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The secular Pahlavi regime had represented itself as the harbinger of Western modernity in Iran, while the Islamic Revolution declared its struggle to be the end of Westernization and the formulation of a distinct Islamic modernity.

Sex & Iran's Upstoppable Resistance

Gender relations more broadly remained a critical part of how the state sought to remake Iranian society. The Pahlavi regime emphatically projected an image of the family and society that neatly mirrored the European bourgeois ideal: a heterosexual nuclear family consisting of a husband in business attire, an unveiled and devoted wife, and two neatly dressed children living in a stand-alone house with an American-made car. This image of gender relations not only structured the family, but also provided a blueprint for society more broadly.

Women were widely discouraged from wearing hijab, for example, through a mixture of coercive means like its outright ban in the s to more subtle means, such as compulsory school uniforms of short skirts. Men, meanwhile, were expected to wear a tie and trim their facial hair. Many of these transformations, however, were focused on the aesthetic, and their ramifications were felt primarily in the more secular middle and upper classes. The working and lower-class realities of most Iranians, meanwhile, had little or nothing to do with the Pahlavi image.

In the early s, most Iranians lived in rural areas and had between 6 or 7 kids. The isolated nuclear family of Pahlavi lore was for most a myth, as men and women tended to socialize separately and spent most of their time with relatives or neighbors, while the extended family network was an active part of daily life. The Iranian Revolution sought to subvert and reverse the narrative of the westernized nuclear family propagated by the Pahlavis, and resulted in an entirely new and modern gender politics that appears little like either of the two social models outlined above.

Today, most Iranians live in urban areas and the average woman has between one and two children in her lifetime.

Manoukian on Afary, 'Sexual Politics in Modern Iran'

The state, meanwhile, promotes homosociality in the public sphere, meaning that men and women are encouraged to interact among their own genders, and bands of morality police wander the streets to regulate public displays of heterosexuality. Some form of hijab is compulsory for women in public as well as the covering of arms and legs, while men are for the most part expected to wear shirts and pants shorts are banned for both genders! Zeine:Iran Sexual Politics,Dr J Afari 5of6

As family sizes decreased dramatically in the last two decades due to a highly successful state-run family planning campaign, the importance of the extended family in daily life has lessened and ironically, Iranian family sizes are increasingly approximating the Pahlavi nuclear ideal. The gender politics of the Islamic Republic, in short, look nothing like those of the Pahlavi regime, and they look nothing like what most outside observers or Iranians would have predicted back in How did all this happen?

How much of this transformation was the result of state policy and planning, and how much of the transformation occurred by chance or through the concerted actions of individuals and civil society? Below is a list of key books to help answer those questions, tackling the issue of gender politics in the Islamic Republic from a variety of angles that get at the questions of gender, sex, and sexuality so central to understanding modern Iran.

Islam and Gender emerges as an insider exploration of the debates surrounding Islamic and Islamist feminisms as they are understood in contemporary Iran. An Iranian-born legal anthropologist and the director of the groundbreaking film, Divorce, Iranian Style , Mir-Hosseini takes us through a series of thought-provoking interviews with clerics and activists across Iran as they outline their conceptions of gender in the Islamic Republic, focusing strongly on religious interpretation and theory.

Mir-Hosseini argues that certain aspects of secular feminist writings and works of religious clergy have begun to converge since the Iranian Revolution, as the emergence of an Islamic Republic has opened up space for different kinds of debates about the meaning of gender and feminism in an Islamic society. This has happened primarily as a result of the displacement of secular feminism from its hegemonic position with feminist discourse. Islamist and Islamic feminists have formulated responses to secular feminist arguments from within a religious idiom that carries weight in many sectors of Iranian society.

On the other hand, secular feminists have refined and indigenized feminist theories in response as they have been forced to reckon with newly hegemonic Islamist feminisms. This text finds its audio complement in the conversation Alex and I recently had for Archipelago.

Sexual Politics in Modern Iran

What does an Islamic urban space look like? This question has dogged intellectuals and authorities in Muslim-majority lands for centuries, but in recent decades, it has acquired a renewed sense of urgency amid the emergence of modernizing Islamist political movements. These groups have not only articulated new visions of the public sphere, mass politics, and economy, they have also increasingly found themselves in positions of authority to shape the cities, regions, and lands they work in.

This process has of course not been universal nor necessarily parallel among Islamist political movements, and it is just as nonsensical today to speak of a unified approached to Islamic urban planning as it is to speak of a unified Islamic politics. But at the same time, approaches to urban planning are developing whose features highlight the often-contradictory assumptions and understandings of citizenship that prevail among Islamist actors.

Particularly in countries where modernizing Islamic movements have become institutionalized and bureaucratic, ideological logics have coalesced — as in any other bureaucratic apparatus of control — and tendencies have asserted themselves.

Excerpt from Chapter 9:

No case provides a better example of this than Iran, where explicitly revolutionary, modernizing approaches to producing Islamic space have emerged in the four decades since the Revolution. In this short essay, I will discuss some of the changes that have occurred in Iranian urban space in the 20th century with a focus on their gendered implications, before briefly introducing two dominant approaches to public space in contemporary Iran.

This explanation — proffered both by supporters of the Revolution as well as its detractors — obscures far more than it explains, however. Since the Revolution, Iranian urban fabric has been reshaped to both reflect and produce ideals of modern Islamic citizenship as understood by various political actors including the central government, municipalities, and other authorities.

State/Religion: Rethinking Gender Politics in the Public Sphere in Iran – PARSE

These changes can be seen most markedly in the capital, Tehran, a metropolitan area of around 14 million that has emerged as a laboratory for the rest of the country in urban planning. The city has been marked by a wholesale reconstitution and realignment of the public space along a gender binary model, such that many public institutions are segregated in some way and the morality police regulate spaces that lack a physical architecture of gender dichotomization like parks and streets.

Paradoxically, this realignment of space has actually facilitated the movement of women in the city, particularly those from religious backgrounds who previously hesitated or were prevented from entering the secular, mixed public sphere. The average urban household in was a large, extended family living together in a communal dwelling in the densely-populated neighborhoods of winding streets that characterized Iranian cities historically. In this context, women traditionally spent much of their time together or in the alleys between homes that were a kind of semi-private space.

These reforms were followed by a series of culturally Westernizing regulations in the s, including clothing restrictions that banned the veil and imposed Western dress on men. There are many stories, for example, of women who were banned by their families from leaving the home after the hijab ban in the s as well as ,s of Iranians who emigrated , while anecdotal evidence suggests many women also stopped leaving the home of their own will in order to avoid being stripped in the streets, as police had been ordered to do to offenders.

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Although the hijab ban was eventually reversed, it continued to be enforced in more subtle ways for decades — through dress codes and informal discrimination, for example. Spatially, during this period Iranian women increasingly found themselves living in smaller and smaller apartments without extended family networks. First and foremost, as a popular revolution, the leaders that came to power in had a widespread public mandate that was validated through the mass support from both genders manifested during the Revolution. As Iranian historian Minoo Moallem has noted, while the ideal woman of the Pahlavi era was defined as secular and modern by her visual availability to the male eye, Revolutionary femininity defined itself as veiled and publicly homosocial.

As women who had taken part in the revolution began asserting their rights within an Islamic framework to protest, study, and work with government support including a massive literacy campaign targeting women across the country , massive changes and shifts in power ensued within the family structure. Whereas in , less than 1 percent of women finished university and around 12 percent were in the workplace around one-third of whom were underage child carpet weavers , less than 40 years later about 55 percent finished university, a rate higher than in the United States.

The success of the program also depended on the efforts of hundreds of thousands of women who leaped at the opportunity to promote birth control and health care, particularly in remote villages. What may have seemed like a feminist victory, however, was also a powerful example of state control over women's bodies. Rather than conceding total victory to the state, Afary includes stories of individual women who resisted and survived against state-imposed power and control. From Forough Farrokhzad, a twentieth-century poet who wrote about women's daily experiences and described loveless marriage as a cage, to Mahvash, the cabaret singer who created a widely read erotic pamphlet in that celebrated the female orgasm, individual stories demonstrate how women stretched the bars that imprisoned them.

The example of Marziyeh Dabbagh provides a particularly fascinating picture of the complexities and contradictions of the rules that governed women's lives leading up to and following the Iranian Revolution under Ayatollah Khomeini. Dabbagh became Khomeini's bodyguard and a top military commander, even as Khomeini was condemning the ability of women to function in public: "She wore modest modern clothes, drove a car, traveled, socialized, and spent much time away from her family, all without feeling guilty, since Khomeini himself had sanctioned her activities" Dabbagh achieved a kind of individualized equality based on her proximity to the misogynist state and her compliance with the wishes of Khomeini.

From particular strategies used by women, Afary moves to generalizations that instruct the way the West and East have struggled to define gender and sexuality in the transition to modernity and capitalism. For example, her reading of the Iranian leftists who considered women's rights subservient to and separate from the cause of anti-imperialism — and thus supported the misogynist cleric Ayatollah Khomeini — rings all too familiar for those knowledgeable about the U. A clear message about the intersectionality of human rights, sexual rights, women's rights, and anti-imperialist liberation rings out from Afary's analysis.

Sexual Politics in Modern Iran documents the rise and fall of various efforts by leftist, feminist, and other social movements that have ultimately failed to bring about lasting change for Iranian women and homosexuals. But Afary, who maintains ties to activist communities in Iran, ends on a hopeful note regarding the Campaign for Equality, a contemporary feminist movement that has founded the One Million Signatures Campaign, a movement to circulate a petition gaining one million signatures and raise awareness through online newsletters and door-to-door efforts about women's legal rights in Iran.

One of the major accomplishments of the Campaign that emerges in her analysis is its avoidance of a singularly Western brand of feminism.

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With the emergence of a distinctly Iranian feminism today, we can see the struggle for self-definition solidifying in Iran, even in a persistently imperialist climate:. The Campaign for Equality has broken new ground on several levels. Activists have moved beyond the sectarian and ideological divides that hampered the women's movement for much of the twentieth century.