"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Saturday, November 5, 2011

"Lipstick Jihad"

Excerpts from Lipstick Jihad: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America and American in Iran by Azadeh Moaveni

Note: The author was born in 1976 to Iranian parents who came to America and ended up staying after the Islamic revolution. As an adult she lived in Tehran for several months as a journalist. She tried to remember the Iran she visited as a child and fit in with her people.  Here are a few observations that I noted from this book.

I wanted to pinpoint precisely what it was that gave me away as a foreigner. After watching me for several weeks as we rode in taxis and shopped and had coffee, Celine concluded that it was nothing so obvious. She leaned forward in her chair, as if to make a serious pronouncement. One, you laugh whenever you want.  And two, you smile too much. This is very American of you. It doesn't really occur to you, to alter yourself in public. So I should smile less? I asked. I should be less nice?  No, she replied, you need to be more selective about who you're nice to.
  (pg. 69)

I just found that funny because I think I would be guilty of the same if I were in one of those societies where it's odd to smile at any ol' person walking down the street.

The major social aim of the revolution had been to impose Islamic faith on Iranian society.  But the catalog of restrictions - on dress, behavior, speech - meant to instill a solemn decency instead inflamed people's carnal instincts. Made neurotic by the innate oppressiveness of restriction, Iranians were preoccupied with sex in the manner of dieters constantly thinking about food. The subject meant to be unmentionable - to which end women were forced to wear veils, sit in the back of the bus, and order hamburgers from the special "women's line" at fast food joints - had somehow become the most mentioned of all.  The constant exposure to covered flesh - whether it was covered hideously, artfully, or plainly - brought to mind, well, flesh.
  (pg. 71)

Makes sense really.  And I read stuff like this often on Muslim blogs about how preoccupied the people are with sex!  To me, covering women doesn't really make the men stop fantasizing about what's hidden under the veil.

Her thoughts on temporary marriages, the Shiite practice of sigheh -- "It is a form of prostitution, which enables a patriarchal culture to cement the imbalanced gender relations in the guise of empowering women with a temporary and flimsy legal status that rarely works to their benefit."  (pg. 74)

It amuses me somewhat when people try to defend this as some gift from God.

It was only over time, after repeated exposure to womanizing clerics, clerics who stole from the state and built financial empires, who ordered assassinations like gangsters, who gave Friday sermons attacking poodles, that I came to understand the virulence of my father and my uncle's hate for the Iranian clergy. Perhaps their flaws were no greater than those of ordinary mortals, but ordinary mortals did not claim divine right to rule, ineptly, over seventy million people.
(pg. 101)

Yessssss!  And that is the problem! You are corrupt like the rest of us, yet you believe God allows you to tell us what to do!  And poodles are so awful just because some Westerners own them?  Get outta here!

Thoughts on the veil -- "It was the symbol of how everything had gone horribly wrong. How in the early days of the revolution, secular women wore the veil as a protest symbol against the West and its client state policies, and then had it imposed on them by the fundamentalist mullahs who hijacked the revolution and instituted religious law. My generation, Iranians who learned about 1979 at kitchen tables in the United States, absorbed this version of history as truth.  Though most women in modern-day Iran might not consider the veil their highest grievance, they knew it symbolized the system's disregard for women's legal status in general. Mandatory veiling crushed women's ability to express themselves, therefore denying them a basic human right."  (pg. 170)

Nanny governments and mandatory veiling stinks! What happened to it being between a woman and God?

On how some women from conservative families were more free after the Shah's removal from power -- "Under the Shah's regime, traditional parents like hers would never have let their daughters stray out into society. They preferred to keep them uneducated and housebound rather than exposing them to corrupt, Westernized Iranians who drank, smoke, wore miniskirts, and slept around. The revolution erased all those sins from the surface of society (tucking them under wraps, along with women).  In the process, it made possible for young women like Fatimeh to venture out of the home sphere. They were given the opportunity to do something with their lives besides washing dishes and birthing."  (pg. 181)

This reminded me of the arguments of those who oppose the burqa bans in some European countries. They claim women will just have to stay home since they won't be allowed to go out in public with their faces showing.  In that sense France, in their opinions, actually oppressed Muslim women (more).

I really enjoyed this book because I was able to learn some about the Iranian revolution and life in Tehran from an Iranian woman.  I do realize she is a secular Muslim* woman who grew up in California and that colors her views of some things in Iran that others may have no problem with.

*Some would probably not even consider her Muslim, but I believe she culturally considers herself this way.


Wafa said...

If she considered herself to be a Muslims, then she is in my book.Done.

When I was reading about the part of smiling in public, I thought that this is the same in here and hearing a group of women laughing or speaking loudly is considered not polite and disgrace, despite the funny fact that we "Middle Eastern" are born with loud voices!!

The most disturbing notion among those who like to impose Islam on everyone and those who wants to get rid the whole world from is "hijab". people would die for that and would kill for that and be the worst because of that. It's just a piece of cloth that woman like to cover themselves with or not according to their belief of Islam.
It's so stupid that when France and some more countries wants to free women,it takes the hijab away and when Iran and Saudi Arabia want to prison woman they force it into it !!.
Women are probably considered a huge obstacle in this world and so let's free her or imprison her from /with hijab. no one cares about the rights of woman or how to empower her at all anymore.

Seems like a good book. Waiting for the next post and thanks for sharing :)

observant observer said...

I always get amazed when it comes to veil. In Indonesia it becomes a trend, imposed on women by some of the islamic society because it seems that the orthodox Islamic becoming more of the growing movement...leaving behind all the beauty of the indigenous traditional fashion which was very beautiul, which had prevously proven not a distraction at all for indonesian men before this movement that they would keep thinking about women's body!!

And now, muslim women students wearing very unattractive veil (they were really good in wrapping themselves in worn out cloth, putting cloth in so many unshaped layers...!!) screamed out loud that they want women to stop wearing mini skirts or pants to avoid rape, whislt they didn't understand that rapes actually happens mostly not among strangers but among the close knitted environment behind closed door. They didn't even acknowledge that many repots of domestic workers abuse come from the coutries that impose shariah law. I really worry that religion do really makes people become so mentally blocked, not capable of thinking for themselves but for the sake of something else that they hold as the truth without testing it.

I also know the fact that since you cannot judge the motive behind the actions of some Muslims of wearing veil, you wonder how easy veils become such an alibi to escape from people's judgement or the other way around. One of my girl friends (I would rather say a girl I knew instead of friend) made an affair with a married man who favor women wearing veils, she even managed to break his family. The moment she got the attention of the men, she decided to wear veil (forget all the blame on her ).... One other friends had already worn veil, but when she decided to stop wearing it since whe was thinking that it was a waste of her beautiful young life, she was accused or rumored by her men friends behind her back of having had affairs with men, while there's no proof at all.

Public figures also find veils as a very easy way to escape from public critics to gain symphaty. Once you were having troubled with the society, it's easy to just put on a veil and put a face of sorry, then all the society becomes rather doubtful about their guilt.

Veils are actually problematic as well in tropical climate, you gain humids in your head, my friends almost loose half of her hair. And who said that veils are way of putting humility? I see so many efforts done by Muslim women on how to wear attractive veils, collecting as many veils with so many styles. They become obsessed with it, and forgetting that natural hair was the most beatiful crown ever given to women instead of cloths , and hair deserves that care and obsession instead of cloth, I suppose.

These are just examples of how hyprocritical Islamic society can be. I really think that it's beyond the women's choice. It's a tool to say something, mostly to segregate people to different group, the fearful and the free minds. And it's really a trap thinking that being fearful of something means that one is morally better. I wonder if its a choice, can a muslim women put a veil one day as an accesories, and tomorrow comes out with her natural hair exposed to the sun? NO is it?

Unknown said...

Do you know what "secular Muslim" means in this case? Like, does she believe and follow the religion but as sort of a more minor part of her life, or not follow it at all but was raised in it, or what? Just curious.

Very interesting post. Honestly, I don't know very much about other parts of the world, I like hearing from people who do. Things like this I think help me understand better than if I were to just read up on it via news articles or wikipedia or something (though those help too). Thanks for sharing them!

Susanne said...

Wafa', I always love your feedback! Reading what you said about hijab and outside forces either making women take it off or put it on, made me think we are little toy dolls with someone else dressing us. I enjoyed what you said.

Funny about the smiling/laughing bit in your culture. Oh, I know what I want you to write about. I just saw your post about that on your blog. It would be wonderful to read about cultural stuff like that. I enjoy it so much! Like maybe how should one conduct herself in public in KSA (things you must do, things you must not do, how you react/respond/interact with others properly) and maybe how you can tell who is Saudi and who is an expat. I find the way people are known as "foreign" so fascinating! :) I'll have to add this to your blog post in case you don't read it here. Hehehe....thanks for the idea!

OO, wow, lots of interesting thoughts there. I remember one friend told me that the veil was a status symbol many years ago. Only free women could wear them and slaves were forbidden to wear them. Based just on what you shared, it seems the veil means many things to many people. I'm sure lots of women believe it to be something they do for God, whereas others just do it out of cultural habit or to hide or make a statement. I'm sure someone could write a book on what the veil says and they will get a variety of answers. Thanks for what you shared!

Sanil, she never says "I am a Muslim" and often stresses the secular aspects of her family yet she mentions her grandmother teaching her the Fatiha as a child, their presence in the US shouting "Muslim!" and fasting all of two days of Ramadan (which was more than many people she encountered her first months in Iran) so I assumed she considered herself at least culturally Muslim. But she doesn't try to make herself seem religious with her talking of drinking with friends, eating pork in New York, dating and so forth. So I might have jumped the gun claiming this for her! It was more my impression, I guess.

Yes, I love learning about the world this way and on blogs. It's so much more interesting than reading a Wikpedia page! :)

Thank you all for your feedback!

Metis said...

Very interesting post and there is so much I didn't know actually about Iranians.I enjoyed her thoughts on Mutah marriage. I

luckmey said...

Thank you for sharing superb informations. Your site is very cool. I'm impressed by the details that you’ve on this website. It reveals how nicely you understand this subject.panerai replica watches