Women in Iran (Part Two)

What might often be overlooked is that America is also an important player in the world’s energy market. America is among the top – if not the top – exporters of energy in the world. But as mentioned before, energy security is virtually congruent and synonymous with diversification, and as a result, countries like Iran become important in the overall calculations and ‘grand strategy’ of American foreign policy. 

As mentioned before, the various degrees or gradations of the appearance and semblance of religiosity and repression amongst the women of Iran runs along a socioeconomic spectrum as it does in any other society. But due to the ultimate paradox at the heart of everything – namely, the paradox of appearance and reality – an appearance of women’s emancipation and liberation amongst the bourgeoisie and elite class in any society does not necessarily translate into an actual reality of emancipation and liberation amongst this particular class of people. 

As the Iranian scholar Arzoo Osanloo argued, all the talk of women’s rights in Iran comprises of various discourses such as Western secular feminism and Islamic religious discourse and a number of others which are “embedded in and in dialogue with multiple ideologies while at the same time they are also hegemonic.” Osanloo added that this “dialogical” nature of women’s rights talk, in some ways, ends up “legitimating tropes of modern law and state institutions derived from liberal and Muslim values” due to the hegemonic nature of these various discourses. 

Hence, the reality of women’s rights in Iran and perhaps elsewhere is more complex and nuanced than the hegemonic discourses and the “tropes” about women’s rights in Iran which in turn shape the local and transnational discussions about women’s rights in Iran. And as Nikki Keddie argued, the truth about women’s rights and women’s social freedoms in Iran is that “there has not been a significant crackdown…on the social freedoms achieved by many urban women and young people.” Keddie added:

“In north Tehran and some other areas, headscarves are often colorful and leave much hair showing, jackets are short and often form-fitting, and so are some of the trousers worn with them. Young people of both sexes continue to meet in the mountains and ski slopes of north Tehran. The government statement against most music has so far had little effect.”

Rarely – if ever – does Iran’s government end up cracking down on the social freedoms of Iranian men and women. In fact, since the Islamic revolution of 1979, Iran has only become more democratic and more open, but more polarized than before as a result of the growing openness of the system, as John Ghazvinian noted. As in any other society in the world, there are liberals and secularists as well as conservatives and religious elements in Iran, and for the most part, the system in Iran takes this complex reality into account and is not negligent of this complex reality.

In sum, the overall condition of women in Iran has gone through a certain degree of progress over the course of the last four decades. And as Hillary Mann Leverett noted:

“One facet of this progress remains especially unappreciated in the West: the way that access to higher education is altering the status of Iranian women. While the Islamic Republic places restrictions on women (in matters of dress, for example, and access to some public events and services) that many Westerners would consider unacceptable, the majority of university students in Iran are now female, the majority of students at Iran’s best universities are now female, and women’s presence is increasingly being felt across an array of academic and professional disciplines – for example, the majority of Iran’s medical students are now female.” 

Leverett also makes an important contrast between the “pre-revolutionary status” of women in Iran versus the “post-revolutionary status” of women in Iran which I have emphasized in previous blog posts:

“Under the shah, women were technically free from the veil and other formal restrictions on their behavior – an image of Iran that (Western media and certain Western circles wish to propagate), while neglecting to inform…that powerful social forces kept most women in prerevolutionary Iran from pursuing educational and career opportunities.” 

It follows that many Iranian women in the post-revolutionary period are some of the most intelligent and talented women in the entire world, and the prevailing notion amongst the Western mainstream that the overall condition of women in Iran has diminished because of their government is largely erroneous.  

As the Iranian mystic and scholar Al-Ghazali argued, love is best understood by highly intelligent people, and it requires a very high level of intelligence to understand love and to organize a society around the principle of love. In turn, love is an intelligent person’s game and sport, and love is perhaps more dangerous and riskier than any other game and sport that exists. Hence, the issue of love is something known to all, but is understood and processed only by a small number of people when all is said and done. No society is perfect, and the realization of a more humane and loving society is something that is always a work in progress, as Iranian women have shown through the course of their country’s modern history. 

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