From Mothers to Voters
Suffrage, Literacy, and Family Dynamics
While the women’s renewal movement had broadened educational access for women, it did not grapple with the weighty issue of women’s political emancipation. Women’s enfranchisement gained support after the fall of Reza Shah. After 1941, as the number of educated Iranian women grew, so did their campaign for political parity. Feminism, as opposed to maternalism, became a rallying point for women activists. The exigencies of the war years ushered in poverty and famine, intensifying public frustration. In 1942, thousands of Iranians, “including women and children have been demonstrating all day in front of Majlis crying, ‘You may kill us but we must have bread.”1 Food shortages exacerbated public malaise about the country’s taxing economic conditions. Iranians also confronted the experience of foreign occupation as a result of the Allied invasion. These tensions spilled into the realm of gender relations. Iranian officials could not handle the misconduct of occupying American troops even when the rights, lives, and dignity of Iranian women were at stake. This emasculation of Iranian men was reflected in their lack of control over Iranian women, an imbalance in power that generated unease.
In 1943, Louis Dreyfus, the American minister in Iran, expressed concern about the inappropriate behavior of some American soldiers, emphasizing that the “question of misconduct and drunkenness is