A nuanced look at the role women have played in Iran in the 20th and 21st centuries.
In this debut nonfiction book, Ansary looks at the role of women in modern Iran from a sociopolitical perspective, pushing beyond stereotypes to assess the actual impacts of government policies, religious beliefs, and social norms on women’s lives. The book focuses on a key paradox of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. With the veil legalized and the coeducational classrooms of the previous era strictly segregated by sex, the clerics created an environment in which girls from traditional families could attend school without violating social norms, leading to an unintended increase in the education of women after the shah’s laws encouraging gender equity were repealed: “The fact is that the so-called Islamization of education has proven to be responsible for generating unprecedented educational gains for the vast majority of the female population.” Ansary also examines the roles of textbooks, which continue to depict women in professional roles, and women’s magazines, which have expressed and represented the views of women from across a spectrum of feminist beliefs. While she counters the stereotype of the veiled woman kept entirely under male control, Ansary does acknowledge that women’s rights have been curtailed under religious law; even reformist politicians are limited by the ayatollahs’ strictures. But Ansary is able to connect the restrictions on women’s freedom to the broader context of domestic politics in Iran, particularly the 2009 anti-government demonstrations. She notes, “Perhaps the government’s failed ideology has been most obvious to a defiant female population that continues to boldly protest their enforced status of inferiority.” The book, which is thoroughly footnoted, concludes with a series of captioned pictures of notable Iranian women. Although the book’s approach is often academic, with references to theories of child development and political structure, it maintains an engaging tone that makes it easy for casual readers to follow the arguments.
A well-documented and persuasively written examination of the change in Iranian women’s status under the country’s secular and religious governments.