November 6, 2000
Biased social standards
I just read the short article titled "Curbing
men" by Fereydoun Hoveyda. From the content of the article, it
seems that Mr. Hoveyda was not raised in Iran. My experiences as an Iranian
male who grew up in a highly-religious city of Esfahan have been quite
I attended secular all-male public schools in Esfahan. I still recall
from my highschool days in early 70s when from 7th grade up to 11th grade,
we had to take a compulsory course in religion. Though we always had a
good number of Orthodox Christian as well as Jewish students in class,
the instructors who taught us religion and ethics (Akhlaagh va Din) in
those years, focused only on Islamic doctrines.
They often and regularly emphasized that Islam is a religion of restraint
and control over carnal desires for both men and women. They instructed
us that Moslem men are required to have full control over their body and
mind, that Islam requires both men and women to be chaste and modest, and
that both Moslem men and women are to avoid committing sins in their heart
and mind as well as body. We were taught that we should not look at women
with lust and even better not gaze so as to be polite and respectful.
When I first saw only the title of Mr. Hoveyda's article, I hoped that
he had written about another aspect of sexual morality in paternalistic
society, particularly in my homeland. In paternalistic societies men enjoy
sexual freedom far more than women. In Islam, pre-marital sex is forbidden
as is also in Judaism and Christianity based on their holy books.
In Iran, though, if a man has pre-marital sex and frequent at that or
with frequent partners, he is admired for his sexual prowess. Yet, in
Iran, if a woman were to do so, she would be condemned, abandoned and denied
by her own family and often even murdered. We regularly heard of such
news in the ancien regime as well as during the rule of the current one.
I came to US in late 70s to follow a course of higher education immediately
after highschool graduation. I recall from that period, when there were
more than 50,000 Iranian students attending US colleges here. As a student
activist opposed to the autocratic rule of the Shah, I spent a great amount
of my time visiting various US colleges and universities organizing Iranian
students. About 75% of Iranian students in US then were male.
And in meeting these students and getting to know them, what striked
me the most was that while many had non-Iranian girlfriends and practiced
pre-marital sex, they would criticize and even insultingly label those
single female compatriots of their own who would even dare to strike a
friendship with either an Iranian or non-Iranian male.
And these Iranian males were supposedly the most and best educated of
their gender and nationality. Still to this date, a simple visit to Los
Angeles and conversations with Iranian expatriates living there proves
this biased and myopic social standards of Iranians, even among those who
have lived in the West for the past 20 years and more.