September 25, 2006
I am a senior at Stanford University majoring in Human Biology. I wrote this paper for a directed reading I did with Professor Abbas Milani. I basically read Zan-e Ruz magazines pre and post revolution and examined women's body image over the course of these two periods. (The survey I did is also attached).
The Objectification of Iranian Women’s Bodies Incognito:
An Analysis of Women’s Body Image Pre and Post Revolution
With each historical event, society evolves with some continuity and some change. Camron Michael Amin has said, “Assessing the degrees of continuity and change in any given period is the essential burden of the historian” (Amin xi). The Iranian revolution of 1979, too, brought some change in the status of women, but the objectification of Iranian women’s bodies has maintained its legacy even past the revolution. When discussing Qassim Amin’s The Liberation of Women, Leila Ahmed says that his book is based on the thesis of “changing customs regarding women and changing their costume” (Ahmed 145). Although the Islamic revolution has made hijab compulsory in Iran since 1979, hijab still does not separate Iranian women from the West. Rather, hijab has been used incognito to embellish the status quo before the revolution and to continue to objectify the bodies of Iranian women. A closer look at the origins of this objectification in Islam and Iranian culture and the political motives behind these both before and after the revolution reveals that the objectification of Iranian women still continues today but under the guise of a different “costume.”
Islam as a Vehicle for Objectification
The objectification of women’s bodies is rooted in Islam as well as in the Iranian culture. Zoroastrianism heavily influenced Islam. When al-Abbas, the founder of the Abbasid dynasty, became caliph of the Islamic empire centered in Baghdad, one of his attendants name Khalid ibn Safwan was confused as to how al-Abbas could be satisfied with just one woman. “He was depriving himself of much pleasure in not sampling the varieties available in his empire, ‘the tall and slender, the soft and white, the experienced and delicate, the slim and dark, and the full-buttocked maid of Barbary’” (Ahmed 78). Therefore, Safwan “describes women as if they were objects to be sampled, like pieces of fruit in a bowl, and certainly not like persons who might stipulate terms and expect some degree of reciprocity in their marriage” (Ahmed 78). It becomes clear that even in ancient Islamic societies, women were seen only through their bodies and were thus viewed as objects created solely for the pleasure of men. “The marketing of people, and particularly women, as commodities and as objects for sexual use was an everyday reality in Abbasid society” (Ahmed 84). Furthermore, because everyone knew that women were bought and sold by men for sexual purposes, “one meaning of woman in a very concrete, practical sense was ‘slave, object purchasable for sexual use’” (Ahmed 85). For the common citizen and the elite man in particular, the terms woman, concubine, and woman for sexual use, all became synonymous. “The text that describes how a young man went out to buy ‘concubines and other objects’ confirms that the notions ‘woman’ and ‘object’ blurred into each other” (Ahmed 85). Hence, women meant nothing more than objects to be sexually exploited and then discarded by men.
The veiling of women also reflected their objectification symbolically. Veiling was used in Arabia to distinguish social classes, but was also used by the Greeks, Romans, Jews, and Assyrians even before that in order to denote social status (Ahmed 55). Scholars, however, are unclear, as to whether the veil is a mandate ordained by Allah. “It is nowhere explicitly prescribed in the Quran... verses dealing with women’s clothing... instruct women to guard their private parts and throw a scarf over their bosoms (Sura 24:31-32)” (Ahmed 55). Other scholars such as Fatima Mernissi, disagree and say that hijab as an institution is said to come from verse 53 of sura 33 (Mernissi 92). From hijab, comes the word mahjub, which means “veiled” in Arabic (Mernissi 95) and “modest” in Farsi. Hijab also has a three-dimensional concept, and thus to be veiled, is to become an object belying this conceptual meaning. Visually, the veil is meant to hide something from sight, as the root of the verb hajaba means to hide (Mernissi 93). In the spatial sphere, the veil is meant to separate, mark a border, and establish a threshold. “The hijab, according to the Koranic verse... ‘descended’ from Heaven to separate the space between two men,” since Prophet Muhammad is said to have drawn a veil between one of his guests and his wife to reveal that he would like to be alone with his wife (Mernissi 95). Furthermore, from the ethical aspect, the veil is used to designate that an object belongs to the realm of the forbidden. This realm includes the intangible world of ideas (Mernissi 95). Thus, the veil did not carry with it a favorable implication. “So it is strange indeed to observe the modern course of this concept [hijab], which from the beginning had such a strongly negative connotation in the Koran” as symbolic of the woman (Mernissi 97). In fact, the veil came to be “the very sign of the person who is damned, excluded from the privileges and spiritual grace to which the Muslim has access” (Mernissi 97). The veil can signify not only a separation between men and women but also between women and God, as “the veil that descended from Heaven was going to cover up women, separate them from men, from the Prophet, and so from God” (Mernissi 101). Furthermore, if the woman’s body is taken as representative of the community, “protecting women from change by veiling them and shutting them out of the world has echoes of closing the community to protect it from the West” (Mernissi 99). Thus, with the veil, women are transformed into an article for the purpose of estrangement.
The Meshing of Ideas by the Media
Aside from the contribution that Islam has made in objectifying women’s bodies, Iranian culture has not only perpetuated this phenomenon, but has also extended it further through its exacerbation of this objectification. An examination of Iranian culture through the media reveals that ideas related to women’s bodies -- namely, exercise, health, and beauty -- once separate and intact in themselves, were fused and thus distorted to become indistinct in the eyes of the Iranian public. This hazy blend of ideas then crystallized to transform the woman’s body into a discrete emblem open for societal and ultimately male dominance.
Exercise became grounded in Iranian culture with the educational policy of Reza Shah, who “stressed God and King, and never tired of extolling the virtues of civic obedience, discipline, and morality” (Matthee 134). These three elements were fundamentals in Reza Shah’s program that tried to solidify Iran through moral education and later led to the creation of a Department of Public Enlightenment in 1937 (Matthee 134). Boy-scouting was also introduced in Iran in 1925 with Reza Shah’s emphasis of these same three rudiments. “The incipient movement, founded in a country with no indigenous tradition of physical education, received a boost in 1928 to 1929, when Reza Shah called the activity ‘the best education for the happiness of the young generation’ ” (Matthee 134). Throughout the 1930s, physical education received increased government attention, so that “in 1933 a council of physical training was established in the Ministry of Education, which began to organize athletic events and nationwide annual championship games” (Matthee 134). A women’s physical education chapter was also established between 1935 and 1936. In addition to regular physical education in the form of calisthenics, Western sports were also integrated into the regular school curricula. “In 1934 to 1935 forty-seven athletic clubs were formed in the provinces, and the budget for physical education was increased from 10,000 to 25,000 tumans” (Matthee 134). As exercise gained increased government attention through Reza Shah and became a part of the national budget, the concept of exercise became one of the components of education and was thus associated with discipline and obedience. Therefore, the concepts of exercise and the discipline and obedience associated with it became more implanted in people’s minds.
Women’s athleticism was also a subject of eminence before the revolution, particularly during Reza Shah’s reign. Women’s athleticism became important in magazines after World War I (Amin 207) and media publications propagated images that said that women are supposed to be physically fit (Amin 208). However, during this period, and especially “since the days of Danesh, matters of health had been closely associated with matters of beauty” (Amin 208). Headlines in Danesh included such titles as, “Do you want to be beautiful and ravishing?” (Amin 208). Other magazines such as Mehregan, Iran-e Emruz, and Ettela’at brought about the permeation of Hollywood and European film industries into Iranian periodicals. Thus, the ideas of beauty and fitness became increasingly impressed into the minds of Iranians, and “the conflation of health and beauty underscored an ornamental function for women and colored their achievements with the vibrant hues of scandal and glamour” (Amin 211).
Women were taught that they were not supposed to be glamorous in order to please other women or themselves, “but were supposed to be attractive to men” (Amin 208). As a result, beauty became a pervasive ideal which all women were expected to attain. Magazines also popularized European beauty contests and Iranian women would fly there to participate (Amin 208). Consequently, the beauty of the Iranian woman was placed in competition with the beauty of the European or Western woman, who became the center of increased emulation during the Pahlavi dynasty. Out of the sixteen issues of Zan-e Ruz from August 22, 1970 through June 6, 1971, nine of these clearly pictured European or American women on the covers. The remaining seven of the sixteen covers from this period pictured Iranian women, all but one of which were pageant participants. Iran also began holding its own beauty pageants under the name of Dokhtar Shayeste. Shayeste, in Persian, however, means decent, competent, deserving, suitable, or worthy (FarsiDic). Therefore, with the proliferation of this and similar pageants through the media, Iranians were trained to believe that to be beautiful is to be worthy, making a woman’s physical appearance equivalent to her competence, suitability, and decency. A paradox, however, arises when one takes a look at photos from such pageants, which are printed in Zan-e Ruz and sees that the winners of these pageants, who are meant to be symbolic of decency, prance around on catwalks wearing extremely small miniskirts as male judges sit and smile from behind them (5 tir 1350). Interestingly, one of the prizes for girls of such pageants is a toy doll. It becomes apparent then that Iranian society of this time valued women most and perhaps even only for their physical beauty and neither their intellect nor personality.
A more in-depth analysis of Zan-e Ruz, one of the most popular women’s magazines, during the Pahlavi reign illustrates the extent of Iranian society’s obsession with women’s beauty. For instance, on the cover of issue number two hundred eighty-two from the thirty-first of mordad in 1970, is a Western woman in her early twenties, who has blonde hair and light eyes. She sits on a rock with her legs spread in front of a lake wearing a lacy white bodysuit with a low cut top. In this issue, which contains one hundred twelve pages, fifty-six pages contain pictures of women (not including the multitude of sketches or cartoons that also depict women) and seventeen pages contain pictures of men, almost all of which picture the man embracing and/or kissing the woman. Ninety percent of the photographs in this magazine are of women, but seventy-three percent of this proportion are not pictures of Iranian women. Rather, they are pictures containing Western women, as designated by their blonde hair, light eyes, the Western men who accompany them, or captions that print names such as “Sandy Shaw.” In addition, most of the images of women picture them with excessive bodily exposure, especially in cartoons. For example, in a cartoon titled “Darya Kenar,” a topless young woman is shown wearing only her bikini bottoms next to a sign that says that two-piece bathing suits are prohibited. In this same cartoon, a young, thin woman’s breasts are placed opposite that of an elderly, obese woman’s breasts to illustrate the beauty of one over the other. Thus, it becomes clear that even in magazines such as Zan-e Ruz, which are geared toward a female readership, women’s bodies are sexually exploited for not only the purpose of humor, but also to reject one body type over another and thus to persuade women to conform to one model of beauty deemed ideal, which follows that of Western women.
Aside from this objectification of women through physical imagery, almost every single article in this magazine is devoted to love, fitness, and beauty. Excluding the immense number of advertisements for beauty products, thirteen articles alone are dedicated only to beauty, diet, and exercise, while not a single article discusses spirituality, intelligence, or education. The only article which is even remotely related to these missing ideals, is one which explains the women’s liberation movement in the United States by saying that women in the United States are rejecting the notion of “kadbanoogari,” or beauty. Exercise and beauty are considered to be much more important objectives for women with articles on yoga that read, “... zibayiye andame shoma ra beeme meekonad,” (29 khordad 1350) or “dar tanasobe andam mojeze meekonad,” (12 tir 1350) alongside advertisements for lingerie under the brand name “Jolly Party” (31 mordad, 1349). Zan-e Ruz is also targeted toward teenage girls, as each issue contains a “Teen Section,” with similar articles on beauty and exercise, which are again, combined into a single idea. One such article gives hope to the “fat and chubby,” who can now “eat and still be thin” (12 tir 1350). The article lists food products that are supposed to be avoided, including bread, butter, cake, candy, ice cream, jelly, nuts, oil, biscuits, cookies, rice, creamy soups, and pasta. Instead, women are encouraged to eat only foods that are three hundred calories or less (12 tir 1350). Therefore, young women are taught that not only must they be thin in order to be beautiful, but that they must also lose the pounds that society has labeled extra through self deprivation. According to American research, encouraging women at such an impressionable age to diet in this fashion only sets them up for physical and mental harm in the future in the form of eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder (National Eating Disorders Association). Through such articles, it becomes evident that Iranian women of this time period were viewed as mere puppets whose beauty was meant to entertain and awe men.
The Politics of Objectification
The media’s meshing of ideas that give birth to the objectification of women’s bodies in Iranian society is rooted in the quest for political power. Although the form of garnish women are subjected to may vary before and after the revolution, their bodies are still manipulated by politicians for the purpose of social control.
Reza Pahlavi desired to institute obedience to the state and his emphasis on exercise and the ideals of beauty and health tied to it are highly indicative of his underlying motive to dominate Iranian women. The period from 1936 to 1941 is often referred to by scholars as the Women’s Awakening, which “was a state feminism project that offered new opportunities in employment and education for some Iranian women in exchange for the requirement that all Iranian women abandon their veils in public” (Amin 1). Although Reza Shah opened the doors for greater opportunity for women, he also shut out their independence by forcing them to unveil. His oppressive policies concerning women are apparent when one considers that “soldiers and policemen literally tore off the hijab of veiled women, making sure that every woman who appeared in public did enjoy her royally granted emancipation” (Shahidian225). By forcing women to unveil and abolishing their right to choose, Reza Shah denied women their independence. Thus, unveiling became “a measure to institutionalize the women’s rights movement and to bring it under the control of the state” (Shahidian 225). Women, then, became another one of Reza Shah’s pawns for state power.
Furthermore, by bringing women into greater contact with men whom were not their relatives in the world of work, he not only increased labor force participation to fuel advances toward modernity, but also made women the subjects of increasing male domination. His “chief innovation in the context of the Iranian culture was to use Iranian women (rather than images of foreign women) to express images of modernity, progress, and potential -- all without ceding women’s symbolic independence from male guardianship” (Amin 247). In addition, “male guardians were no longer simply the fathers, brothers, and husbands or other male relatives of a woman. They were also office mates, classmates, supervisors, teachers, and colleagues” (Amin 247). Thus, with Reza Shah’s policy of mandatory unveiling in 1936 came more social interaction between men and women in urban public and private spaces (Kolayi172). A woman was “not just a supportive companion to her husband, she was also to complement the modern Iranian man in the civic arena -- her unveiled entrance into society ‘chaperoned’ by her modern male guardian” (Amin 1). Thus, Reza Shah institutionalized the Iranian woman as an accessory for her male counterparts, and she became the symbol of nationalism and the influence of Western culture. “In the second half of the 1930s, numerous official gatherings required government employees to bring their wives unveiled (in European-style clothing)... This new attention to clothing and fashion was linked directly to nationalism” (Kolayi 172). As a result, “Western-style fashion and dress had become a national concern, elevated from its presumed status of the private sphere to the world of politics, industry, and national progress” (Kolayi173). Through such policies, Reza Shah implied, then, that women were supposed to be objectified by the state and ultimately the male population as a representation of Iran’s press forward toward modernity.
As discussed previously, magazines of the 1930s altered their content and display, but the conflation of ideas such as beauty, exercise, and health brought about by such publications were ultimately the products of the Pahlavi state. “Along with discussions on fashion and style, Alam-e Nesvan stressed the importance of personal hygiene and an attractive physical appearance in a series of articles entitled ‘A Well-liked Woman’ (Zan-e mahbub)” (Kolayi174). Women learned that to be modern meant to be “nice-looking, healthy, well-dressed, sociable, lively yet serious, and young in heart and mind. [The modern woman] bathed regularly and cleansed her face and hair, while keeping fit and exercising daily” (Kolayi174). The beauty products of the early twentieth century such as henna, kohl, and perfumes would no longer suffice; “now new cosmetics and adornment practices from Europe and the USA were introduced” (Kolayi174). “Every woman had the potential to be beautiful with a little help from cosmetics,” (Kolayi174) and the media stressed beauty so much that it became her national duty to do so. “Moreover, the use of powders, creams, and skin-care products was not seen as frivolous or immoral, for ‘women in the French and American revolutions wore cosmetics’” (Kolayi174). Therefore, in order to elevate themselves to the status of the modern Western woman and to ultimately help their country achieve the economic, cultural, and social progress of the West, Iranian women were expected to objectify themselves and to closely adhere to the stipulations posed by such publications.
In addition to the Pahlavi controlled press, fashion and beauty were clearly implemented as part of the government’s own agenda. “Government yearbooks from the late 1930s to 1941 began to display Western-style women’s fashions, following the trend started by Alam-e Nesvan” (Kolayi 174). In 1935, Reza Shah’s government posed publications that “also adopted the beauty and health advice format common in Alam-e Nesvan. In government yearbooks (salnameh), a section called ‘One Thousand Secrets of Beauty’ outline the new rules of modern hygiene, fashion, and style” (Kolayi 174). Such propaganda by the state “impressed upon readers that beauty could be acquired and should be maintained; it was not simply a matter of nature or birth” (Kolayi174). Thus, every woman became an object of the state under the guise of beauty and its seemingly related ideals of health and fitness. Furthermore, the more women became the consumers of such government sponsored publications and the products that they advertised, the more they fueled the national economy, as subjects such as fashion became increasingly connected to the Iranian financial market. “Drawing upon the dominant nationalist discourse of the period, government publications insisted that these examples of the ‘best and most beautiful women’s clothing’ were made in Iran at local factories and from ‘animal skins of the country’” (Kolayi174).
When publications intended toward a female readership no longer correlated with Reza Shah’s goals of modernization through the objectification of women, these magazines were taken over by Reza Shah’s totalitarian regime and were thrown into oblivion with all of the other suppressed literature and art of the time which could even remotely hinder Pahlavi “progress.” Alam-e Nesvan, for example, “was the only women’s journal for much of the Reza Shah period, and its discourse converged with that of the state and other prominent reformist periodicals of the time” (Kolayi 175). However, its relationship with the Pahlavi government was an ambivalent one, as it treaded the deep waters between a semi-official and independent status (Kolayi 175). It was heavily endorsed by the state when the magazine’s agenda corresponded with that of the state until “the journal began to argue that women’s further progress needed to be accomplished through their own efforts” (Kolayi175). Because Reza Shah felt that his domination over women could be threatened by such liberal ideas, Alam-e Nesvan was mysteriously shut down in 1934 (Kolayi 175). Thus, the journal whose name once meant “Women’s World” was abolished because it endangered Reza Shah’s world. As a result, the closure of this publication signaled that an “ ‘autonomous space’ of private initiative in yet another important area of social reform had been completely subsumed by the state” (Kolayi 175). Reza Shah then initiated the Ladies Center, which was backed by the state, as a substitution for the projects carried out by Alam-e Nesvan and other independent women’s organizations (Kolayi 175). Here, women were domesticated into proper wives and daughters who would be able to carry out the etiquette and demeanor declared appropriate by Reza Shah for newly unveiled and professional women. Taking over the agenda and activities that female reformers had been fighting for for decades became the quintessential element of Reza Shah’s policies regarding women. “As Reza Shah’s modern state became stronger, Iran’s independent women’s movement became weaker and was eventually eliminated by the very state that reformists, such as those in Alam-e Nesvan, had supported so enthusiastically” (Kolayi175). Therefore, in accordance with the rest of the brutal policies imposed by the Pahlavi regime, the movement for women’s authentic freedom was repressed and replaced only with those policies which transpired into Reza Shah’s ambition to restrain the Iranian public, using women as his instrument for this purpose.
Mohammad Reza Pahlavi only continued his father’s legacy which constrained and exploited Iranian women in the pursuit of political power. His passion, too, was to emulate the West, but unlike his father, he neglected essential facets of Persian culture. With his policies, the same elements of modern European and American culture, which were “once blamed for the corruption of Iranian girls... were simultaneously sold and condemned by the Pahlavi-controlled press” (Amin 210). The gharbzadeh woman emerged as a result of this corruption. “She was identified with a woman who wore ‘too much’ make-up, ‘too short’ a skirt, ‘too tight’ a pair of pants, ‘too low-cut’ a shirt, who was ‘too loose’ in her relations with men, who laughed ‘too loudly’, who smoked in public” (Najmabadi 65). Thus, when Iranians wanted to reject the Pahlavi state and the violence the Pahlavi dynasty used against its opposition, popular culture rejected the gharbzadeh woman. “The gharbzadeh woman came to embody at once all social ills: she was a super-consumer of imperialist/dependent-capitalist/foreign goods; she was a propagator of the corrupt culture of the West; she was undermining the moral fabric of society; she was a parasite, beyond any type of redemption” (Najmabadi 65). The female body, then, was crucified in an effort to absolve Iran of all of the difficulties faced by Iranians because of the Shah’s economic, social, and political policies. It is argued “that what appears as a critique of over-Westernization at its deepest level is simply social control applied against those who transgress the norms of the community” (Najmabadi 65). Thus, the woman’ body became the symbol for social control in a society whose people were lacking of such control over their own lives because of the Shah’s suffocating hold them. Yet, it is only after the wake of the revolution that “the dilemma faced by some women as one of individual choice versus social control” can even be discussed, for “in the 1960s and 1970s projection of any such discussion would have been seen as the apogee of gharbzadegi” (Najmabadi 66).
The Iranian revolution of 1979 did not really change the politics behind the objectification of women’s bodies. Only the players in the game for power have changed. The ulema, who are behind this game, use women’s bodies as a token to gain control over the Iranian public through their fundamentalist interpretation of Islam. In so doing, they have designated the female body as the insignia that is meant to separate Iran from the West in theory. “Hiding women from the Western gaze, and guarding women’s bodies and their minds from changes produced by foreign intervention, came to symbolize protection of Islamic identity, communal dignity and social continuity” (Moghissi35). Therefore, the Iranian woman’s body becomes a tool which the clergy can utilize to contrast Iran with the perceived corruption and the related social infections that became associated with the West during the Pahlavi era. “The Islamization of Iran since 1979 was grounded in the rejection and condemnation of unveiled women as European dolls (‘Arusak-i Farangi’)” (Tavakoli-Targhi 99). Thus, purifying the woman’s body became symbolic of removing the West’s tainting influence on Iran. For example, in an editorial from the April 7, 1984 issue of Zan-e Ruz, “the veil is described as the crucial shield without which the woman turns into the corrupt creature that opens the society at all levels to colonial domination.” (Najmabadi 69). In effect, the female body becomes the safeguard used by men to inhibit the effects of Western ideas and attitudes on Iranian society.
A survey of Zan-e Ruz after the revolution reveals a significant shift in the images of women’s bodies as projected by the media, which is in direct contrast to the previous analysis of Zan-e Ruz before the revolution. In issue number 1219 from the twentieth of khordad, 1368, the women’s journal was reduced to forty-eight pages, only twenty-five percent of which had pages containing pictures of women. Only about thirty percent of the total number of pictures in this women’s magazine actually included women, whereas nearly fifty-one percent of the total number of pictures are devoted to Khomeini. Only three photos in the entire magazine pictured women wearing hijab not in the form of a black chador. Furthermore, thirty-five percent of the photos that picture women in this so-called women’s magazine were placed underneath pictures of men, and seventy-one percent of the pictures containing women showed women whose faces were not visible, either because their hands or hijab were covering their faces, or their backs were turned to the camera. Thus, even in a magazine that is meant to be read by women, women’s faces, which are a vital component to identifying a body, are quite neglected, so that women are almost solely depicted as mere unspecified objects.
Instead, in this issue, women are shown mourning the death of “HazrateEmam” (5) Khomeini, an enormously powerful political entity in this period of Iran’s history. The cover, for instance, shows Khomeini enlarged in the center of a crowd of people, as he leaves the earth and ascends into the sky in three stages, so that his body becomes increasingly faint as he reaches the heavens. At the top of each page are the words “besme lahe rahmane rahim,” and nearly each page contains a tribute to Khomeini titled along the lines of, “ma ba rahe emam peyman basteiem,” (3) or “aftabe vojoode por barekate emam baraye hamishe az ayneye islam bar ghalbe tarikh khahad tabeed” (4). Women, on the other hand, are pictured beating themselves and wailing to display the extent to which “zanane mosalmane Iran dar motam az dast dadane rahbare khod, khoon goreestand” (6). The first instance in which a woman is the centerpiece of a picture, she is shown crying, while a large caption in bold print reads, “doshmanane ma fekr nakonand ke ma ba az dast dadane emameman na-omeed shodeem. Na, ma Khoda ra dareem. Bayad haman toor ke emame ma khaste, dar moghabele doshmanan be-eesteem” (10). Thus, it becomes clear that the enemy of the state after the revolution was not only the state’s role model and ally during the Pahlavi dynasty, but in both cases, women’s bodies are juxtaposed as symbolic of Iranians’ political sentiment at the time.
Though nowhere nearly as prevalent as during the Pahlavi era, body image was still an issue that gained attention in Zan-e Ruz. For example, in issue number 1220 from the twenty-seventh of khordad, 1368, a two-page article is dedicated to reducing body fat through diet and exercise (16-17). It includes a formula to calculate one’s desire body fat composition for men ages eighteen through twenty-six. However, although this article is printed in a women’s magazine, there is no such formula for women. The picture which accompanies this article sketches three people with varying body fat composition ranging from thin to obese, none of whose gender can be deciphered through the sketches. Therefore, it becomes apparent that even a magazine that is committed to women in name, does not pay as much attention to women’s health as it does to that of men. Since considerably more attention is devoted to images of women in worship of key political figures of the time, the underlying motive of using women’s bodies to serve the state’s aim of gaining political control is manifested.
Iranian women’s bodies continue to be the center of political debate today. Although hijab is used as an institution by the ulema to control women, a sharp contradiction occurs when the prescribed Islamic function of veiling is considered in relation to the practice of veiling in Iran today. The Iranian people seek modernity and the freedom that accompanies democracy, and women adorn themselves in such a manner so as to counteract the restraints set upon them by hijab. Iranian women, too, have discovered that their bodies have been objectified by the state, and especially young women’s reactions to the veil are a function of their disgust and intolerance of the current regime. Moreover, women themselves contribute to this objectification when they accept labels such as “khoshgelam,” often placed upon them by men who refer to a woman as “my pretty one,” (Peterson) or when women have plastic surgery in order to keep themselves from being subjected to ridicule because of their supposedly unattractive bodies. Thus, Iranian women become the victims and perpetrators of a culture which breeds girls as young as twelve years old who cry to their parents for cosmetic nose operations (Peterson). As Dr. Siavash Safavi, a leading plastic surgeon in Iran has said, "It's [beauty] a value in our culture. There is education and everything else, but beauty is right up there, in every class" (Peterson). In addition to the objectification of women through the stress placed on beauty, the mounting problem of prostitution in Iran, which is highly indicative of the poverty of the nation, only exacerbates the objectification of women’s bodies. Prostitution in Iran in 2002 was prevalent among girls of an average age of twenty, and the parliament has acknowledged it as a problem which affects six percent of the female population, as there are at least 1.7 million prostitutes in Iran by government estimates alone (Hughes). Thus, the veil has not protected Iranian women from the corruption once associated with the West. Rather, the government has placed a cover on women as a means of political and social control, behind which women must resort to such methods as prostitution in order to survive.
Early Persian travelers to Europe such as Mirza I’tisam al-Din, Mirza Abd al-Latif, Mirza Abu Talib, Mirza Abu al-Hasan Ilchi, and “Mirza Fattah, who traveled on a diplomatic mission in 1839, referred to European women using signifiers such as khushgil (beautiful), dilruba (heart-ravisher, and dahan mu’atar (perfumed-mouth)” (Tavakoli-Targhi 101). Throughout Iranian history from the nineteenth century, to the Pahlavi dynasty, and to the present, the bodies of Iranian women have been referred to with such adjectives and compared to or contrasted with that of European and American women. Behind the emulation of Western women before the revolution of 1979 and the rejection of Western women after the revolution lies the hidden political agenda of leaders such as Reza Shah, his son, Khomeini, and Iran’s current regime. Islamic-style male dominance has merely replaced Western-style male dominance (Ahmed 162). For Reza Shah, “the idea that improving the status of women entails abandoning native customs was the product of a particular historical moment and was constructed by an androcentric colonial establishment committed to male dominance in the service of particular political ends” (Ahmed 165). Thus, during the Pahlavi dynasty, the media was used as a method to objectify women, and after the revolution, Islam became a vehicle for the objectification of women’s bodies.
Though the face of the oppressor has changed with time, the ultimate aims of social and political control have not. And although “their prescriptions for women differed literally in the matter of garb,” (Ahmed 163) male dominance remains and the objectification of women’s bodies continues. In an address to women in Qom, Khomeini says, “The repressive regime of the Shah wanted to transform our warrior women into pleasure-seekers, but God determined otherwise. They wanted to treat women as a mere object, a possession” (Algar 264). Of course, he does not account for the fact that the transfer of power from the Shah to Khomeini and his descendant regime now allows women to become objects and possessions in the hands of the ulema. Rather, he says, “May God Almighty adorn all of you with dignity, health, happiness, and perfect faith and character” (Khomeini 264). His choice of the word “adorn” is a key element to comprehending the extent to which women’s bodies have and continue to be objectified in Iranian society. Thus, Iranian women are subjected to “a legacy... that has endured even past the Islamic Revolution of 1979” (Amin 211) -- a legacy which lives on incognito and continues to obstruct the freedom of Iranian women. Comment
WORKS CITED >>> Word doc.
SURVEY >>> Word doc.