Most Iranians are often horrified to hear that I am not a big fan of the Iranian Diva and do not think highly of her. Their jaws drop open in disbelief when I say she was and is a bad role model for Iranian females.
Personally, I am baffled at how she has been elevated to a God-like figure by so many, including my own teen-age son. How could people not recognize the negative role she played in keeping Iranian women “victims”?
Growing up in Iran I always looked for female role models to inspire me to achieve goals and make a difference. My father was my biggest influence because he often praised women who had dared to be different, and whom society viewed as “rebels.” My father thought Googoosh was a singer with a beautiful voice that let men run her life and did not do much to empower herself or the women's movement.
I agreed with my dad and hated Googoosh's father for using her and then hated her husband Mahmoud Ghorbnani even more becase he made her sing at the clubs and stay up late. In 1977 as I walked out of Miami Cabaret, his smile turned to horror when I spat on the ground and said, “Here is a man that gets his ego boosted by using girls, how disgusting!”
I often saw sadness and deep sorrow in the singer's eyes. I also thought the pretty smile and dancing was just a facade. I liked some of her songs but did not feel sorry for her because I had no respect for her. To me she liked being a victim, although her fame and fortune put her in a position to stop the abuse and release herself from the unhappy marriage. I also thought if she did leave her husband many women would find the courage to leave abusive spouses.
My heroes were like the historical figure “Torkan Khatoon”, the woman who had caused so much havoc in the Saljoogh court by manipulating the court to make sure her son would be the next king and not the crown prince. Her magnificent attempts at outsmarting Hasan Saba are great materials for espionage movies. My other heroes were Ghamarolmolook Vaziri, the singer who had dared to sing without a veil among men; Delkash, for coming from a village and daring to dream big and become a legendary singer and even an actress; and, of course, my grandmother, who defied my grandfather's orders and went to work as a midwife outside the area where she lived and who hid all her earnings!
What prompted me to bring the Diva up?
My son's fascination with her, which makes me wonder why it is that everyone else cannot see the damage she is causing to the image of Iranian women.
I never listened to Googoosh when he was growing up. He knew most Iranian singers by name and could sing their songs, but the Diva was not one of them. Then, in 1993, he saw one of her videos while watching TV in San Francisco. He loved her and insisted that I buy some of her CDs. He listened for a while and then forgot about her, of which I was glad. Then he heard Googoosh is coming to America and he called her the Iranian Icon!
That was not the end of it. He began going online to watch her videos and told all his American friends to listen to her and would put the phone next to the speakers so people on the other end could hear her sing.
Then he began calling her “that is my girl” which he got slapped on the head from me, saying “That is a sexist remark.”
I was okay with all this fascination as long as it was in his room and his PC. I can even cope with him whistling “gole beegoldoon” and playing the CD in the living room while I am trying to practice my Santour. He wants me to dance “kee meedone” and he shouts to be heard from the loud music “Mommy, where is your Iranian pride? Aren't you proud of her?” I want so badly to say, hell no. There is nothing about her to make me proud but I bite my tongue and say, “I am just tired.”
But now that he is a full-fledged driver and borrows my car to go play pool with the boys, he has taken all his Googoosh CDs and placed them in my car. When I turn the key to start the engine her voice comes on. Annoyed, I remove the CD.
Well, that is not the worst part. It has become really annoying these days because he stays up late to watch the basketball games and as a result he is too tired to get up and go to school by bus. So he comes in my room with a sad face and says “Mommy, meeshe lotfan shoma mano bebareed school emrooz?”
Well, I do not mind, considering he is a senior and will leave me next year to go to college and I will be alone after 18 years. What annoys the hell out of me is that as soon as he gets in the car he blasts Goosgoosh and I have to listen to some songs that bring back memories I wish to forget. Never mind that he corrects my translations if he asks me about one of the words. For example when I translated “golkhooneh” as greenhouse, he corrected me and said the exact translation in Farsi means flower house!
My luck, the very next song “domahi”, or two fish, is one of the ones that causes me so much pain yet my kid loves it and I do not want to tell him the reason for my distress which goes back to my high school days in Iran.
This song takes me back to when I was fourteen years old. At that time I had pretty much determined that except for one person the majority of my friends who had money were either total idiots or total bores because they had no ambition in life and everything was about material things. But I loved my dad so much that I would settle for occasional get- together with their families and my dad would make sure the visits were short so I would not get “antsy” and lose my composure.
I was always looking to cultivate the friendship of smart boys and girls. By my definition smart did not mean necessarily being a good student. It meant the person had a spirit that wanted to soar. He or she opposed the crown cannibal and his family, yet was hopeful and believed that Iran would be rid of them someday. They were also into reading books, especially the ones banned by his “royal majesty's” Savak.
In my eyes I was the coolest because I owned original copies of Basharafha or Graceful, a book about the Shah's brother and his atrocities against women, Chesmhayash by Bozorge Aklavi, and of course a book by Mohamad Massoud, who had mysteriously died. I looked for friends who had read some of these books and with whom I could discuss the content.
In this school year, I had become close friends with Nazi. She was from a moderate-income family. Her dad was a truck driver, mostly on the road. They lived in Shah Abad! Literally it means a place worthy of kings because it is abundant and developed. Like everything hypocritical about my culture, this place had dirt streets and when it rained the street would become muddy and miserable.
She was bright, loved to be my accomplice in pulling pranks, and stood by me when I placed gum on my teacher's chair and he was furious (even if I was not the culprit, people always assumed it was me who did it and that has not changed to this day). She denied having seen me do it!
Nazi was also great in math and loved architecture and often said she was going to become an architect someday. I encouraged her and in one of my monthly trips to the bookstore with my dad I bought her a book and my dad was pleased at my gesture.
In return, she gave me a beautiful deer figurine because she knew the deer is my favorite animal.
A few times when we had no school I went to her house and we looked at her drawings of buildings and landscapes. We talked about her becoming an architect, and how that would help other girls in her neighborhood. She would follow her heart and marry Reza, who was in the last year of high school and her neighbor. They loved each other and he wanted to go to college and when she finished high school, he would marry her and let her finish college because he believed in her intelligence and wanted her to recognize her dream. I liked Reza and was secretly proud of him for believing in women's abilities.
Their relationship was sweet and simple, not even a touch, but smiles and the exchange of beautiful words.
Then one day she came to school and her eyes looked lifeless as she tried to avoid my stare. At break she told me that a suitor had asked for her hand in marriage and her dad had agreed. I was mortified as I asked, “What about your school? What about Reza?”
Her eyes filled with tears. She said, “The man owns a few trucks and thinks I have enough education to be a good mother and a wife and won't need any more education.”
I swallowed my anger and said, “You are not going to fight back?” She said, “Azam jaan, what would that accomplish? My father, like all Iranian fathers, rules, and his words are God's word.” I swallowed my tears. It was a cool Thursday in winter and I vividly remember hearing “domahi” being played by Morteza, the very huge and fat candy vendor sitting in his little booth waiting for customers as I passed by.
My dad came home and he immediately knew I was sad so he said, “Beautiful lady, why don't we go to the bakery and have a chat and you can tell “baaba” what is bothering you.”
My sister Betty protested and said she wanted to go but my dad said, “I will bring some pastries for everyone.”
During the few minutes' ride he asked about school and once we got there he even went ahead and ordered for me, which caught my attention because I realized how observant he was despite having tremendous responsibilities, two households housing 11 kids.
He said to the waiter, “Cream puffs for her but please remove all the cream from the inside and just leave a very small amount because she likes the pastry itself with hint of cream.”
I told my dad about Nazi and her being forced to marry before her time. My dad listened intently and his answer made me nearly fall off my chair.
” Beautiful lady, one is only as hopeless as he or she wants to be. I realize this is Iran and so many unjust rules have been tolerated but one owes it to herself to at least try and fight back injustice.”
I was all ears as he continued.
” Look around you and in our own family. Your cousin Safi had a rough childhood growing up being skinny and with pock marks on her face in the shadow of her beautiful and graceful sister Mahroo (moon face). She wanted to go to school.
” Those days it was unheard of because girls did not go to school in the rural areas. She went on a hunger strike and of course offered the solution that two of the employed farmers should walk her to school all the way to the other village. She won her battle and completed the required six years of elementary school, which in her time was a major accomplishment. Then Sheikh Naser, whom you always make fun of because despite his wealth he is not very educated, asked for her hand in marriage. He wanted to have an educated wife and did not care about her looks.
” Again she fought back and refused the proposal and declared her love for a very quiet and, in a way, poor farmer.”
Then my dad smiled and said, “I have heard you, sweetheart, saying, ‘Uncle Hassan is so quiet I do not know how he has managed to have 10 kids!'” I chuckled at my dad's intuition to try and lighten up the situation.
” Look at your Auntie Ghamar, she was beautiful, funny and head strong and had many suitors but again she chose a very quiet illiterate poet and moved away to Isfahan.
” She made her husband apply for a permit to have a small brick factory. The mayor refused to sign the permit that Uncle Gholam, being sweet and peaceful, did not object.
” Do you know your aunt cornered the mayor and beat him up? The gendarmes did not know what to do because nobody had ever witnessed a woman beating a man in Isfahan of those days. Well, she got the permit and you see how well off she is and all her kids are smart and attending school.”
I liked Auntie Ghamar because I was always told that I was in many ways like her when she was young. She used to say whatever was on her mind and always got her way.
My dad sipped his tea and said, “Look at Auntie Sedigh. Everyone says with her big blue eyes and blonde hair she looks like a movie star. Her dad wanted her to marry a rich merchant. She ran away and hid in the house of a distant cousin for a month. She wanted to marry her current husband, a mere civil servant, and she got her way.”
He looked at me and said, “You see, my beautiful daughter, God has given you a brain and intelligence, but it takes courage to use it. Nazi did not even try and accepted her fate. That is the problem with many people.
” Most ladies let the men of the family make decisions for them and the ones in marriages in which the man has money give up their dignity to have the comforts.”
I looked at him and said, “Are you talking about cousin Aki?”
She was not our real cousin but her dad was my dad's best friend and her mother called my dad “my brother.” The family was very religious but kind and I liked Uncle Heidar because he was kind and always praised me for my accomplishments.
Aki was tall and loud but not very attractive and not a very good student either. She finished ninth grade and being tall and big she looked older. Many suitors who wanted to associate themselves with her family began to ask Uncle Heidar for her hand in marriage.
He had favored a young man who seemed very sweet and pro-women because my dad praised Asad as progressive-minded, one that could be a good match, but she chose the man who had several night clubs in Tehran despite the warning of the family that they came from two different backgrounds and she would have difficulty.
She married him and they had two kids. I had gone to their new house in Tehran with the exaggerated decor of expensive objects as well as waterfalls inside, which was quite annoying, eating lunch indoors with that huge thing trickling water.
As young as I was it was evident she was unhappy and a few times they snapped at each other but she took me to her bedroom to show me all her material possessions she had bought on her recent trips to Europe.
My dad said later that Aki did have a choice if she wanted to and would be welcomed back by her parents and taken care of, but she remained married and miserable because she did not want to be called divorced!
I honestly often marveled at how ahead of his time my father was because I never heard my friend's fathers talk like him and even several doctors educated in Europe had backward views when it came to their daughters, yet my dad always stood for women's rights. In my older years I would realize that I always compare men to my dad and find very few are so pro-women like him.
My dad paid the bill and we walked out. I felt better as I always did talking to my dad because he always had the best answers. I was not angry but disappointed at Nazi's lack of courage to fight back.
Throughout the years I looked for heroes and role models and actually found some , which included my friend Afsar, who was a beautiful only child with a lot of money but she married a poor classmate and moved into a two-room small house in the poor part of town. Her parents cried their eyes out to let them buy her at least a decent house and car to drive, and she adamantly refused to hurt her husband's pride as she said, “When my husband and I can afford it on our own we will buy a house.” She could have married anyone but she married for love and told society to screw it.
My friend Amireh comes from a very large, backward Arab tribe that owned a large fleet of ships. She spent summers in Europe and had her favorite “Mahi Sobour” a fish available in the south cooked and flown to Tehran when vacationing there. They had so many maids and servants nobody knew the exact number. She ended up marrying a cab driver that she loved. She was denounced and the family did not give her anything, hoping the spoiled girl would not be able to tolerate the “poor life” and would come back ashamed.
I cheered her as I had also arranged a few times for them to meet, pretending she was with me, although it was too risky but I did it for love. Years later I ran into her at the house of her illiterate and ugly cousin that had her clothes made in Paris at the Dior Couture, and the house was built by a famous architect and had a bar, disco, and a place for musicians to sit and play Iranian instruments.
Amireh had on very ordinary clothes and a little girl of two, and she smiled and said, “I love my life and my husband.” I winked and said, “Good for you!”
I told my son a few nights ago that Googoosh was a bad role model and being my kid he insisted that I elaborate, for which I simply answered, “She let men run her life and played along.”
“Mommy, she had no choice, she lived in Iran and men in Iran rule women so she did not have much choice.”
I said, “Don't you ever say that women have no choice because of Iranian men! That is a poor excuse. She was famous and she could have left him and made her own decisions instead of playing the ‘happy lady'.”
I do not want to listen to Googoosh to be reminded of how many talented girls ended up just being a housekeeper because they did not have the courage to fight back. Perhaps I am worried that men like “victims” and weak women.
There are such a tremendous number of unhappy women who are stuck in marriages that make them miserable for being verbally abused and demeaned but they cannot get out because they have no options. My son argues that Iranian men are in charge and women have no choice. Of course I remind him that my dad is Iranian and at 78 years of age tells me “The hell with Iranians, they do not pay your bills, so live your life the way it makes you happy.”
I also agree with my dad that there is always an option if one values her self respect then would give up living in a nice gilded jail and get a job that could provide her with basic necessities. Then she can accomplish everything on her own and have everyone's respect; the most important thing in the world I cherish is peace of mind and self worth.