemy, the unwanted aliens in the US. All of a sudden, our collective identity changed from being an ally and supporter of the US’s politics in the region to that of a hostile adversary. Because of this situation, the past 20 years, especially those early days- have not been easy. Living with an identity not of our own choice, an identity bestowed on us because of political expediency and international relationships, has been problematic if not excessively uncomfortable. But life goes on.
While I was never able to pick up where I left off with my sister, those topics of conversation remained as poignant as ever. After the Revolution, I had even more reasons to think about men and women, fathers and mothers, marriage and divorce. The Revolution had introduced dramatic changes that affected not only women’s civil and family rights but also men’s lives.
The old topics of conversation and issues related to women’s experiences seemed to have gained an enormous significance. These topics and related questions became sources of casual conversation with friends, colleagues, and those interested in the changes happening in Iran. However, these conversations occurred in the US with men and women who had left Iran some time ago. Obviously, our perspective was different from those who were still living in Iran.
Given the upheavals the country was going through, women’s lives were a recurring theme of conversation for those of us living abroad. Needless to say, those women were our mothers, sisters, aunts, and friends. However, while we talked about women in Iran, the voices of these women were absent from our conversations. While we talked on their behalf, trying to grasp the depth of their feelings and daily experiences, there was a grave need to hear the voices of women still living in Iran.”
My experience with Iranian women
While living in Iran from May of 1998 to November 2001, I had more than enough opportunities to listen to women directly. The women mostly talked about their lives in the present rather than speculating on them in the future. While women are supposedly the second class citizens in Iran, I learned that men depend heavily on their words, actions and look to them for advice…A paradox for me to witness was that most men in Iran were especially closer to their mothers than their fathers. While this may be due to the oldest male child takes financial responsibility of the family if anything should happen to the father is the case or not I don’t know…Or maybe it is my theory, that
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Created on: December 25, 2009
Islamic law has taken women out of the realm of acquaintance to men in public, thus leaving them as some great mysterious enigma, only to be figured out once an arranged marriage is in the works.
I truly believe that everything they told me was on a factual basis…I was an English instructor to many younger and older girls in Iran, both in a school and private setting. For whatever reasons these women found it easy and comforting to talk to me…Many begged to stay past their 1 ½ hour time allotted for private classes, just to continue venting.
* All statements unless otherwise stated are those of the woman that the focus is intended upon.
One girl in particular who spoke to me, yet mimicked many thoughts of Iranian women was Parisa Nasrizadeh.
Parisa had started coming to my private English classes in July ’99…she was still a student of mine when I left Iran in 2001. Parisa’s husband had relocated to Texas, USA, and had explained to her that she and their 2-yr.old son would have to wait until he became settled before he could send for them.
Parisa was more than excited about the thought of moving to America, but after almost 2 years, the weekly telephone calls from her husband had dwindled to a monthly call if that. His attitude had changed remarkably and Parisa suspected that he had a girlfriend in Texas. Well her suspicions were well founded in December 1999, when she called her husband only to have his mistress answer the telephone.
Parisa came to my house crying and a wreck. Although she did not have a class scheduled for that day, I put off all other appt. to talk with her, she felt like she couldn’t divulge this information to her family or they would see her as a failure.
For whatever reason in Iran the family has the stigma associated to them of failure if their daughter isn’t a virgin on her wedding night, or if her once happy marriage turns sour. This puts a lot of undue pressure on the women to be all things to their husbands. Also it is law for Iranian men to retain custody of the children in a divorce; from my understanding up to age, seven they are to be with their mother and after that their father.
Parisa married young as was the tradition in Iran, and she states she gave her youth so that she could have her old age to herself.
In the beginning the marriage was a romantic dream she says, he was so kind, loving and we talked for hours on how big of a family we would have, as well as me continuing my education for my engineering degree.
He literally put the stops to that after the first year of proving his worth as a good provider and husband. All my hopes since H.S. were cremated in that second year of marriage! I was pregnant and he had just stated very matter of factly that I would not be returning to college, since my place now was in the home as a mother and wife.
I learned one thing and that was not to argue with him. We had our conflicts in the past, he had always won out, and the punishment of taking the car privileges away so that I could visit my parents was more than I could bear.
After learning that he had plans to move to the USA and that his immigration papers were approved, I felt a depth in my stomach I could not describe. It was one of living out my dreams vicariously through him, yet dreading the one day I knew would come and that was him telling me I couldn’t come to the USA.
I don’t know what made me think this way, it was a gut feeling, and so far, my gut feelings were infallible.
Upon learning of his mistress, I immediately told her to have him call his wife and son in Iran upon his return. She hung up rather aggressively. She had no right to be angry, I was the one after all that had been hurt, cheated on, betrayed, and manipulated.
He did return my call late that night, and he was very angry, upset, and yelling at me. I quietly told him that I would file for “tadiq” which is a divorce in Iran. He resisted, stating that he would be coming home in the summer to see his son. I humored him, but only until I couldn’t bear the thought of throwing my life away any longer for a man who did not love or respect me as his wife and mother of his child.
What I did next was not only looked upon as a personal failure but attributable to my family as a failure in raising me as well. My parents did not take the news well since they initiated the marriage. My father who has always been kind to his wife and us his daughters became somewhat put off. He had asked me why? I told him that he had found another woman. My fathers reply: What couldn’t you do to satisfy him? I replied nothing. My father’s last words were: You must have did or didn’t do something right so work on it and perfect it for or if there is a second chance for you.
So here I was a single parent in a society that looked down upon this. They not only found it appalling they harassed single women parents as well. Well this is when my mother became such an integral part of my life, as well as all my female friends. will end this one account synopsis here to start Part 4 re: Mothers, Daughters, and the ties that bind…
Part Four Iranian Woman
Examining the mother-daughter relationship reveals the isolation and the powerlessness, at times, forces some mothers to turn to their daughters, most often eldest daughters, as companions, friends, or confidants. Having a mother confide in the female child brings the world of childhood to an abrupt end and puts the child in a contradictory position, forcing a too-immature entrance into the adult world and risking possible exposure to intimate but potentially disturbing aspects of the marital relationship……..While doing this I wanted to explore the various ways in which mothers have internalized the dominant societal attitudes about the superior/male and inferior/female aspects of gender relations.
The more than often-powerless position of mothers in the marital relationship perpetuates a cycle of powerlessness in the female child and critically colors her attitudes toward the father and other men. Furthermore, this situation may retard the development of both parties in the future.
While this part of the essay explores those relationships that are cherished by daughters, it also articulates the darker side of the mother-daughter bond and family interactions. Like all studies based on qualitative research, the sample in this study is small therefore caution must be taken not to generalize the findings to all mother-daughter relationships. It is important to emphasize the variability in mother-daughter relationships and avoid attributing universal and invariant features to them.
Many women cherish close relationships with their mothers and have developed lifelong friendships. But I wanted to explore the multifaceted and nourishing relationship-a vital relationship without which the survival of the family institution as we know it today would be jeopardized. It also examines the ways in which patriarchy harms women and retards the development of happy and fulfilling relationships between men and women, husbands and wives, and mothers and daughters.
“HER PAIN IS MY PAIN”
When I discuss the mothers I would like to clarify the group in which this is focused on which would be; a cohort of women who were born between the early 1920’s and the late 1930’s. For most Iranian women of this generation, marriage was not a personal choice based on romantic love. Rather, it was viewed as a family affair, decided by the parents of the young couple. All of the mothers with one exception had married men chosen by their parents. It must be noted that it was not only women who entered into blind marriages. The men whose mothers chose a wife for them and whose fathers approved of the choice also entered into marriage blindly. There were also occasions where the fathers gave their consent without consulting either the mother or their daughters.
Therefore, an arranged marriage was a blind contract for both partners, often entered into with either minimal or no prior knowledge of the other person’s appearance or personality.
The mothers typically married at a young age, moved to a new house that they most often shared with the husband’s relatives, were considerably younger than their husbands, and were expected to abide by cultural perceptions about appropriate gender roles. These factors led to unequal life-long marital relationships. Thus upon starting a new life, the couple played their roles according to societal expectations and dominant traditions that dictated an unequal relationship between the two partners. This in turn created the situation in where the women live in them.
So as I have mentioned, Iranian woman is oppressed yet rebellious. She is subjugated yet unruly. She is controlled yet defiant. She is hushed and subservient. She is a religious fanatic living a secluded life. She is a revolutionary, a fighter, yet segregated and oppressed. Willing to die for her nation, she is a mother and a wife. The images contradict, with each emerging to deconstruct the others. Outsiders, foreigners, and bystanders, however tend to hold onto certain characteristics of these images, unaware of the role the West has itself played in the creation and perpetuation of a certain branch of Islamic revivalism!
Learn more about this author, Lori Foroozandeh.