Women in Iran: Gender Politics in the Islamic Republic / Women in Iran: Emerging Voices in the Women's Movement

By Mahdavi, Shireen | The Middle East Journal, Autumn 2003 | Go to article overview

Women in Iran: Gender Politics in the Islamic Republic / Women in Iran: Emerging Voices in the Women's Movement


Mahdavi, Shireen, The Middle East Journal


WOMEN Women in Iran: Gender Politics in the Islamic Republic, by Hammed Shahidian. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2003. ix 271 pages. Bibl. to p. 296. Index to p. 303.

Women in Iran: Emerging Voices in the Women's Movement, by Hammed Shahidian. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2003. vi + 187 pages. Bibl. to p. 206. Index to p. 212. $130 [two-volume set].

Since the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and the inception of the Islamic Republic, an enormous body of work on the subject of women in Iran has appeared. This collection consists of books and articles on the subject of women in Islam, in Shi'ism, the interpretations of the verses of the Qur'an regarding women, the historical position of women in Iran, the reforms of the Pahlavi dynasty relating to women, and the present position of women under the Islamic Republic of Iran. The two-volume work under review discusses almost all the above material and examines the position of women in Iran, past and present, from a sociological perspective, drawing upon the patriarchal and conflict theories of many well-known sociologists. In addition to the analysis of the situation of women, the book is also an analysis of Iranian society in general under the Islamic Republic, and the factions which united to bring about the Revolution

The first volume Women in Iran: Gender Politics In the Islamic Republic, consists of an Introduction and eight chapters. The Introduction has the subtitle of "Gender Politics and Revolution." The chapters are entitled: Refashioning Patriarchy: From Private toward Public Patriarchy; Gender Crisis: Preventing the Future; Gender in Revolution: "Shrouding Freedom"; Gender Ambivalence: "Cultural Imperialism" and Representative Revolutionism; Patriarchy Blessed: Gender Teleology and Violence; From Mother's Bosoms: Patriarchy Vacillating Between Private and Public; Volatile Times: Gender, Coercion, and the Possibilities of Resistance. The titles of the chapters accurately describe the content and the type of analysis.

In the Introduction, Shahidian defines three concepts - culture, gender, and patriarchy - which reappear throughout the two volumes. Culture is an historical construct consisting of all the symbols and meanings used by human beings transmitted from one generation to another. This pattern of symbols is used both to acquire knowledge about the world and to pass it on to others. Culture gives meaning to the actions of human beings and brings order to society. Culture is not monolithic but varies among different economic and status groups and the reigning ideology. At any one time there can be a multiplicity of cultures within the same society.

Culture defines gender roles and relations in society. Gender is distinguished from sex: the latter is biologically determined, the former socially. Amongst the multiplicity of cultures there is always a dominant culture determined by the ideology of the ruling elites. Thus, there may be a number of gender roles and relationships current in any society, i.e., a public one and a number of private ones. Sexuality is also an important element in the establishment of gender identity and roles. Those who justify the imposition of gender roles present it as natural rather than as socially constructed, and in legitimizing it, frequently resort to coercion.

Patriarchy is defined as any institution which serves to subordinate and exploit women. Patriarchy is the most important manifestation of gender as a socially constructed institution. There are two forms of patriarchy: private and public. In both forms women experience sexual domination but the agents of domination differ. In private, patriarchy, women, their labor, sexuality, and access to culture are controlled within the family and household, usually by the male head of the household. In public patriarchy, as women engage more in the public labor force, it is the relevant institutions which practice patriarchy by segregating them within these institutions, discriminating against them in their employment policies, and preventing them from upward mobility. …

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