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
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.