Iranian Onelers October 20, 2008Posted by Onely in Food for Thought, We like. . ..
Tags: choices, dominant culture, Iran, single women
I have a friend who is currently working on her Ph.D. in International Relations at Cambridge (in the UK). She has conducted extensive interviews over the last six months with Iranian women who were married during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88) and whose husbands were killed (they are called martyrs). She is one of only a few doing the kind of research that works to highlight individual voices, and my friend is most interested in highlighting the lived experiences of these women because scholarship tends to pretend they don’t exist (they focus on the martyrs instead) or merely glosses over these women and assumes that the way the Iranian government portrays/represents these women is accurate.
My friend, in other words, is interested in debunking stereotypes, and I am lucky because I get first look at her research and analysis. I do some editing for her on the side and am in the process of editing her dissertation chapters as she writes them. The last chapter I edited organized the women into several groups, one of which was comprised of women who chose to remain single after their husbands were killed. As an American, it’s difficult to imagine the social forces that work against this kind of a decision for Iranian women: Once married, women move into the homes of their extended families, and if their husbands die, women are traditionally expected to continue living with the husband’s extended family and raise their children under the guidance/control of the in-laws. One of the options that women have instead of remaining in the homes of near-strangers is to get married a second time; many choose this option because it’s simpler, both economically and culturally.
But some women choose instead to remain single, against cultural norms. One of the only reasons they have the power to remain single in spite of dominant forces is because they receive stipends from the government because their husbands were martyrs for the country. My friend has also interviewed young women who are daughters of these women and has noticed that their perception about “traditional” roles is changing as a result of women who choose to go resist dominant culture.
It’s interesting to read about this especially because it helps me appreciate the choices I am able to make and also to understand how slowly change happens. Although I would never assume that change such as this is always necessarily “desirable” (after all, I know nothing beyond what my friend has written about to help me understand the complexities of Iranian culture and society), I am grateful that American culture has changed enough in the past to enable me to make the choice to be single and happy.