Gender Politics and the Dynamics of Courtship and Marriage in Iran

This panel was compiled by the Conference Program Team from independently submitted paper proposals.


Homa Hoodfar


by Manijeh Mannani and Khatereh Sheibani / Athabasca University and York University, Toronto

In this paper, we argue that Iranian women’s invention of a distinct fashion, both within the country and in the cyber space, is a revolutionary cultural response to the Islamic dress code that was imposed on half of the population following the success of the Islamic Revolution of 1979. For close to a century in Iran, the female body, through both the dehijabization (1936) and hijabization (1983) processes, has been the site for authorities to assert and exercise their political and ideological control over half of the population. Our paper explores how women in the Islamic Republic of Iran imagine and enforce their agency and redefine their identity by creating distinctively individualized styles in garments. These hybridized fashion statements challenge both the dress code boundaries defined by the Islamic Republic and the homogenized narratives of suppression and muteness reinforced by the veil as used by Western media to portray Iranian women. The theoretical framework and the ensuing methodology in this paper are informed by power dynamics and relations within Iranian social life; in our analysis, we draw on the works of Pierre Bourdieu (primarily his theory of class distinctions); Michel Foucault (power relations); Laura Mulvey (the male gaze); and Georg Simmel’s argument around “the construction of normatized notions of appearance and beauty…as fundamental element[s] of modern urban life and culture” (Adelman and Ruggi 558).

by Ghazaleh Haghdad Mofrad / Université catholique de Louvain

In the field of social sciences focused on Iran, numerous studies have been conducted on gender, and more particularly, on the transformations of gender relations after the Islamic Revolution. However, these studies have predominately explored gender relations solely from women’s point of view. Gender relations in Iran have rarely been approached from the parallel perspectives of both women and men, or through the convergence of the two. Since 2012, I have been conducting fieldwork in Tehran among young women and men, as well as their parents. Considering both female and male perspectives, I seek to analyze young people’s expectations and aspirations of life partner and marriage, and explore their practices of courtship and relationships in comparison to those of their parents. My paper attempts to answer the following questions: where and how do young Iranians of different backgrounds gather to meet and to flirt in Tehran? What are their respective expectations and aspirations with regard to love or matrimonial partner? In what ways do these young people differ from their parents’ generation? Finally, what is the impact of globalization on their practices and imaginations of relationships?

by Elli Dehnavi / University of Alberta

Female virginity, accorded a great deal of value, is established as a normative societal guideline in Iran. As a symbol of virtue and promise, it is a primary condition for a woman’s first marriage. The considerable number of virginity certificates issued by the Legal Medicine Organization in Iran both indicates the cultural significance of virginity and carries connotations of anxiety for those who lack it. Despite the existing sensitivity around the issue, the rate of hymenoplasty is increasingly high. Since hymen repair surgery is illegal in the country, there are no official statistics, yet the frequent interviews and reports by independent journalists, NGOs, feminists, websites and radio channels reflect the significance of the issue. While admitting the role of religion, I suggest that Islam is only one of the several dynamics in the complex discourse of virginity, and that different dimensions of female virginity need to be examined in the cultural, historical, economic and political context of Iran. Taking a social constructionist approach in examining different dynamics of female virginity within Iranian culture, the paper illustrates the complex interconnections between religion, economy and politics in perpetuating female virginity as a normative value. I argue that women, who undergo hymenoplasty, take a mimetic strategy which conforms and undermines the norm. Regarding the increasing growth of secular beliefs among the young generation, I also suggest that men’s support of women’s premarital sex in the name of modernization should be read within the concept of male homosocial bonding.