Manhood and Masculinity in Iranian Literature and Film

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


Camron Michael Amin


by Joanna de Groot / History Department, University of York, UK

This paper examines changing relationships of Iranian men to family and domesticity in the era of modernity through readings of the personal narratives about three Iranian men whose lives span the development of modernity in Iran. While there are many accounts of the ‘modernising’ of Iranian public spheres, and of the public rhetoric of masculinity, family and domesticity within that process, little attention has been given to family and domestic activities and relationships in the formation of ‘modern’ Iranian masculinities. Analysis of life narratives of a civil servant, Abdullah Mostowfi (1876-1952), a writer/activist, Jalal Al-e Ahmad (1923-1969),and a religious specialist“‘AliHashemi” (1943-?) reveals genealogies and transformations of masculinity among urban educated Iranian men over a century. Foregrounding their roles as husbands, sons, brothers, and heads of households, and the ‘domestic’ setting where such roles were formed and enacted, the paper explores the constitutive role of ‘domestic’ experiences in changing ‘public’ performances of masculinity. Mostowfi’s account of growing from a child in a hereditary bureaucratic family into a suit wearing civil servant has significant and unexplored family and household dimensions; Al-e Ahmad’s reflections on youth, marriage, and sexual /reproductive anxieties reveal similarly unexplored aspects of his self-presentation as a public intellectual; the account of the life of an anonymised individual called “ ‘Ali Hashemi” as a religious specialist between the 1950s and the 1970s seems to exclude his ‘home’ life, but in fact shows its contribution to his political, professional, and personal development. Negotiations of intimacy and authority among household and kin were integral to these men’s formative and performative repertoire, blending reliance on established ‘patriarchal’ practices with innovations in those practices.
By placing family and domesticity at the centre of the analysis the paper engages with ongoing debates about distinctions and overlaps between ‘home’ and ‘outside’. It probes the view that Iranian cultural practice has fought shy of depicting or revealing personal aspects of individual lives. It suggests that the personae evolved by educated urban Iranian men between the 1880s and the1970s involved publicly enacted roles which rested on deep foundations in the home, refashioning those foundations while also relying on them. Arguing for the importance of interaction between the ‘domestic’ and the ‘non-domestic’, and not just of the distinction between them, the discussion emphasises how connections between household and marital power, personal intimacy, and masculinity underpinned modern public life.

by Amirhossein Vafa / The University of Sheffield

A tour de force about a Khwushnishin family of rural laborers in 1960s Iran, Missing Soluch (1979) is one of Mahmoud Dowlatabadi’s highly acclaimed works. Centering on the ordeals of the title-character and his family as they confront the repercussions of Land Reform policies of the day, the novel has been exhaustively analyzed in terms of its historical context as well as the issues of gender it urgently addresses. Often arguing that Soluch, Mergan, and their children are the tragic victims of circumstances, studies have either reduced the novel to repressive national and regional politics, or rendered the characters as gendered stereotypes representing or else suffering from patriarchy. With a fresh attitude towards the historical backdrop that informs it, I maintain that Missing Soluch is far from a naturalist novel in the sense of depicting reality as an inescapable force leading only to tragic consequences. Quite the contrary, there is in the novel an unearthed “narrative of hope” which reflects a poignant yet life-affirming picture of the rural landscape. In fact, the development in thoughts and actions of three characters, namely Abrau, Mergan, and Soluch, read in effect as the symbolic subversion of what Peter et al. term “monologic masculinity,” a narrow conception of rural manhood that entails a body of “strictly negotiated performances,” centering on “work and success,” within an androcentric sphere of work (219). In their struggles with the draconian consequences of Land Reform, the three characters suffer from such masculinist winds of change and yet manage to reimagine a new picture of gender relations. In short, Dowlatabadi’s threefold “narrative of hope” entails [1] Abrau’s constructive disillusionment with a performance of hypermasculinity as he outgrows an overambitious mentality that has imbued his actions with violence. Moreover, [2] there is Mergan’s feminine strength, resourcefulness, and capacity to resist authority that constitutes her as a formidable challenge to the patriarchal order prevailing in the village. There is, finally, [3] the homecoming Soluch whose epiphanic return to reach out to Mergan becomes the emblematic moment of envisioning a more “dialogic” conception of manhood in the open-ended denouement of the novel. In the end, my re-reading of Missing Soluch is not only a contribution to the field of gender studies but also an addition to the body of scholarship on Dowlatabadi as it sheds light on aesthetic subtleties hitherto unexplored in the novel.

by Nacim Pak-Shiraz / University of Edinburgh

Much of the scholarship on Iranian cinema has focused on representations of women with references to the other gender limited to broader discussions on patriarchy and patriarchal culture in Iran. It is, however, not just women whose bodies become the site for the interplay of ideological enforcements and cultural critique. Indeed, masculinity, as a social and cultural construction is idealized, displayed, defined and challenged variously in different contexts. The study of masculinity, however, has received far less attention generally and within the Iranian context in particular. Films are in fact valuable sites through which some of these constructions can be studied. My research, therefore, aims to turn the object of investigation to the representation of men in Iranian cinema. In this paper, I explore masculinity through the depictions of the hero and villain in Iranian cinema. In doing so, I aim to look at the presentation of the male body, ‘manhood’ and the competing discourses on masculinity.

by Sanaz Fotouhi / Independent Scholar

Middle Eastern Muslim men have been historically subjected to stereotypical representations in the West. Although these men are categorically hypervisible for Western audiences as a similar type, among them Iranian men in particular, have been subject to a specific kind of marginalization. Following the 1979 Islamic revolution and the American hostage crisis in Iran, Iranian men and masculinity have become hypervisible as violent and religiously fanatic. While Western discourses of representation contributed greatly to the construction and representation of this specific kind of masculinity which marginalized and stigmatized Iranian men, Iranians themselves, have played a significant role in reaffirming this view. Ironically, contributing most to the reinforcement of this discourse has been Iranian women’s narratives in English in the West, in the form of memoirs and fictional accounts. These popular accounts have played a significant part in marginalizing and emphasizing a hypervisible and stereotypical representation of Iranian men.

This paper considers the representation of Iranian men and masculinity as presented through Iranian women’s narratives in the West in English. By drawing on specific narratives and accounts, it examines how socio-political and historical contexts both in the West and in Iran, have led to Iranian women’s representation of Iranian men hypervisibly. Then, through an examination of some narratives by Iranian men, this paper examines how such representations have led to emphasizing the discourse of exclusion and otherness of Iranian men in the West, hampering the actual smooth integration of diasporic Iranian men into their adopted homes.