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September 03, 2003

Dress codes for women
Ghazal Geshnizjani  [info|posts]

I have always been fascinated by the fact that how dress codes are such an important part of our life in Iran. We make so many different statements with them sometimes without even knowing it. We get arrested for them, get promoted because of them, get warnings, attract or repel people with them.

I remember back in high school when I had to write an essay for my Persian literature class on the subject of "shoes talk to us" and basically back then what I could come up with was, "well they can tell us certain psychological and social characteristics of the person who is wearing them, if the person is very rich or poor economically or if he or she prioritizes convenience or fashion and beauty. It can also say if s/he walks a lot ...", but at the same time I remember how even I was using dress codes as ways of measuring the ideological opinions.

In my experience, in Iranian society people get divided more or less according to their ideologies and although dress codes can still be representative of the social classes of people, this role has become secondary to their role as an ideological measure. The funny thing is that if you are wearing a sort of hijab that is not on either extreme sides, like a manteau* and maghnae people may make a lot of wrong assumptions about you.

I remember, for example, that the kind of Maghnaes that could cover the chin (and were used only by more religious people before that) became the number one in fashion rankings so if you were a very up-to-fashion girl, you would wear them while your hair was showing, but if you were more religious you would cover your forehead. That year they were so fashionable that I could not find any other type to buy. Despite that, in school, the principal started to give warnings to me that I either had to get rid of the chin cover or I had to cover my forehead as well! In fact, this was a regular and frustrating game they liked to play with me every year. They would find something wrong with my outfit from my shoes and socks to my manteau and maghnae and then would blame me and threaten me until I would find a way to change it. So, that year, I decided to put a headband underneath the top part of the Maghnae so that it would cover my forehead and would satisfy the principal. Then I realized some of the students had become suspicious and even afraid of me and later one of them asked me why all of a sudden I had become such an extremist?!

Another time, I woke up very late in the morning and ran to school, forgetting to change my pajama pants which I thought would not be important anyway, as my manteau was really long and my pants couldn't be easily seen . Then a friend noticed it while I was sitting in the classroom and told me: "Isn't it better to be a simple good girl and wear simple pants rather than caring so much about fashion and wearing such pants? What is it that you are trying to prove?"

I thought it was wise to be part of the quiet crowd who didn't play the game open-handed, those who didn't have to pay a higher price for being outsiders to either the people or the government. One of the irritating memories I have is the story of a friend whose parents were both killed during the hajj in 1987 when Saudi security forces killed about 400 Iranians during a rally because "it was illegal and they had chanted anti-American slogans", a secret (being a child of a martyr) that she actually tried to hide in the beginning but was revealed later by the school principal. As if this tragedy by itself was not enough to break a 10-year-old girl, she had to struggle for the next 7 years with many other social issues. Her older sister had to give up both medical school and getting married, in order to take care of her younger brothers and sisters, while our dear government and their representatives like our school authorities, instead of helping them with their problems and taking care of them, would push her to their own definition of a "child of a martyr" and also would violate other students' rights to do her a favor which would actually exclude her even more from most of the students, who with or without hijab were both scared of and mad at her. When we went to Tehran to university she left her Chador in Esfahan, I guess to bury all those memories, but unfortunately the curse wasn’t the Chador and it wasn’t over... .

Something that I noticed after moving from Esfahan to Tehran was that the dress classification was a more dominant feature of people’s life in Tehran and more effective in dividing people. I concluded that it is probably due to the fact that chador and in general hijab is still more of a tradition in Esfahan and also social bonds among people and traditional family structures in Esfahan are still stronger, while in Tehran hijab is more of a political statement and also that the social bonds between people are weaker. I also found out that as the city and its population had grown, each division had developed a lot of subgroups, which of course seemed like a natural phenomenon but for me it was really confusing as there wasn't any simple prescription to follow. For example there were girls who would wear a lot of makeup and their hair was done very well, sticking out of their scarves all the time and even had boyfriends but still actually believed in hijab and would wear a scarf in front of "stranger" men even in their own homes, something that I had never seen in Esfahan.

In Esfahan, I could divide people into three or four main groups according to their political, traditional and religious tendencies and each group had its own social rules. After living there for almost 18 years I could more or less recognize the classes and it was actually possible to get along with everyone. I had been to weddings where some Pasdars (revolutionary guards) and women with chadors were sitting in one corner and women wearing mini skirts and men drinking alcohol were dancing together in the other corner. I don't want to say that there was more freedom in Esfahan or people respected each other more. In fact, streets and traditions were much stricter but there was much more trust and respect among the people with whom you had some bonds. For example If your friend is getting married and you are a person who observes hijab, you would still go to her wedding even if it is a mixed party. It didn't seem to be such a problem but most of my friends in Tehran wouldn't even consider such an act. I also saw the same Esfahani pattern among my friends from Mashhad or Qazvin and other cities of Iran.

Over the years I could make a lot of good friends from either side of this spectrum of dress codes and I would have really regretted it if I had missed any single of them just because of the way they were dressing.

I had the opportunity to have friends from so many different backgrounds and with different views. I had a friend who would wear a rousari even in the restroom and also a friend who couldn’t keep dating the same guy for more than a month, both actually being good students at Sharif University and coming from a high school for talented students. To be honest, I did find such behaviors strange and even teased them because of it but I didn’t find any of them stupid and indeed my friends would find many of my own behaviors strange too.

I think dress can tell us something relevant about people but Iranian women have so many complex aspects that I have come to believe I'd better not count on this method very seriously, as a measuring device!

*Let me explain to those readers who are not familiar with Iranian temporary life what the existing elements for hijab are. Since according to the law in Iran, we should cover the whole body in public except hands and the face in a non-exotic way, Iranians have come up with these measures:

  1. manteau, something like a rain coat, which you can wear over your ordinary dress or party dress to simplify the overall look and cover a large portion of the body from neck to knee,

  2. maghnae , a hooded scarf, which you don't have to tie under the chin to keep it fixed on your head. It doesn't have colorful patterns but could come in various colors and will cover your hair,

  3. rousary or scarf, which can come in different designs and colorful patterns and can be used to cover the hair. You need to make it stable with either a knot or a small clips under your chin or if it is long enough you can just roll it around your neck over your shoulder.

  4. chador, a big veil, which you can just wear over anything and can cover all of the body if you hold it right with a hand. You can also use a headband to fix it on your head. It usually comes in black but there are colorful/patterned ones as well.

1+ (2 or 3) + 4 is the perfect dress according to the government, which you can wear whenever and wherever you want. A simple 1+2+pants is good enough and is mandatory in most official places like schools (at least until I left Iran). 1+3 is not recommended but is used in non-official places. Using different elements and how and where you are using them is very important, and so are the design and color as well.

Shiraz at September 3, 2003 04:45 PM [permalink]:


Did you draw the picture? it is cute. It might be helpful to put the name of each type next to the drawing to complete your explanation.

Senior Grad at September 3, 2003 10:02 PM [permalink]:

Something in your essay caught my attention, Ghazal. Your wrote: "I had [...] a friend who couldn’t keep dating the same guy for more than a month." I know this is not directly related to the theme of your presentation, but I guess the issue of hijab is discussed in depth recently, so let me make this an excuse for digressing a little bit in this comment, or rather, query.

I apologize to all of you for my ignorance, but it's been a while since I left Iran, not to mention that when I was in Iran, I was probably not hanging out with the "right" people to know about such things, and thus could've remained ignorant about such issues that have been all around me all the time. Anyhow, I hope my curiosity does not upset those among you who are more worldly than I have managed to be.

Okay, I think I'm now ready to ask the question:

Main Question: Do people in Iran date?!

Now, if the answer to this question is yes, then a flurry of other questions spring to mind: What is the Persian word they use for "dating", if any? For example, how does one say "I have a (hot) date tonight"? You see, dating has a pretty clear meaning here, in the U.S., and although you cannot tell by knowing the *mere* fact that two people date how far they have gone in matters related to intimacy (there are baseball-inspired euphemisms: first base, second base...), unless they volunteer to share the very personal information. (In America, or at least in "my America", it's considered very inappropriate to ask questions that deal with people's sex life or how much money they make. If you are not *very* close to a person and ask her/him such a question, your question will most probably be ignored, to say the least.)

More questions: What do the words "date" and "dating" signify in Iran? Do they necessarily imply having intercourse, at least in the future in case everything goes all right, either premarital sex or sex inside marriage? Do men and women of all ages date? Do we have a word in Persian for "relationship" (between two otherwise single people), the way it is meant in American parlance? Is dating considered a trial period for two mature people to find out more about one another and their compatibility, or it is just a youthful transitory frivolity that *is* expected to lead to nothing serious? Do most girls who have had boyfriends before still lie to their prospective husbands, or at least remain silent about it, lest it puts their marriage at risk? Has love and romance started to play a role in the Iranian marriages? Aren't girls who are known to have "dated" guys before considered un-marriageable anymore? And I am not asking about isolated exceptions.

Please enlighten me! I'm dying to know about the life of the new generation.

A Reader at September 3, 2003 10:09 PM [permalink]:

Quick follow-up: Sorry, but I seem to have got lost in one of my "although" sentences above. I meant although you can't tell what the dating couple do in matters regarding to intimacy it is quite clear what dating means and to a large extent also what its motives and functions are.

hajir at September 3, 2003 11:17 PM [permalink]:

Senior Grad asked some questions that I would like to answer partially.
Persian word for date, dating: Gharaar, Gharaar gozashtan.
Persian word for relationship: Raabeteh.
This is what you expected I guess.
As far as I know, iranian young men care less and less about the virginity of their brides and their former relationships which they have possibly had in the past. Regardless, girls of higher classes, usually have boyfriends and date regularly. The relationship may or may not lead to sexual intercourse. If both sides agree to have sex, still the couple have a problem of finding a place to do it; that's how a term "khune khali" is widely used amongst the youth.
Khune Khali (or Makaan): a temporary place (sometimes permenant) that a man (or sometimes a woman) can provide for a relationship (could be sexual intercourse); examples: his aunt has gone to a trip and he has the keys to her house to presumably take care of the house in her absence; her parents are not home and she calls her boyfriend to come over; they are students living far from home and have rented a house and they may use it as a base for their sexual activity too.
Hot places for dating are coffee shops, restaurants, cinemas, parks and sometimes merely streets.

Forms of relationship can vary from phone calling (and only phone calling) to meeting every week and having actual intercourse.
But what is more popular in Iran is "Boland Kardan".
Boland Kardan: Picking up a woman (and possibly her friends) on the street; usually boys in teams of two or three go for a ride and pick up girls, give them a ride (for fun or actually the girls may ask the boys to take them to a specefic location they wanted to go by taxi); it is quite possible that boys (having a khune khali) take the girls to the "Makaan" and have a chat or more serious things.

Ok I let others talk about this issue too. I don't know if someone has written an article about the sexual life and behaviour of the youth in Iran or not. But this can be a hot topic.

BHS at September 3, 2003 11:43 PM [permalink]:

Hazhir explained almost all. I just want to give the word-by-word translations of the terms he introduced for non-Persian-speaking readers and make a few comments;

khune khali: empty house; makaan: place; boland kardan: lift, pick up. About the Persian equivalents of the words "date" and "relationship" although what Hazhir has suggested is close but they don't seem quit the same, I think because ther aren't anything quite the same as "date" and "relationship" in Persian and the Iranian culture now.

"qaraar," for example, is closer in meaning to "rendez-vous" than "date". Especially I can't think of any verb, meaning "to date" with all its cultural/sexaul functions as here in Canada (which I assume should be virtually the same as in the US). "Rabeteh" for "relationship" is not very suitable either. Rabeteh has a kind of negative connotation with it, most of the time being used to indicate an "unlawful" (in its islamic/traditioanl meaning) relationship, as far as I can tell.

I also do not agree that iranian young men care less and less about the virginity of their brides. In fact, sewing it back, is a very common operation many of the more carefree girls who have lost their virginity go through at the time of marriage, to avoid the dire consequences of being found out by the groom or his family and other fears.

Roshansar at September 4, 2003 09:17 AM [permalink]:

I think the words Hajir used for Dating and relationship are fine. I also have to reiterate his statement: More and more Iranian men care less about virginity these days. I don't say it's being ignored by all, but I would say the majority of my friend do care MORE about the girl herself than her virginity. And I believe this "IS" indeed a good sign: It shows how attention of men has shifted from a woman as an object to a woman as a real person.

Occasionally my friends and I talk about this issue, and I see how people think logically. What is the advantage of being a virgin girl? ALMOST NOTHING. I don't mean it's a disadvantage, but it's also not an advantage. It only shows that the girl eithr comes from a very conservative family who also always monitored her relationships/behaviors, or it shows that she's had problems socializing with the opposite sex, or she had decided not to have any intimate relationship with any member of the opposite sex before marriage. Non of the above factors are values. The latter is respectable as a decision, but I would not necessarily consider that as an advantage.

As a guy, I think those men who care about girl's virginity very much, are actually doing bad to themselves. Firstly they are fooling themselves, by forcing the possible non-virgin fiance to undergo an operation (and pretend she's a virgin), and secondly, they shift their attention from the very important issue of girl's character and personality to the non-important issue of making sure they girl has never ever touched or mated a guy before.
I honestly believe that women themselves have to work on this issue, in order to change the 'wrong' culture. Women have the same right to socialize/mate with the opposite sex as men do. It makes me suffer when I see an Iranian girl who is brought up to believe that his brother is free to hang around with every girl he likes, but she has to stay home like a good girl and "not even see sunshine and moonlight".

Well I think this was all not very much related to the main topic. Sorry :-)

Senior Grad at September 4, 2003 12:23 PM [permalink]:
I'm truly delighted to see in your writings, hajir, BHS, and Roshansar, a *sober* treatment of an admittedly hot subject. I should've expected nothing less. Some further thoughts: I was careful not to use the V word, but I guess one could not possibly avoid it entirely. I agree with BHS that GHARAR means 'rendezvous' or in some contexts simply 'appointment'. The word date, as a verb, does not exist in Persian, as far as I can tell. I also tend to agree with BHS that dating with all its cultural functions (and I take sexual behavior to be part of culture), the way it is conceived in North America (and possibly Europe, even though one can expect a difference between dating habits of Parisians and New Yorkers) does not yet exist in Iranian culture. I think even during Shah's time no such thing existed. I am more specifically interested about how "dating" and marriage are related in Iranian society today, if they are related at all. I should add to my previous comment that having fun is obviously an objective of dating, but I think there is some pending/lingering expectation when you date someone that you consider her/him seriously. More seriously than a sex object or a boy toy. For having fun without all the hassles of dating, there are other avenues, some legal, and some, although officially illegal, not quite enforced. In America, even among more religious persons who do keep their virginity intact (male or female), dating (with varying degrees of intimacy) is the *only* path towards marriage. This is surely not the case in Iran. In fact, I think it's far from it, but again I have no statistics; just my own experience and hearsay. For 'relationship', I agree with BHS that RABETEH can connote an illicit relationship. There are a host of other words related to dating, for which there may not yet be Persian equivalents, or the other way around! Back in old days, I remember there was the expression ROO-HAM-RIKHTAN, which I suppose can be translated to "starting a relationship", and for "breaking up" there was BE-HAM-ZADAN, but I'm not sure if this terminology is still used. As for KHUNEH-KHALI, I think it is not only used for providing a private place for getting intimate with your *date*. KHUNEH-KHALI has other functions as well. In fact, when I hear the word, its other connotations come to my mind! The word MAKAN is new to me, so I should remain silent about it. This may be a modified form of KHUNEH-KHALI for doing things only with someone you are in some sort of a continual relationship with. Places for "dating". When young people go to coffeeshops, restaurants, movie theaters, concerts, or hiking in the mountains together, doesn't it usually feel more like "hanging out", than dating? I think it certainly does when the number of these people exceeds 2. (There is the notion of double-date in America, where two dating couples go out together, but I'm not sure if such ideas have yet found their way into Iranian mainstream culture.) BOLAND-KARDAN. This term too, to me, rings like a term with illicit connotations. If you can pick up a girl and take her right away to an empty house and do things with her that are more serious than chatting, then it doesn't fall in the category of dating anymore. There exist a term "one night stand" that refers to having your way once with a girl who is not a professional sex worker. It can be like this: you pick her up in a bar (she's most probably drunk) and take her home and do with her more serious t ["Toooo long!" editors say, "Here: click to read the whole thing!"]
Shiraz at September 4, 2003 03:18 PM [permalink]:

We are completely deviated from the subject here but I'll just add a new method to all the dating types above, the fast growing "internet dates". It is getting more and more common for young people to find a "friend" over the net (in chat rooms or by personal adds) and then meet each other and start dating if things go well.

If a date is not supposed to end up with sex then I don’t see why going out for dinner or hiking or watching movies cannot be considered to be a date. In my definition dating takes place when two people who have romantic feelings for each other (or hope that they’ll have one day) start hanging out together. Even in US people go out on dates in a restaurant.

When I was a teenager, I had friends changing their boy friends very often. But the definition of a boy friend at that time was much different from what I considered a boy friend later on. So it is not a well-defined term. It has a vast coverage area, starting from just phone chats to serious relationship. I assume that having premarital sex in young woman in Iran is getting more common for the simple fact, besides all others, that the age of marriage is getting higher. But it is most of the time in the closet. If you can get to reason with your “husband to be” that you are not a virgin and him being cool about it you are lucky other wise you have to spend a fortune to pretend you have not been touched (a rather dishonest first step in marriage!).

But all this babbling is true for only a smart percentage of girls and boys (more boys though). I cannot imagine people “dating” in smaller cities and villages. Still a big part of the marriages are arranged or the candidates are introduced to each other (semi-arranged).

But believe me you can see more and more people hand in hand walking in the parks (not married young people) or occasionally making out hiding behind a tree so things are definitely improving from the time I was in my early twenties.

BHS at September 4, 2003 03:44 PM [permalink]:

My last contribution to this dating digression: going hiking or for a dinner or to the movies could all be considered dating. The last two in fact are very common forms of dating in the West, to use a general name. In Iran, however, it is--or was at least till 4 years ago!--really hard for two young people of the opposite sexes to do so free of worries, so usually these are either done by a large group who can also quickly dissociate when need be, to avoid interference by the police or the vigilantes, or confined to a few safe places--from some coffe shops to the privacy of the houses.

And isn't there a difference between a boy/girl freind and a boy/girlfriend? Interestingly, in my experience, having a regular freind of the opposite sex among my friends in Iran was a lot more common than the same among my non-Iranian freinds here.

Making out behind the trees was also quite new to me. But even if accurate, once put in the context, it does not indicate any improvement in the partner-seeking behaviours of the Iranian youth, in my opinion. The reason is the same as the one for the lack of a term equivalent for dating: all this seems to me to be just to extinguish sexual needs, so much oppressed in Iran in all forms, in the quickest and usually most mindless way possible.

Senior Grad at September 4, 2003 08:37 PM [permalink]:

I am sorry (and my special apologies to Ghazal, with thanks for her interesting and detailed overview of women's dress code in Iran) that I diverted the course of the discussion. To avoid more deviation, I postpone my comments on the attitude of Iranian men towards you know what. But briefly, I too do not see an indication of a radical change of attitude. More on this later...

It is good news that young people in Iran can now meet their prospective spouses online, although it is not without its risks. (Lying about how you look like and things of that sort is a potential problem.) The traditional methods for meeting new interesting people do not seem to be adequate any longer. In America, meeting new people is a big issue. Many daily and weekly publications have sections full of anonymous ads where people tell about themselves and what kind of person they are looking for "for possible LTR" or for friendship, etc. For whatever complicated reasons, this is not do-able in Iran. I can imagine how such ads would look like in an Iranian context. (I guess having a green card would be considered a plus.)

I agree with Shiraz's definition for "dating", but what I have seen in Iran is more like some friends, of mixed gender, go out without their being romantically connected in pairs. But BHS offers an explanation for why this has been the case: Dating in disguise, of hanging out with friends, due to "security reasons". :-) I also agree with Shiraz that the terms boyfriend and girlfriend are hard to define, but we can easily tell here if somebody's my girlfriend or just a friend. I guess an easy way out would be: your boy/girlfriend is the person you have been dating with regularly for some time, no matter what the level of intimacy might be.

Back to the "meeting" problem, I don't like to use the word "arranged" or even "semi-arranged" for the way marriages are carried out in most big cities in Iran. The term "arranged marriage" has very negative connotations for the Western folks, because it automatically implies the marriage to be forced, which we all know is not the case in urban Iran. Two eligible people are introduced to each other by their parents, relatives or friends but they are not *required* to marry each other, the way they would be if they were in a remote village in India. In fact, it is very common that friends introduce their single friends to each other for the purpose of dating, even blind date.

Senior Grad at September 4, 2003 08:47 PM [permalink]:

Added to my last sentence above: I meant here, in the West, or at least in America. Meeting people is a toughy. Now find/make a Persian word for "blind date". :-)

A Reader at September 9, 2003 03:26 AM [permalink]:
Ghazal- Yeah, good point there, but I’d like to add the following remarks to further refine the picture: 1) I don’t remember any type of hijab “coming into fashion” after the revolution; indeed it was gradually, nay, brutally imposed by the government in the early 1980’s: first for employees in the State Radio and TV, then in the workplace (government and private sector) and later in streets, shops and other public places. Perhaps you remember the massive protest rallies in Tehran by women who refused to wear headscarves, and their brutal repression by baton-wielding Guards who ran about shouting “ya roosari, ya toosari”- you put on a headscarf or you’ll take a slap on your head! And “toosari” (head-slapping) is an expression that denotes bullying and humiliation of the victim in addition to physical violence. I agree that for a while many Iranian women did take up hijab in a wave of religious / revolutionary zeal, but to claim that at any time maghna’es and chadors were all the rage among teenagers and young women … well that’s pushing it a bit. 2) Truly enough, a code of dress can be a sign of conformity or adhesion to a particular religious, social or ideological stereotype. The most obvious example is our own country, where it has now become impossible to get a decent administrative job or otherwise sneak into the system without bribes, connections, and of course a pious, conformist outward image- hijab (preferably chador) for women and unshaven, slovenly appearance for men. Yet the conformity element is not always so strong: in many Muslim countries, women do cover their heads but at the same time mix freely with men in all social occasions. In Egypt, Lebanon, Indonesia, Malaysia … you often see covered women talking and shaking hands with strangers; the Lebanese TV regularly shows images of maghna’e-wearing girls dancing beautifully in mixed parties. Of course within any nation it’s the more religious set in the crowd that takes up hijab of its own free will, but obviously for these women the maghna’e does not have the same political and religious connotations as it has in Iran. The beautiful Egyptian singer Mona Abdel Ghani took up hijab and quit all showbiz activities after her brother (who had brought her up) died of a heart attack in the middle of his prayers. The fundamentalist circles tried to use her case as a propaganda weapon, but she made it clear that her decision was a strictly personal one and had nothing to do with this or that political or religious faction. Another case in point is Marva Kavakchi, the first Turkish MP to attend parliament sessions wearing a headscarf. Again the government here tried to make as much out of it as possible, but Kavakchi publicly distanced herself from any Iranian-type fundamentalism and condemned the Iranian government for using what was essentially a personal decision as an instrument of religious propaganda. 3) The complexity you are talking about towards the end of your article is probably another reflection of our schizophrenic, often hypocritical national character, a collective mentality so aptly depicted by a few contemporary writers. Forgive me for using strong language, but I can’t help thinking of a piece by Sadiq Hedayat (what a great fellow!) in his wonderful novel Haji Agha: “We often regard ourselves as supremely intelligent, but in reality we are nothi ["Toooo long!" editors say, "Here: click to read the whole thing!"]
Ali Mahani at September 9, 2003 03:32 AM [permalink]:

PS- the drawing aren't bad at all!

Senior Grad at September 9, 2003 04:19 PM [permalink]:

Good (and enviable) English, Ali Mahani. :-)

A Reader at September 9, 2003 08:30 PM [permalink]:

I think you are mixing two different issues. I never meant to say Hijab is a form of fashion, instead I tried to be clear that it is the official law. But it is the elements of the hijab used by women, which have always been subject to fashion and I am surprised that you hadn’t noticed that. In fact the fashion design of Manteau and Rousari changes quite fast in Iran and Maghnae and Chadors sometimes get their own shares as well. You probably know chador is not mandatory in Iran but for example one year following a very popular TV series lot of teenagers would wear chadors as the main character of the show would.
Unfortunately I don’t remember any of the events you are mentioning as I was too young at the time but my great grand mother used to tell me similar stories about eradication of Hijab during Reza Shah Period. She was a teacher at the time and she was among the first groups that the law was imposed on. To be able to go to work She had stayed all night up to make a long dress and hat that looked European but could still cover her hair and body and the next day everybody was out watching them and laughing at them as they were going to work in strange dresses . I know some stories from old women about brutal repression back then as well but this isn’t what I wanted to talk about.
I am not planning to defend enforcement of any kind of dress on either men or women. I was more interested on cultural side of the story and our perception of dress codes.
I agree with you that letting boys having girlfriends and not vice versa (which you have to be careful about generalizing it as it is only the case in more conservative families who are not very religious either) is a double standard and we have so many cultural and traditional problems that we need work on them. But I like to emphasize that Iranian women are not passive about dress. They actually quite smart on how to use it for their different purposes whether it is spirituality or fashion or prostitution or political statements.
I agree that we Iranian have always had double lives but this is the best practical way for surviving during the long history of brutal governments.

Ghazal at September 9, 2003 08:31 PM [permalink]:

I forgot to write my name

Senior Grad at September 10, 2003 12:57 PM [permalink]:

Having multiple girlfriends at the same time? My favorite thing! At least to talk about. :-) Well, If a guy can have more than one "girlfriend" at the same time in Iran, then my point is proven: what they mean in Iran by this word (girlfriend, that is) is different by what is meant by it in America (or West). I think it is safe to claim that in America (or West), somebody's your girlfriend (or boyfriend) if you are dating her (or him), and the issue of *dating* the way it is understood in America (or West) is, as BHS quite rightly said in his comments above, simply non-existent in the Iranian culture, even among the most "modern" layers of the Iranian society. A better definiton of this word, if you excuse my bluntness, in the context of present culture of Iran would be: someone with whom you (hope to) sleep on a regular basis without having to marry her or pay for it. Am I close, or what?

Ghazal at September 10, 2003 01:52 PM [permalink]:

I agree with you that for lot of Iranians having a boyfriend and girlfriend is completely different to what it is in US or west and in fact I think on some levels it isn’t that important. You see in Iran it isn’t that hard to say you love someone even if you are not sleeping with him or her or if you want to get married so you do it. What’s a big difference if you are engaged ( I don’t say married because you may want to bring the bureaucracy problems) and it doesn’t go well or if you are boyfriend and girlfriend and you get separated. some of my friends got engaged or even married and then they separated and married to someone else. What is the big deal that you have to date thousand people and then sleep with them for a while and then get to the next level to say you love them and then live together for few years until you feel like you are ready to get engaged and if nothing goes wrong for another year you get married! Why does it have to be so complicated? To me it is the matter of taste on how to arrange fun, love, sex, living together and recognizing each other’s rights. Now you can name each of them differently. One calls the living together part marriage another having sex and so on.
One of my friends had a very funny experience about the difference of dating notions after coming to US. She used to tell me about her boyfriends and how she dumped them or they dumped her or other stories about her dates, anyway just recently she told me “you know Ghazal, I have been reading about dating standards in US and I have just realized that I have been misunderstanding everything since I have come to US. For example the one boyfriend I talked about in the beginning I guess we were just studying together and nothing more, the other one that I thought we loved each other we only had dates together and it is funny that how I was insulted that why is he always paying for my food when we go out and now I realize it’s the dating rule! And as he knew I was an Iranian girl and not interested in having sex he would suggest to me to go to movies all the time and I was so tired of it that I used to refuse and instead invite him to my place which was odd to him and now I see he was confused that why I am inviting him over if I don’t want to have sex.”

Senior Grad at September 10, 2003 02:53 PM [permalink]:

I think what you have said overall comfirms what I had suspected: People in Iran do *not* date. They do not know what dating is all about. What the young boys and girls do is not dating, really, so let's find another word for that. (What is a good equivalent for DOKHTAR-BAZI in English?)

You have also shared an opinion, that it's not all that important to go through the stages of dating in order to eventually get married. I think you had also meant the Iranian system of getting married is fine. I think it is not, but I may have been "brainwashed" (in a good way, I hope) by the American culture.

I agree that true pure loves can be found among Iranians; burning loves that sometimes never get a chance to be vocalized, let alone consummate in a physical encounter of the most intimate kind. We Iranians fall in love so many times when in highschool and college, but finally due to all the complications of the requirements of our culture end up getting married to someone whom we don't really care for, but hope them to grow on us.

Some other peoples on the planet do not like to live their lives that way. I guess they think that if they can't have a romantic (as well as intellectual, etc) connection to the person they live with, then they're just wasting their time. This attitude, that one wants to be with someone one loves and be loved by that someone, combined with the realities of human nature, leads to a good amount of frustration, but the outcome is *perhaps* better than living your whole life with someone you don't care for that much.

It seems to me that the feminist movement in America has been quite successful in making it possible for women not to live with a man, their husband, just because they *have* to. In our country, however, due to a variety of reasons, this is still not always feasible...

But I digress. Anyhow, you also quoted your friend: "... as he knew I was an Iranian girl and [therefore?!] not interested in having sex ..." which I find pretty amusing. :-)

Ali Mahani at September 10, 2003 03:38 PM [permalink]:
Senior Grad— Hey thanks mate. But your own English is every bit as good as mine, isn’t it? You see my last post contained a typing error, it should read (the drawings), not (drawing)… LOL Ghazal— 1) Well at last we are finding common ground. I didn’t accuse you of defending mandatory hijab; after all, what conceivable good can there be in imposing any type of dress? (un)fortunately I’m old enough to have a few pre-revolutionary memories; in those bad old days, the dark era of monarchic repression, girls went around in miniskirts and crop tops, and nobody even bothered to look. Then came mandatory hijab, and soon afterwards they segregated men from women in university classrooms and canteens, even public buses, for the fear of blokes who just couldn’t keep their hands to themselves. And nowadays, a perfectly covered girl can’t walk a few yards down the street without hearing whistles, jeers and obscenities levelled at her by roaming, sex-starved yobs. Reminds me of that lovely satire upon history, “L’île des Pingouins” by Anatole France: at one moment the worthy priest takes it upon himself to rescue his subjects from their lewd, primitive nudity. So he grabs a female penguin, puts a skirt round her waist, and there begins all the trouble… 2) You said many aspects of our culture are in dire need of reform. I couldn’t agree more, but one point I wish to add is that we shouldn’t be blaming all our social and cultural ills on political repression, economic disadvantage, or the extremist tendencies of a lunatic fringe. I’m glad you mentioned the anti-hijab campaign by Reza Shah. In his frenzied, ill-advised drive for modernisation, he just failed to understand that a nation’s culture cannot be changed overnight and you can’t force a new way of life without causing a good deal of resentment and frustration. For all his virtues and services (and there are many), the guy must have been well and truly bonkers not to realise that the chador problem was not, as he believed, restricted to the lower social strata or to those who used it for any ill purpose. The problem is obviously at the grass roots level: we are talking about a nation where large sections of the populace are stuck in a mediaeval time warp, and it takes generations and generations for any reform movement to bear its fruits. Alas, I just wonder how many more centuries will it be before we Iranians take a long, hard look at our attitudes. Again this quote from Hedayat: “ It’s often claimed that we are going through a “transition period”. Bollocks! Can anyone give me a clue when this transition will be over at last? Other nations are just surging forward, and we are stuck with this transition thing for over 1000 years now….” 3) About its changing shapes and elements, (yes I HAVE noticed that!) the best explanation seems to be that users and designers of hijab are simply making the best of very bad job. If this is the kind of dress you’ve got to wear, then changing and diversifying its design doesn’t prove a very high level of intelligence, or smartness on the part of our women, as you say. It’s pretty much all you can do to make the manteau/chador less of a nuisance, and more marketable. On a more macho note, (I’m joking) I believe that manteaus and chadors are often designed and commercialised by MEN, like most other types of female dress in the global fashion industry. So the credit, if any, should at least be shared by members of our sex, don’t you think so? It wou ["Toooo long!" editors say, "Here: click to read the whole thing!"]
Ghazal at September 10, 2003 04:11 PM [permalink]:

Actually I would much rather use the word “dokhtar bazi” (having fun with girls) for American version of dating because to me it seems most of the time it starts as a casual relation just for having fun and that’s why they are so afraid of the words “love” , “ commitment” , “ marriage” , ….
I didn’t mean to say that there isn’t romantic connection in Iranian marriages.
No actually what I was trying to say was that Iranians are much serious about their relations and that’s why they are not afraid to fall in love quite in the beginning and they are willing to marry to the person they have feelings for. I have been among the “western intellectuals” long enough to see how easily one of them dumps her husband, wife or significant other just for having fun with another guy or girl. So to me their relations are not that much more based on real love comparing to the Iranian version.
What is this American real dating that you are talking about is that the fact that they have sex and Iranians don’t get to have sex with their dates? Why is it so important to base the whole relation on the Sex part? At least if lot of the so called “girlfriends” and “boyfriends” in Iran don’t get to have sex they get to know more about each other’s character.

Shiraz at September 10, 2003 04:15 PM [permalink]:

I have some comments about this dating business.

I though we agreed that there is a wide range of activities between a guy and a gal which can be called "dating". I don't agree that people in Iran don't date and they just do "dokhtar baazi" or "pesar bazi". They do date within the limitations of their culture and society. We should not forget that for us, Iranians, a simple friendship with the opposite sex is a complictaed issue. We don't learn the necessary social skills any where. Our schools are separated (until college) and our only interaction is with our cousins or family kids. Hence we don't have the chance to interact with the opposite sex as much as kids in other countries do. I guess this problem affects our friendship qualities later on in our life. If we don't want to be romantically engaged with a guy we don't know what to do. I guess it would be nice to talk about this peoblem later sometime.

As I understand, poeple in the west can date for short periods of times without having a long term plan. Let's say you are an exchange student in a countrty for a year. You date someone and then you separate. I can not think of any equivalant in iranian culture. So not all dating are ment to end up in marriage.

Also, I agree that sometime people who date are so commited to eachother that for us they are already married but let's not forget that separating from eachother when you date is much easier that if you are engaged or marrried for the simple reason that the families are not envolved. And my personnal experience is that the older you get, the less you jump into a marriage. I don't think that people date for long times because they are not sure they want to get married or not. It is just that marriage doesn't seem to be the necessary thing. After all isn't that just a piece of paper which can complicate things more? Sincerely I think the case that Ghazal mentioned (iranians get married and get devorced and marry to other person) is not as common as let's say people dating and breaking up and the reason is not that because they have terrific marriages, it is because it is much harder to get devorced once you are married in Iran. Let me give an example: if I want to move to a new town I'll first rent a house and try to know the town better then if I like the city and the neighborhood, then I might think of buying my own house. I won't just buy the first house shown to me and then decide "oh maybe I'll sell it if I don't like it". By this analogy, getting engaged for me is like going to four seasons hotel. You don't see the bad sides of the relationship in an engagement.

And finally i doubt that iranian girls don't "like" to have sex. I think, sex is a big taboo in iranian culture. I wish we could get over with it and focus on much deeper issues in relationships.

Senior Grad at September 10, 2003 05:31 PM [permalink]:


Having come from an entirely different culture than the American culture (especially, different in the realm of relationships between men and women), we all have our own takes on an issue as complex as "dating", and I do not have any claims of being an authority on what dating in America amounts to.

I disagree with you on why Americans are "afraid" of commitment. In America, there is no, or very little, outside encorcement, for lack of a better word, for marriages to last. The partners in a marriage, should therefore rely solely, or mostly, on how they feel towards each other, as they often do. In Iran, on the other hand, there are a lot of obstacles in the way of getting a divorce--cultural, economical, etc. So people tend to cling to their marriages at all costs and "commitment", if it can be called so, comes for free. In other words, in Iran you commit to stay in the marriage in a willy-nilly sort of way.

I also sense a smugness in your mentioning "Western intellectuals" and how they dump in a blink of an eye their significant others. I was only saying that the idea behind this dating machinery, if you will, is starting from an acquaintance, two people get to know each other better and grow to have deeper feelings for each other (and if their religious beliefs allow them, have rather intimate and personal relations as well, not that it is conceived by all the parties involved as the *purpose* of dating) and finally, if everything goes all right, make a commitment to be there for each other indefinitely. So I do not deny that many real-life examples do not live up to this ideal idea.


I agree that people here may date without the possibility of having a long time plan, but the exceptions don't disprove the rule! As a rule (meaning, if you are not an exchange student), you don't waste your time with somebody for whom you do not have any chances later on, especially if your mom is not willing to send you a wife from the another country. Or at least that is how I understand it.

I also agree with you that some people in the West look down at the institute of marriage and equate it with a meaningless piece of paper. But as you said, the ideal scenario for them is to stay together for as long as it is possible for them. Right?

Thanks for both comments anyway. It's good to see things from a female perspective. :-)

Senior Grad at September 10, 2003 07:03 PM [permalink]:

Bad typo: I meant enForcement, not encorcement!

By "outside enforcement", I meant forces from outside the domain of the elationship between wife and husband that keeps the marrige together, such as the wife's financial need, or everybody's FOZOOLI (another quintessentially Iranian trait) about why so-and-so have got a divorce. Anyway...

Shiraz at September 10, 2003 07:26 PM [permalink]:

Acctually from the examples that I have seen mostly in undergrad with whom I work, short term relationships are not considered "waste of time" it is a part of their life from which they learn stuff for later on. I know for us it is hard to digest but if thought without bias (meaning without really wanting to find something wrong with it) it is a good way to live your life.

About marriage and the piece of paper, franckly I think it is a piece of paper too. Once you find your soulmate then you will stay with her/him as long as you both feel commited. If a signed paper is the only reason for them to stay together then they better not be together. Let's not forget people change, specially in their youth, so the perfect person may not be so in couple of years. Realizing that and ending a relationship is not "dumping" in my opinion.

The Bass Voice at September 10, 2003 07:46 PM [permalink]:

Just note that the big difference between the trends of relationships in the West and in Iran is in that their different stages of make up a kind of ordered chain in terms of commitment or social seriousness: acquintance -> having fun and/or date -> girl/boyfriendship -> (common-law) partnership and/or engagement -> marriage. In iran, on the other hand, the whole chain is distroted and I think there is no dating and no partenrship in Iran. Moreover, the young at large are most of the time just having fun. The question of love is kind of irrelevant to this order: one may fall in love at any of these stages. It may rush or slow down some of the stages, but the order is not affected by it. The issue of having sex is also slightly irrelevant to this order. There is a difference, however, in the way having sex is conceived in Iran and in the West. In the West having sex is viewed as one of the requirements (with a high weight, of course) of a successful relationship from earlier stages, while in Iran many relationships are either entirely about sex as a result of sex starvation of the younger generations deprived of any such intimate encuonters, due to various social, religious enforcements or beliefs of the involved parties.

Senior Grad at September 11, 2003 05:28 PM [permalink]:

Bass Voice wrote: " Iran many relationships are *either* entirely about sex as a result of sex starvation of the younger generations deprived of any such intimate encuonters, due to various social, religious enforcements or beliefs of the involved parties." [Emphasis mine]


A Reader at September 11, 2003 08:46 PM [permalink]:

You quoted Sadeq Hedayat:

“ It’s often claimed that we are going through a “transition period”. Bollocks! Can anyone give me a clue when this transition will be over at last? Other nations are just surging forward, and we are stuck with this transition thing for over 1000 years now….”

First, I was just wondering where he wrote such a thing. Not that I am denying that he has written such things, I'm just curious to know the source.

Secondly, who is the translation of his lines due to? Did you yourself translate it? It seems to be a pretty good translation to (British?) English.

Thirdly (and this is more relevant), with all due respect to Hedayat and his perpetual cynicism, I should say that we actually *have* changed a lot as a nation. The transition is slow, not because we are Iranians, but because we are human beings and human cultures tend to self-preserve. But I would like to argue that not only we are quite differernt from what our grandfathers were 100 or so years ago, but we are different from what we were before the reform era, marked by the 2nd of Khordad.

Fourth and last, I have a lot of problems with some of your other strong attitudes toward the issue of hijab, but since 1) you seem pretty confident about your evaluations of the meaning of hijab (or lack thereof) and 2) at the alledged age of 33 you're way more proficient in English that I am, I'd better just shut up at this point.


Senior Grad at September 11, 2003 08:48 PM [permalink]:

The above was from me, BTW.

The Bass Voice at September 11, 2003 10:10 PM [permalink]:

Well, I'm amazed! It seems the missing "or" of my comment has evaporated in such a seamless way, even I couldn't locate it myself. Anyhoo, correct that sentence as follows:

" a result of sex starvation of the younger generations *or* deprived of any such ..."

In fact, this little accident might be the figurative key to the ongoing coexistance of these two entirely opposing ends of the spectrum in Iran.

Ghazal at September 12, 2003 12:59 AM [permalink]:

Ali Mahani—
1-oh Yes we are finding common grounds. I read the Persian translation of “L’ile des Pingouns” too and remember that quote. I think it is another aspect of the dress and maybe the dominant one and it is a general feature all over the world.
The harassment of women in the streets ( very serious problem to me) has lots of roots, one of them maybe Hijab, for example in smaller cities or towns although Hijab Is still more strict but you see less harassments and even before revolution lots of women would get harassed. My mother tells me how she and her friend had turns for who would walk on the street side when they were walking to school as it was the harassment zone and once when it was her friend’s turn someone through acid to her and she lost large amount of her leg’s tissues.
2-Actually I am very optimistic to women movements in Iran and I think it is moving fast. Being in a transition period is a good thing which I doubt we had it in past few centuries ( “ ma zenda be anim ke aram nagirim, mojim ke asoodegiye ma adame mast”) we are alive as we are moving, we are waves and our rest is our death. (sorry if it isn’t a good translation.)
3-why did women accept “rousary, toosry”? why did constitution get 99% approving vote after revolution if it was violating so many of every body’s rights? One thing for sure is some of them didn’t think it is violating any of their rights as they already did observe hijab. As lots of Iranians didn’t bother if a non Shiite doesn’t have the same right as they do in the constitution. Over all so much of everybody’s rights get violated these days that I think this a general question about the whole population not just women and about one issue of “rousary”. I think free dress fits better in the category of individual rights and freedom problem in Iran (free press, free dress, …) which we are all taking for some greater cause I geuss. The issue of free dress for men and women is actually so complicated for me. You see lots of places in the world have dress codes and I am not sure if it is a bad thing all the time (like in schools). The other question is the inconsistencies like, that why is forcing a rosary to a woman in Iran is a bad thing but forcing them to wear a top in US is not while men could be seen often in public topless.
Anyway for one I am very concerned about women rights in Iran but free dress is not on top of my list at all.

Ali Mahani at September 12, 2003 03:07 AM [permalink]:

Senior Grad-

Well, the quote is from Haji Agha, published by Entesharat Javidan in 1356 (1977 AD), page 82.

You’ll find more interesting material about Iranians, their culture and their religion at
But Haji Agha itself is not available online, as far as I know.

I did the translation myself, and although I admit it's not word-for-word translation, I believe it does convey the idea.

At any rate, quoting Hedayat doesn’t mean that I agree with him 100%. Yes we have changed, but my fear is that our generation will not live to see real democracy or economic prosperity here.

2) In case you have any doubts, I was born in November 1969 in Tehran, shall I send you a picture of my ID card then?! I am a medical graduate and a university teacher, I’ve never been overseas, and I’ve learnt English, French and Arabic (plus a smattering of Spanish) in my leisure time- without any teachers and classes-over the last 15 years.

I hate all boasting and bragging, but as someone who has had the dubious privilege of living in Iran all his life, I feel qualified to describe social phenomena (like hijab) as I have seen them evolve over the past 2 decades. Alright I am a bit of a cynic, (otherwise I wouldn’t read Hedayat!) but my cynicism is probably shared by all those who have studied recent Iranian history: How the revolution went wrong, and its idealism was betrayed by power, corruption and deceit.
(For that, read Animal Farm by George Orwell- another favourite of mine).

3) Come to think of it, we are all Iranians on this page. How come we’re speaking English all the time?

Take care.

Senior Grad at September 12, 2003 02:41 PM [permalink]:

Thanks a lot for the Hedayat link. I'm sure I'll enjoy reading his work. I am actually somewhat familiar with Hedayat's writings (some of which hilarious) and his worldview. I think he was mad at the world, and this rage is reflected in his writings, which are, without a doubt, of much literary value. But Hedayat's approach to social problems is fruitless. True, self-criticism is a prerequisite of change and can lead to change, but Hedayat-style unbalanced unscholarly mockery of everything Iranian can only satisfy a "sado-masochistic" need, I'm afraid. Don't you agree?

Ali Mahani at September 13, 2003 12:06 AM [permalink]:

Senior Grad-

Agreed. And as you know, his nightmare vision of the world drove him to suicide. What a great loss for our literature, though. The man was indeed a genius.