Sexual Politics in Modern Iran is an important resource for those who want to understand shifting gender roles in Iran. The book meticulously explores the relationship among power, gender and patriarchy and explains how the Iranian political and sexual context has been shaped in the past century.
Janet Afary reveals that the women's movement, a response to the Iranian system of patriarchy, is not a Sexual politics in modern iran phenomenon. She sheds light on the evolution of sexuality in Iranian society in the past century and women's struggle for equal rights under the law.
The book draws on historical documents, literature, poetry, letters and oral testimony that are enriched by photographs, paintings, posters, newspaper cartoons and family portraits.
She applies a broader theoretical framework on relevant passages from contemporary women's magazines, historical documents, literature, letters and oral testimony to a wide range of texts such as pre-modern Persian poetry, memoirs, testimonies from her own family members and texts by female activists. The book is organized into three sections. The first part covers late Qajar history and "pre-modern practices" until the end of the constitutional period.
The second emphasizes Westernized modernity and the history of women under the Pahlavi dynasty. The third covers the history of women from the Islamic Revolution to Islamist modernity. Afary argues that the construction of modern sexuality was a historical process as confusing in Iran as it was in the West. The first part of the book can be perceived as orientalist. It includes chapters on "formal marriage," "slave concubinage," temporary marriage, harem wives, class, Sexual politics in modern iran homosexuality" and "rituals of courtship.
In the late nineteenth century, romantic and sexual attachments between adolescent boys and men, and sometimes between adult males, appear to have been the norm.
The second part focuses on imperialist politics and state interventions in redefining normative sexuality, purity, unveiling of bodies, romantic love, suffrage, marriage reform and the threat of female sexuality.
The Pahlavi political and military dynasty sought to "modernize" gender norms. They did this by initiating the "Women's Awakening Project," which included implementing policies such as the criminalization of the veil in During this period, some important reforms were achieved, including giving women autonomy over marriage choices and raising the legal minimum age of marriage.
The poetry of Forough Farokhzad and Sadeq Hedayat provided some examples of the shifting conceptualization of homosexuality, heterosexuality and gender roles. The final part of Afary's analysis contextualizes why the political left, as well as "Sexual politics in modern iran" women's movements, allied with hard-line clerics, a move considered regressive in the West. It emphasizes that Islamist women's movements were shaped as a response to shifting gender roles and the gradual emergence of the sexual, social and Sexual politics in modern iran empowerment of Iranian women.
By unraveling hundreds of years of sexual history, Afary deconstructs stereotypes such as the passive, veiled Muslim woman oppressed by a "backward" political and religious regime. The last part of the book details "the Islamic Revolution, its sexual economy, and the Left," the "emergence of Islamic feminism," and "birth control, female sexual awakening, and the gay lifestyle.
The interactions, contradictions and excesses between state policies to control the female body and leftist or Islamic women's movements to dismantle Iran's patriarchal societal framework, have led to shifts in gender roles. The Islamist state maintained some of the modernization programs that were implemented under the Pahlavi regime, such as birth control and health-care services to limit fertility.
Although this is also an example of the state's control over the female body, hundreds of thousands of women used these opportunities to enhance their lives, particularly in villages. Janet Afary's example of Marziyeh Dabbagh provides a particularly fascinating picture of these interactions and contradictions.
Dabbagh was Khomeini's bodyguard and a top military commander. As Afary states, even as Khomeini was denouncing the ability of women to function in public, "She wore modest modern clothes, drove a car, traveled, socialized, and spent much time away from her family, all without feeling guilty, since Khomeini himself had sanctioned Sexual politics in modern iran activities" p.