GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

Family Name:
First Name:
Title of Paper:
Conflictual Identities: The Masculinist State and the Feminist Women in Iran
Paper Proposal Text :
Conflictual Identities:
The Maculinist State and
The Feminist Women in Iran


Columbia University
New York, NY

Workshop 9

A proposal for the \"Gender and Identity in the Gulf: Cultural Constructions and Representations\" workshop 9 for the Gulf Research Meeting, University of Cambridge, UK, August 1-4, 2017.

Conflictual Identities:
The Maculinist State and
The Feminist Women in Iran

The existing literature on culture, identity and politics in Middle Eastern and North African countries has provided important work on the culture and institutions of patriarchy, studying their powerful impact on gender construction and representation. Significant studies have also interrogated women’s activism and movements aiming at de-constructing the status quo and/or re-constructing an alternative cultural, social and political identity. More specifically, documenting contentions between the unique role of the masculinist state and the corresponding feminist protests and political proclivities, Iranian scholars have offered important insights on the production of gender and women’s identity. Yet despite their theoretical contributions, a comprehensive study of conflictual identities between the One Million Signatures Campaign (the Campaign), a feminist women’s organization and the hegemonic state of the Islamic Republic of Iran remains to be accomplished.

This project explores the tensions and conflicts between the Iranian state’s cultural production of masculinity and the Campaign’s efforts to reconstruct an alternative vision of gender and women’s identity. It asks: how does the state constructs its hegemonic cultural production of gender identity and why does it promote masculinization as a personal, political and international norm? Conversely, how do women and feminists address and engage the masculinist state and how do they reconstruct their own feminist perspectives and identity? Significantly, how do the Iranian Campaigners sustain their activities (and to what extend), in view of the limits that the state impose upon them? Finally, how and to what extend can these conflictual identities between the state and gender be reconciled, and if not, what might be at stake for both the masculinist state and the feminist women in the construction of cultural production and gender identity?

Highlighting conflictual identities, this study aims to explore the distinct strategies of cultural production and representation that began with the formation of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Consolidating its political power after the 1979 revolution, the new state ventured to revere veiled women as revolutionary proponents while devaluating secular women as Westernized, monarchical and indecent. The symbolic meaning of reveiling became almost as potent as the loud voices of male revolutionaries who would chant the slogan that “women represent the chastity of the society”. The return of this old Iranian cliché to the foreground was reinforced by wall graffiti, leaflets, the word of mouth, the media, and the words of the new officials. The message was soon turned into reality when secular family laws were revoked, public spaces were segregated and all women had to wear the compulsory hejab to conceal and cover their bodies and gender identity. Thus, concealing women’s bodies, gender segregation in public spaces and education, and gender inequality in law became the new norm for the formation of the new hegemonic culture and the new gender identity in Iran.

In attempting to unpack the intersection of gender identity with the study of political power and state actions, it is the intention of this study to explore the clash of identities between the state and the Campaign in Iran. Since its inception in 2006 as a consciousness-raising and feminist organization, the Campaign has been attempting to collect one million signatures in support of gender justice in law, education and politics and equality between women and men in the workforce and institutional structures. Theoretically, it aimed at inspiring women to move from the periphery to the center by building “democracy from below” and forming new linkages among various classes and groups in civil society. Seeing themselves as bearer of the new feminist culture and agents of political change, Campaigners began to shift the new paradigm and utilized multiple strategies to register discontent, raise gender awareness and lobby for legal reform. In so doing, they aimed at deconstructing the old gender identity and reconstructing a new culture of gender resistance. Such a phenomenon, however, instigated conflictual relations between the masculinist state and the feminist women as many of the Campaigners were charged with spreading “propaganda” against the state and “threatening” its national security.

This paper will thus attempt to bridge the gap in studies of gender and identity in the Middle East by exploring the conflicts and tensions between the feminist Campaign and the masculinist state in Iran. It will utilize primary materials gathered from field research, oral history collections, weblogs, email messages from the Campaigners and interviews with members, as well as relying on secondary sources in Persian and English.