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The silver lining
Paradox: Women after the revolution

By Farzaneh Fouladi
February 12, 2003
The Iranian

As the plane almost reached our destination, I remember that the lady who sat next to my mother began to rotate the lipstick on her lips. Her lips began to look inflamed with the pint of facial paint she smeared on herself. She was around my mother's age and looked very posh as if she had spent thousands of dollars traveling to Europe and the Americas.

The plane began to slow down and approach the runway. The lady ever-so-lightly placed her scarf over her head and made sure her bangs were showing. She double-checked to see if all of her jewelry on her fingers and neck were in place. On the other side, my mother used SeaBreeze to wipe whatever foundation she had on her face and tucked her short hair under her scarf.

As the plane landed, everyone stood up and clapped while my mother and I prayed no one would catch our music tapes, Cosmopolitan magazines, or playing cards hidden in our luggage for my cousins.

The lady who sat by us, gracefully glided out of the plane. She whisked herself towards customs, while my mother and I looked as if we had never seen this part of the world. The hot and dry weather mixed with the sense of anticipation, had made my mother and I very tired, especially after a five-hour flight from Germany. We followed the band of people who ran towards transit buses. It felt as if we were in a game show where each opening had its own surprise.

When we entered the customs area, there were two lights. The red light was for people who had brought appliances from different countries. The green light was for visitors and other travelers who had no appliances or other products to claim. It took us close to ten minutes to figure it out. In the meantime my little brother, who was only eight, fell asleep in my mother's arms, and so it was my job to hold on tight to our carryon.

It was the first time we had been in Iran in over twelve years. We reached Iran in the summer of 1997, when I turned fourteen. My father couldn't accompany us for financial reasons but for my brother and I it was the first year we were traveling to a country with a mixture of fear and joy.

When we approached the custom officer, my mother forbid us to open our mouths. She took out our passports as well as the permission slip my father had to sign to allow her to travel. Then we were lead to a booth where a woman wore thick black gloves with a black scarf tightly wrapped around her face. She wore a long,big overcoat under her chador (a garb Muslim women use to cover their body).

I stared at the officer as she vigorously typed our documentation. She barely said a word but I remember her big, beautiful, round green eyes. It was a shame that she covered the rest of her beauty, but in a way her eyes told the story. A story of struggle, pain, and hardship, and also a story of happiness, luck, and prosperity. The images of her eyes are still with me today. She permitted us to leave the booth. We went towards baggage claim and my journey in Iran finally began. A journey into the world of Iranian women.

Iran is a very magical place where rocky mountains chain the city of Tehran with its refinement and charm. It is as dry as the desert and evergreen like the forest. However the women are also the beauty that keeps Iran alive.

Iranian women's beauty is a paradox compared to their opportunities. My family reminisce the days when they where allowed to wear miniskirts and show off their new hair styles on the streets. Now they weren't allowed in sports arenas. On the other hand, a generation ago, women were exploited in movies, magazines, and TV shows.

Looking back at movies made before 1978, they basically generalized a man whose name was usually Kazem. He always wore a black suit with a half-unbuttoned white shirt, black hat and thick mustache. He drank vodka and ate chelo kabob almost every night in a cabaret where a chubby but cute lady sang and danced -- basically in a mircodress.

Kazem would fall in love with the lady, who was supposed to be some sort of bad girl, owned by a pimp. And Kazem would eventually rescue her from her hellhole. Doesn't sound too liberating. However, back then a woman had a choice between wearing the scarf or nothing.

Movies are now geared towards family, love, and issues facing Iranians today. More and more films are being awarded for storytelling, cinematography and acting quality. Women are not allowed to show off their hair; they wear hats instead of scarves and long shirts and skirts instead of overcoats.

Leading women in the movies are no longer cabaret singers but lawyers, doctors, teachers, and wives with healthy families. In a sense, women have found their new freedom under the shadow of a veil. They even go as far as portraying the life of a divorcee who takes care of her children and herself. She is no longer seen as a sex object.

For a long time a woman's importance depended on how she dressed, who she married, and how she cooked, rather than her intelligence, skills and talent. Then when the revolution hit, her personal freedoms were restricted as though she had been ball and chained. However, at the same time, women attended universities as a way to emancipate themselves. I feel like time had a lot to do with it, but it was a mixture of a woman's restricted freedom.

When I went to Iran, for the first time I became the target of ugly (and some reasonably cute) grown-up men who whistled and yelled perverted phrases. They made me feel really insecure for just walking on the street. The scarf became a woman's shield and thus gave her the power to lash out at those ugly men with their ugly words.

My mom told me that before the revolution, if a man harassed a women, she would put her head down and run. But in 1997, my cousins stood and fought with those men. Some even went beyond and slapped the men right in the face.

Although I do not support the restrictions on women's personal freedoms, I am looking at the silver lining of a black cloud that hovers over these women. The education, knowledge, and respect they carry and enjoy is immense. We still have to address the fact that women are not allowed to become judges, date freely, or dress as they please. Still, there will be women like the lady who sat next to us, who will find ways to take revenge against the status quo.

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