Because you can't have depths without surfaces.
Linda Grant, thinking about clothes, books and other matters.

Friday, 19 June 2009

The right to bare arms in Iran

In 1979 I went to a meeting Vancouver and heard thrilling accounts from Iranian socialist feminists about how they donned the chador to organise the revolution and depose the Shah. One cynic asked if they would be able to take the chador off again and was quickly shushed. I wonder where those Iranian feminists are today.

In 1996 I visited Iran on assignment for the Guardian. One small detail of life there I observed was that it was women in their forties and older , women who had been in their twenties and up before the revolution, who had managed to tweak and subvert the dress codes and were the most fashionably dressed. Invited to attend a wedding in Isfahan, where there were two, segregated receptions, the women without their black cloaks were dressed in a riot of colour, spangles and low bosoms.

A doctoral student at the University of Tehran who was working with the team that was bringing the internet in Iran told me that the internet would be the undoing of the regime.

The Guardian has been doing a fine job of providing live rolling coverage of what is going on which you can read here

In the same paper, Azadeh Moaveni writes of the Ahmadinejad era:

Late that summer, authorities launched a full-scale campaign of intimidation against young people they accused of un-Islamic appearance. Within a few short weeks, police detained 150,000 people, and all the women in my life went out to buy the shapeless, long coats that we had worn back in the late 1990s. Though the campaign targeted young men as well, authorities singled out women with particular brutality. The government's disdain for women increased by the day. Though Iranians fretted about the impact of western sanctions, the government turned its attention to a bill that would facilitate polygamy. Soon after, it announced a plan that would supposedly solve Iran's marriage crisis. It called the scheme "semi-independent marriage", and it amounted to a hollow version of the institution that would secure men legal and piously sanctioned sex, while denying women the security and social respectability of conventional marriage. On internet news sites and newspapers, women reacted scathingly. A girlfriend of mine, whose English classes had recently been segregated by gender, complained the government was imposing seventh-century rules on modern women


Gourmet Chick said...

Wow fascinating stuff - very inspiring to see so many Iranian women at the forefront of the protests.

phyllis said...

This reminds me of being in Catholic school, and the ingenious ways we would subvert the dress code with our uniforms. I think any attempt to use clothing and fashion as a tool of repression is ludicrous because the innate need for individualism will always triumph.

Mim said...

It's wonderful to see these brave women raise their hands in the victory sign!

Toby Wollin said...

Reading the Twittered coverage today(Saturday) of what is going on there, I can't help but think that it is going to be very bad for Iranian women in the protests today.

Artemisia said...

This entire thing is SO infuriating. But we're not allowed to vent, are we? No, that would be politically incorrect. It is _unbelievable_ to me that a regime that I can only imagine existing in some really bad political thriller is actually real and doing these things. Nonetheless, I am going to behave and *not* say that I want the entire ruling male gang rounded up and have their privates cut off. Instead, I am just going to suggest that they be rounded up and have _all_ those rules currently applying to women applied to them, and only them, for the rest of their lives.

Anonymous said...

Yes, everything is true, but let's not forget this is yet another example of bad American foreign Policy that started this horrendous situation.

I know in America it's not PC to continue to blame American foreign policy but it's still true.

Kai Jones said...

yet another example of bad American foreign Policy that started this horrendous situation

Here's the downside of playing "who started it": you can never advance the situation.

What about the agency and autonomy of every person and government who has made a decision about how to react to the situation *since* the US foreign policy failure?

And by the by, I'm pretty sure my Canadian friends are offended to be lumped into US responsibility: North America has three independent political enemies. (I don't know any Mexican people, to my knowledge, so I haven't asked them whether they'd also be offended.)

a cat of impossible colour said...

Brave women! How inspiring.

I find the Iran developments particularly heartbreaking because they remind me of the situation in my country of origin, Zimbabwe. :(

Anonymous said...

Interesting points Kal but I would never include Canadians and Mexicans to "US foreign policy". That's why I said American foreign policy. And why I do not say "North American foreign policy". Mexico and Canada are sovereign nations.

I didn't understand "3 independent political enemies."

Kai Jones said...

Anonymous: I would never include Canadians and Mexicans to "US foreign policy". That's why I said American foreign policy

You may have missed my point, which is that by saying "American" instead of "US" you are implying all the Americans, North, Central, and South, not just the United States of America.

I didn't understand "3 independent political enemies."

Yeah, I made a brain-o. Meant to say "independent political entities."

Really, the power imputed to the USA when people say it's all our fault is staggering. It's as if nobody else in the entire world does anything to change situations, they all just sit on their hands and watch what we do. We know that's not so, and it's insulting to the non-USA world to imply otherwise.

Vibeke Manniche said...

Linda Grant - you should write a book about exactly this very important issue. We´re lacking such book - and althoug I finde very great pleasure in your book ´The thoughtful dresser´ I miss this whole issue of religious/cultural oppression of women through history and still going on. Please write a book about this important issue. Asap.
Vibeke Manniche
MD, Phd
Women for freedom

Anonymous said...

Kal, I may be in the minority but as a Canadian living in the US, when I hear "American" I think US, not all of the Americas, North and South, and Central. "America" is a shorter version of the "United States of America".

Miriam said...

Yes, likewise; as a Canadian (living in Scotland) I hear 'America' and think United States of. I've never referred to myself as an American.

Having said that, I come across people this side of the Atlantic who lump the US and Canada (but not Mexico, for some reason) into one linguistic pile of dough.

And back on subject...that does sound thrilling. Reminds me of a wedding I went to in India a few years ago, where the middle aged women trumped the younger women in risque style and behaviour. Tight saris and bulging breasts, noisy laughter at the expense of the male guests.

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