Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

In Search of a Lost Identity: Iranian Women and Their Identity Issues

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

In Search of a Lost Identity: Iranian Women and Their Identity Issues

Article excerpt

Introduction

Gee (2000) defines identity as "being recognized as a certain kind of person in a given context" (p. 99). Similarly, Hung, Lim and Jamaludin (2011) consider the process of identity formation as a process of meaning making about one's self. I believe that, having an identity means owning a voice, daring to dream and take action, and being responsible for who you are and want to become. Conversely, I contend, not having any dreams or simply abandoning them, being imprisoned in a jail of dos and don'ts that others set for us and being trapped in cliched excuses such as "I have no choice", "I cannot do anything" or "it is too late for me" negatively shape one's identity. Erikson (1950, 1968) uses the term "identity diffusion" to represent a state in which the individual lacks a sense of purpose, direction and commitment and experiences self-doubt. Erikson (1963) claims that successful identity formation correlates with psychological wellness. Research also shows that individuals who explore their values and beliefs and develop a greater sense of self-knowledge are better able to consider the values and roles of their profession (Friesen & Besley, 2013). Other scholars contend that people without a clear sense of who they are are at potential risk of several behavioral and personal problems such as low self-esteem and depression (Nurmi, Berzonsky, Tammi, & Kinney, 1997).

According to Hull and Zacher (2007), a person's identity is re/shaped from moment to moment throughout their life and "in relation to the identities of others--sometimes in concert with them, sometimes in opposition to them, but always in relation to them" (p. 75). Also acknowledging the dialogic nature of identity, Holland, Lachicotte, Skinner, and Cain (1998) argue that people develop more or less conscious conceptions of themselves as actors in socially and culturally constructed worlds" (p.40). Thus, from a social constructivist perspective (Vygotsky, 1978, 1986), the process of identity formation does not occur "in individual isolation but rather in a social-community context" (p.163). That is why researchers seek to identify factors that facilitate identity formation and have the greatest positive influence on this process (Kroger, 1993) such as the role of context, feedback and validation received from important others and society at large (Erikson, 1959, 1963), opportunities for self-expression, new experiences, social development, skill acquisition, and self-reflection (Kivel, 1998; Kleiber & Kirshnit, 1990).

Having lived in Iran for most of my life, I was particularly interested in identity formation of Iranian women and the impact of context as well as self on their identities. On the one hand, I knew living in Iran creates tensions and challenges for women at times. I could see that some women in my country would fail to make sense of who they were and what they were capable of doing as a result of living in an undemocratic and oppressive context where they were marginalized and silenced. I could see that there were bright girls who were victimized by baseless and unshakable beliefs held against them which would negatively affect their identities because "who I am is relational, constructed and altered by how I see others and how they see me in our shared experiences and negotiated interactions" (Johnson, 2003, p. 788). Thus, they were led to believe they were intellectually and socially inferior, had no power, and could not be in control of their lives. On the other hand, there were still strong women who were motivated and daring enough to fight against the prevailing oppression and overcome difficulties to achieve their dreams. In other words, there were differences between Iranian women in terms of their perceived identities which would result in differences in the quality of their lives, the decisions they would make, their attitudes and behaviors and generally the kind of people they were. …

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