Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


Iran – ripe for a sexual revolution?

Janet Afary

Sexual Politics in Modern IranSexual Politics in Modern Iran author Janet Afary wrote an op-ed piece for yesterday’s Guardian full of fascinating insights into women’s place in modern Iran.

Iranian policies over the past couple decades forwarded the position of women in unexpected ways.

“the Islamic republic encouraged rural and urban women from more religious sectors to join Islamist organisations and many did so. By taking jobs in the revolutionary institutions (the Revolutionary Guard, the auxiliary Basij, or the morality police) women from highly religious families gained financial and personal autonomy. Instead of marrying in their early teens to a man selected by their father, many married in their late teens or twenties to men they had selected in these Islamist institutions.”

By the 90s, according to Afary, women had higher literacy rates, a drop in fertility rates (eventually down to 2.0!), and the government

“reinstituted the family planning programme of the shah’s time. This programme was more successful since the newly-educated rural women embraced it, especially when family planning and sex education were packaged with Islamic blessings.”

The result? Marriages that emphasize respect, intimacy, and companionship, not simply child-bearing. Though looked down upon by the morality police, Valentine’s Day proved quite popular this year.

Meanwhile, Gay City News focused on another aspect of Afary’s study. Contrary to recent, er, declarations that Iran just doesn’t have any homosexuals, homosexuality flourished for hundreds of years, until as recently as the early 20th century. Marx, as you’ll discover, is to blame.

“Afary demonstrates how, in this period, “male homoerotic relations in Iran were bound by rules of courtship such as the bestowal of presents, the teaching of literary texts, bodybuilding and military training, mentorship, and the development of social contacts that would help the junior partner’s career. Sometimes men exchanged vows, known as brotherhood sigehs [a form of contractual temporary marriage, lasting from a few hours to 99 years, common among heterosexuals] with homosocial or homosexual overtones.

“These relationships were not only about sex, but also about cultivating affection between the partners, placing certain responsibilities on the man with regard to the future of the boy. Sisterhood sigehs involving lesbian practices were also common in Iran. A long courtship was important in these relations. The couple traded gifts, traveled together to shrines, and occasionally spent the night together. Sigeh sisters might exchange vows on the last few days of the year, a time when the world ‘turned upside down,’ and women were granted certain powers over men.”

Read Afary’s Op-Ed >>

Read the Gay City News article >>

About The Author

Janet Afary

Janet Afary is a professor of religious studies and feminist studies at UC Santa Barbara and author of Sexual Politics in Modern Iran (2009)....

View profile >

Latest Comments

Have your say!