Conceiving Citizens: Women and the Politics of Motherhood in Iran

By Firoozeh Kashani-Sabet | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 9
Managing Birth

Family Planning and Health Care

In 1948, two Middle Eastern monarchs—Malik Faruq of Egypt and Muhammad Reza Shah Pahlavi—announced the termination of their respective marriages. Queen Farida of Egypt had borne Faruq three daughters but no sons, and Faruq’s sister, Fawzia, had given the shah of Iran a daughter.1 In both cases, the monarchs divorced their wives because of the absence of a male heir to the throne (and likely for other reasons, too). The shah’s desire for a son seemed only natural to his entourage, as did his decision to divorce Fawzia. Yet the premium on the male heir seemed strangely incongruous when placed within the context of Middle Eastern women’s movements of the postwar years. For one thing, it reinforced the notion of political patriarchy. Although women were entering new professions and attending schools in unprecedented numbers, they were not considered equal partners in a traditionally male sphere: politics. Second, it implied that although for two decades the state had strenuously espoused a policy of high fertility for Iranian couples—a rhetoric that had remained gender neutral in its endorsement of high rates of childbirth—gender preferences still mattered in Iranian families. After all, the shah himself used the absence of a firstborn male heir as a justifiable reason to end his marriage to Fawzia.

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