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October 25, 2003

Gender Separation in Iran
Babak Seradjeh  [info|posts]

gender separation The segregation of the sexes in Iran is a strict and commonplace parctice. Although it has traditional roots in the Iranian society, but the Islamic Republic has given it new dimensions. The explicit exmaples include: there is no co-ed elementary or secondary education in Iran, and the mixing of girls and boys in universities has always been controversial and a subject of commotion (some branches of the Islamic Free University even introduced separate classes for men and women); there are different sections for men and women on the buses; most seriously, being in the company of a person of opposite sex, other than an immediate family member or the spouse, is a crime punishable with lashes (in the recent past in public places) and/or jail.

The scope of the effects caused by the separation of men and women goes beyond what this limited space can afford: from the daily sufferings of the individuals of a very young society or the large scales of a people's psyche, to the waste of time, energy and resources of a nation to enforce it, this official policy has many severe consequences. So, here I would only talk about a few rather arbitrary points that have occupied my mind in the recent days and leave the rest to other people to explore.

Family Formation

A direct consequence of the present sex segregation in Iran is the way in which families are formed. Specifically, the current situation naturally increases the number of arranged marriages. There is little lawful room for the average boy and girl to meet up and date,* so they can choose a partner out of their own free will. The main venue of their lawful union passes through their families: they are the ones who meet up, discuss the matter, set the costs and the dates. Although in some classes of the society, the boy and the girl are given a bigger say, still it is the family that usually has the upper hand. I believe the separation of sexes has greatly aggrevated this issue.

Image of the Opposite Sex

The image of women in a society has been of central importnace to the feminist** movements. After all, wemon as second-rate citizens, women as child-bearers, women as housewives, and other traditional images of women in the patriarchal society are what feminists have fought in their struggles. Although the revolutionary nature of the rulers in Iran has somewhat resulted in bringing women into the spotlight of activity, the strict isolation of male and female circles has blocked the way to any fundamental change in the image and therefore the status of women in the bulk of society. In particular, all the three above-mentioned images of women have been, explicitly or implicitly, promoted by the official stance of the Islamic Republic governments.

Higher Education

The low success rate of girls in higher education, in spite of their equal and even higher rate of acceptance in post-secondary schools, is a rather staggering issue. It is in part due to the society's image and expectations of an adult woman in which, as discussed above, a higher education has a minor role to play. So, why should a girl continue her studies, or even study as hard as a boy who is expected to make a living and earn bread for his future family. Just a handful of the women comprising 50% or more of all university enrollments, who have a burning zeal for knowledge or success will overcome the high barriers and pursue their studies, in most cases in another country.

However, in my conversations with my female peers or friends, I have been told many times that girls in universities face a rather big issue of confidence. Many of those brilliant high school students find themselves in a discouraging environment in which they cannot show off themselves or are not paid due attention or respect. In my opinion, this lack of self-confidence, if truly universal among Iranian girls, is yet another, indirect, consequence of the unisex system of education: girls do well in their own schools, but when in university they feel unequipped to challenge their successful male peers who are brought up by the society and the educational system to think they are the stronger and wiser party of the competition.

Of course, the issue of co-ed vs. unisex education is not a simple matter to decide: each one has its own advantages and disadvantages. However, in a society like Iran, the separated system of education only aggrevates the situation, since the practical way to solve this problem is through a controlled environment where the sexes can come in terms with themselves and gain self-confidence. Such an environment could only be achieved in the schools.

The problem of self-confidence is not limited to girls. It can show up for boys who, for instance, leave their winner position in the Iranian society and find themselves in the unfamiliar and stressful settings of a Western society, where they have to play the dating game to find a girlfriend/partner. I think that is a main reason, among others, why so many Iranian men, living abroad, come back to Iran to find a wife. In most cases it is simply because they they cannot win a partner in their new host societies.

And the coda: all in all, the segregation of sexes as an official code, is yet another brick in the wall of a strictly patriarchal society's guarantee of the continuation of its structure.

* Dating, as is understood in the West, is an unknown practice in Iran. Here the word is used for lack of a better one in English.
** I'm using the term "feminist" rather loosely and in a broad sense.

a at October 25, 2003 06:24 PM [permalink]:

That the dominant male ( government in humans ) wants to segregate males and females is natural. People should not be that stupid to follow it. Thanks for mentioning a few of it's bad results.

b at October 25, 2003 07:13 PM [permalink]:

Segregation of sexes may be as bad as Babak says, but it has nothing to do with the dominant male's behavior. Gee, Don't we have to make some sense?

c--I mean, Babak S at October 25, 2003 07:56 PM [permalink]:

a) I don't think the dominant male "wants" to segregate sexes. Segregartion of sexes is more cultural-traditional, than a direct result of patriarchy, if the dominance is not too wide.

b) It does have to do with dominant male's behaviour, it's just not an effect of this behaviour. As I said in the coda of my post, it blocks the way towards changing this dominance.

Nasser at October 26, 2003 03:14 AM [permalink]:

Dear dudes,
I just want to comment on the last part of the writing that the reason which cause iranian men to back iran to get a wife is that they can not win a girlfriend.I do not know whether it has been your case, but as far as I know, and I see my fellow iranian, it is not a reason. the reason is the cultural difference between iranian men, and western women.Dude, iranian men hve expectations that cannot see in a western girl. There are a lot of cultural differences that cause iranian men to get a wife from iran. Due to the lack of husband in western countries, as far as i know, western girls are so passionate when you propose them. The commitment and monogomy is dying in western countries, and men and women rarely keep their fidelity together. The cultural products and movies and newspapers only advertise the bitrayal, and it seems that day by day, the value of fidelity fades away in western countries and of course in Iran. wish you all the best dudes

Senior Grad at October 26, 2003 03:07 PM [permalink]:


"Dude" has a special connotation in American English which I think is different from that of "mate" in Australian English. Over-using the word "dude" makes your comments look less serious.

I haven't even finished reading the whole post, but I would like to toss a few words regarding the Family Formation part of the article. As you yourself pointed out, the current sex segregation in the Iranian society is *not* a main reason why "arranged" marriages are still the norm. In traditional societies, such as ours, individuals do not get married; clans do.

Because of the residual effects of the extended family culture, as opposed to nuclear family, it is impotant to Iranians to make sure that not only the person they get married to, but the parents, siblings, and even to some extent uncles and aunts, be also approved! For example, if you have a brother in America, then it can be counted a plus for you when you want to propose to a girl, or if your sister is divorced, then it is counted as a minus for you when someone comes to propose to you. And so on and so forth.

But I agree that the enforced sex segregation in the Islamic Republic makes it even harder for individuals to meet and spend some time together before they get married, thus decreasing the chances of eligible youth for finding someone compatible with them, and presumably increasing the rate of divorce. So I don't know why IRI cannot allow matrimonilas, the way it is common among, say, the Indians, be part of the papers and other periodical publications. What the heck is wrong, as far as the holy Islam is concerned, with giving an ad in a paper and saying what kind of person you are and what kind of person you are looking for. Of course, the Iranian ads do not need to resemble the Western counterparts. I had great fun with going over Indian matrimonials in a US-published paper for the Indian community.

They invariably mentioned whether they have a green card, or are looking for someone with US citizenship. Some girls' ads (usually from the parents: "Our daughter is looking for a Gujrati boy...") even mentioned that she wants to marry a doctor. Pretty funny, but pretty useful, too. I don't think the pillars of Islam will be shaken if Iranians newspapers start a section of such ads, respecting the ad-givers' privacy, and the common rules of decency. That would help the youth to meet their like-minded partners. :-)

Senior Grad (and Google) at October 26, 2003 03:12 PM [permalink]:

A random sample:

Matrimonial Ad

Ghazal at October 27, 2003 12:34 AM [permalink]:

I think official sex segregation has had both positive and negative impacts on Iranian society especially as a transitional solution. From a feminist movement point of view on one hand it has blocked the movement of a more frontier women who are coming usually from more educated class of families on the other hand it has provided a better environment for women from more conservative families to get a chance to pursue their goals. I give some examples to clarify on this point. I know many women in Iran who were pursuing their athletic goals seriously while if they had been in a western country it would have been impossible for them to start such an activity in a coed place considering their family backgrounds but then they get to a point where segregation becomes the obstacle as they can not compete with their international opponents. My point is that while segregation closes the door to some girls it also opens a door for some women to experience some thing that otherwise they wouldn't have a chance.
As much as I always wished that I could have been in the boys branch of our high school where more people surrounding me would have been interested in math and physics rather than medicine, I enjoyed being able to ask all my classmates to go to swimming pool after school without interrogating their believes.

Nasser at October 27, 2003 07:07 AM [permalink]:

Thank you very much for your nice reply.I agree with you now. I appreciate you to take your time commenting on my comment.I really enjoy from freethoughts. Thanks again.

A Reader at October 27, 2003 02:01 PM [permalink]:

Although I agree with Babak that segregation of sexes in Iran may have many disadvantages, I completely disagree with his reasoning. It may be true that the "increase of the number of arrange marriages" or the creation of "wrong image of women" in are the consequences of sex segregation in Iran, but I have to say that I cannot disagree less with him on the fact that "low success rate of girls in higher education" is a result of the sex segregation. First of all, I don't quite understand what the low success rate means? In fact given the chance, Iranian women have proven to be very successful in higher education.

As a women who has grown up and has been educated in Iran, I have to say that the unisex 12-year school in the man dominated society such as Iran was the glory of our school system. In our high school, women were actively participating in class, had more self confidence and were more willing to try new things. As we enter the co-ed college, (here I am talking about me and couple of friends of mine who enter the same collage) I could clearly see the difference. The problem was not that we were not scientifically ready or had no selfconfidence, the problem was that we
entered a man dominated world that was designed by men and run by men who
had no interest or desire to welcome us in their world as colleagues. Of course there was no problem of acceptance when it came to accepting us as their housewives. The problem is that Iranian men are not ready or maybe I should say have not given thought to work alongside women, which is a

As Babak himself pointed out from his conversations with his female peers and friends, the problem starts as we(women) enter the co-education four-year universities. Yes, of coarse we have been neglected, and wrongfully assumed to be stupid. But I still could not understand how you came up with such conclusion as:

"In my opinion, this lack of self-confidence, if truly universal among
Iranian girls, is yet another, indirect, consequence of the unisex system
of education"

As you put it the "UNIVERSAL" lack of self confidence in Iranian women is not a consequence of the unisex education. But it has its roots in the Iranian culture. From childhood we have been told to speak with low voices and not to look men in the eye. They have told us not to talk to men because they are dangerous species who are only here to hurt us. They have always told us to cover ourselves, sit politely.
Don't laugh loud (if we were allowed to laugh at all). Don't play in the yard with boys etc.

We had never given a chance to be kids and explore our inner selves. To bring our self confidence up. We have been always kept low and tame for our husband. Of course if that has worked with some women is a different

Senior Grad at October 27, 2003 05:25 PM [permalink]:

The second last paragraph of the above comment reminded me of what I had written a while back under Yaser's August 28th post here in FToI. :-)

I wrote: "I think if I were a girl raised in a traditional family in Iran, where I would be required from early childhood to watch how I sit, how I walk, and even how loud I laugh, ..."

Anyway, I received the October 25 issue of India Tribune today and there it was their web address. Luckily, they have their "Matrimonials" online and I don't have to type some of the funniest ones for you. Check them all out at:

Oops. Sounds like their online version is different, but still funny. :-)

Babak S at October 27, 2003 08:55 PM [permalink]:


I don't think my claim that part of the reason why Iranian men come back home to marry is in conflict with your claim that "the reason is the cultural difference between iranian men, and western women." After all, part of this cultural difference is the gender separation. I understand, however, that my argument is not sophisticated enough to address this issue fully, since not all the problem is in lack of self-confidence and since the way courtship goes is quite complicated. Nevertheless, I believe the gender separation is at least part of the grand reason, with many arms at work, why it's so hard for Iranians (especially men down from their dominant social status) to find a partner in their host societies, whereas it's much easier to see other couples from distant parts of the world.

Babak S at October 27, 2003 09:07 PM [permalink]:

Senior Grad:

Thanks for pointing out other mechanisms, in the bigger picture, behind the business of marriage in Iran. My point was simple in that part: gender separation makes it so much harder for the young to go about finding a partner themselves. Just thinking that they cannot walk in peace in the streets should be enough to confirm this simple point.

Babak S at October 27, 2003 09:11 PM [permalink]:


Many thanks for sharing your experience. Yes, you have a strong point there. Indeed a lot of women who wouldn't be allowed by their husbands or fathers can now justify their increased social activity by the fact that they won't be harrased or bothered or even seen by strange men.

As far as sports are concerned, however, segregation is not an obstacle to the individual, amateur athlete, since the usual trend in sports is that men and women compete in different groups of their own. But even then, as you said, when it comes to international competetions or professional athetics "they get to a point where segregation becomes the obstacle as they can not compete with their international opponents."

Nevertheless, there is another face to gender separation, that is dominance and control. Segregation is, in the core, reactionary, as opposed to progressive. It sets a limit on the possible level of progress, which is particulary low, and ultimately controlable by men. The men who in the specific conditions of the society have the dominant role.

Babak S at October 27, 2003 10:01 PM [permalink]:

And, to my ananymous friend (October 27, 2003 02:01 PM):

First a general point: I didn't mean any of the different issues I highlighted above is a sole effect of the gender separation as their cause. The point is gender separation has aggrevated the problems and blocked the way to a reasonable way out. So, even for the first two categories, that is "Family Formation" and "Image of the Opposite Sex" on which you expressed agreement with me, my phrasing should be clear to show that I am aware there are many more elements, cultural and otherwise, at work.

Now, to the specifics:

First of all, I don't quite understand what the low success rate means? In fact given the chance, Iranian women have proven to be very successful in higher education.

Yes, I agree with you whole-heartedly. Women are quite successful, given the chance. You say that the society starts robbing girls of their self-confidence, successfully or not, from early on in their childhood. I think you are right, the problem is quite deep-rooted in our culture.

My question is, however, very subject-specific. Girls go to all-girls school, and they do very well, most often better than boys in general. They do have self-confidence in their own schools when it comes to studying, taking exams, receiving good marks, etc. At least it's not an issue there. Now why don't they do as well in the college? You say, they are not given the chance. I admit it is true that they have to overcome some tall social barriers in that respect. But there is always a part played by the individuals, no matter if they are aware or in controle of it. This is what constitutes a major difference between the group of women (or men, for that matter) who do overcome those (or other) barriers and those who don't or don't quite. I intend to talk about that role here. My response is, as explained in the article, that women, by and large, are unprepared for a co-ed setting. Boys are also unprepared, but they are helped out by the society and their dominant position, in short by their assumed--however incorrectly or unjustly--winner position.

All that said, I should emphasise that I do agree with almost all you said. Our difference seems to me to be on the point of emphasis.

I would also be very happy to hear more female perspective such as those of Ghazal and the ananymous commenter. AFter all, as PanteA took some pain, I am an outsider and as such my commentary is inevitably inadequate.

Haley at October 27, 2003 10:49 PM [permalink]:

I am a student in the United States and feel that if I had attended an all-female high school and had no contacts with men that I would feel uncomfortable in a situation where I am forced to be with an opposite sex with differing opinions and a dominant status in society. I can see where this would make higher education for females more difficult, especially if what they are striving for is not fully accepted by their culture. Also I understand that your culture traditionally sees women as Babak says "second rate citizens" and feel that the feminist ideas or lack there of should be brought to light, although I understand that unity may be difficult realizing that the seperation between males and females in Iran is so extensive. Although I have some experience in the distance between men and women it is no where near what the people of Iran have to encounter. I agree with Babak when he states that this could be defeating the purpose of the opportunities this modern world has to offer and could offer women.

A Reader at October 27, 2003 11:31 PM [permalink]:

Ignorance about the opposite sex's personality as a result of sex seggregation: A lot of men assume too much or too little of desire in women to meet men ( for social and/or sexual interaction). Women often assume too much of sexual desire in men.

About selfconfidence: A girl's selfconfidence before hitting the real world, in which men exist too, is not a real one. At least I don't respect that. I am not sure if coed without a lot of other changes in Iran would help. Boys, girls, most of us, need a lot more self confidence. Being proud of being a human should be added to our culture.

Azadeh at October 28, 2003 12:20 AM [permalink]:

As we both agree, Iranian men and women are equally unprepared for the co-ed environment of college. You are right that men have the upper hand, but I think it is too much to expect from women to overcome these social barriers without any support system. After all for those women who had some sort of support (family/friends) it is easier to overcome the social problems. However I can imagine that it would be much more difficult for women who grow up in traditional families or with no type of support system to overcome these issues.

You are saying “if you were strong you could have make it”. I am saying that no matter how strong you are, you need to be given the chance to be able to make it.

Most women in Iran just give up. After all the issue of doing good in college is one of our tiniest problems. We need to reserve our energy for later battles in life.

Niayesh at October 28, 2003 08:01 AM [permalink]:
Dear Babak, As interesting a subject as it is, it appears to me that you fail to provide an objective view of the separation of sexes in the Iranian society, a view which should include both pros and cons. In fact, you treat this matter as a taboo, in the very same way that Islamic conservatives would treat gender integration as one, which makes your post more of a rhetoric, rather than analysis. Here, I try to demonstrate how and why: First of all, segregation, at least put in the historical context, is a strong and rather inappropriate word for the state of male/female interaction in Iran. The sexes are inherently inseparable and also you get to meet and interact with the opposite sex in various social situations, ranging from family gatherings to the shopping malls, parks, libraries, youth clubs etc., even before getting intimate with one. This is in contrast with the historical use of segregation, with different facilities, neighborhoods, stores, etc. for people of color, which would minimize any interaction between them and the white people. Secondly, different genders do share different facilities e.g. bathrooms, dormitories, or prisons (if you call it a facility…), even in the de-segregated western countries, and no-body claims that they harm women’s rights in any way (if not protect it). So, sex separation is not wrong in principle, and in fact can be justified depending on the situation. I agree that treating interaction of opposite sexes (or almost anything else for that matter) as a taboo, as done in the Islamic Republic, could have damaging effects at the social and individual levels. However, I argue that separation of certain facilities, including the primary and secondary education, could be in fact beneficial at the practical level. The simple reason is that teenagers are not mature enough to be able to handle their feelings towards the opposite sex. As a result, as you see in the co-ed high schools, they spend a good amount of time obsessing about their image and finding the girl/boy to hang out with, instead of concentrating on their study. I believe, while teenagers can spend their spare time developing their inter-sex social skills in various social settings outside of school, they are better off spending their school time on developing other skills, rather than obsessing about their sex life. As to your specific points: Although the concept of arranged marriage may not be very appealing to single people, the fact is that the dating game which follows from free and un-committed relationships, leads to years of emotional roller-coaster, weak marriages which often lead to adultery, single mothers and fathers, and abandoned children. All and all, this could be more harmful to a society than arranged but consensual marriages, I believe. Are women second class citizens in Iran? Certainly not, although, they have traditionally different roles. I’d say the Islamic Republic has been incredibly successful in bringing the women out of their traditional place and putting them in the traditionally male dominated roles. More than half of the freshman college students and about 20% of graduate students (I think) are female. Five percent of the parliament representatives are women. These are the statistics that I know, and there is much more that you can tell me … I understand that women tend to leave their college studies more often, due to lack of motivation and/or marriage. However, ["Toooo long!" editors say, "Here: click to read the whole thing!"]
Kaveh Kh. at October 28, 2003 09:34 AM [permalink]:

Niayesh, I am tempted to ask this question: Are you putting forward those arguments as if you believe in them or you have logically concluded them? How about all the facts that you present? Do you believe in them or you think you can substantiate them upon references, credible sources and tautologies?

It is extremely hard to put comparisons in places in social studies. Even statistics, as used by socialogists can be misleading. The comparisons that you make, do not make sense in an objective way because we don't have a "witness" society to compare.

Babak, you, and in fact no one for that matter, can put an objective collection of facts about a phenomenon in the society: It is not a ridgid body that you could draw all the forces acting on it and find its motion afterwards.

However the fact that most of the materials produced (and to be produced) on social sciences is "rhetoric" does not disqualify them. Rhetoric is far stronger than logic when it comes to people. That is also why more people understand concepts of advanced sociology than they understand the concepts of, say, supersymmetry in theoretical physics.

Niayesh at October 28, 2003 12:04 PM [permalink]:


No I don't believe in any of these as a matter of faith. I was just presenting the other side of the argument, from my point of view.

I believe actual numbers (at least in this case) should be consulted before reaching any conclusion, which could be the only way of making some sense out of this mess. If the female to male ratio in our graduate schools is as low as anywhere else, you'd better not (just) blame the sex separation at high schools for it.

A Reader at October 28, 2003 05:12 PM [permalink]:

Even if separated schools for boys and girls is better for them with some criteria, the government does not have the right to abolish them.

Babak S at October 28, 2003 09:28 PM [permalink]:
Niyayesh: I did not mean to provide an objective account of the issue. The reason is in part, as Kaveh put it, I cannot put together "an objective collection of facts about a phenomenon in the society" since I am quite biased towards them. (I would even go further and say the same thing about physical science as well, but let's not get into that territory for now.) However, this does not mean that my posting, as it is above, is just a rhetoric. There are facts, and statistics as you wish, to back up, substantiate, and corroborate my claims. I will give a hint at the end of this comment. Let me also add that, in a way, I do present the issue as taboo, but not in the same way as Islamic conservatives would do with integration of sexes. The taboo here is not the integration or separation of sexes, rather human freedom. You are right, segregartion is a rather strong term, but in no way inappropriate, in my opinion. There is a real and concrete program, to keep sexes apart in Iran, as much as possible. Of course, that much is never as much as what was in place for people of color. Sexes are indeed inherently inseparable, as you say, and that is exactly why the current state of affair in Iran is all the more absurd. "...different genders do share different facilities [...] even in the de-segregated western countries..." Hm. You meant "do not share", right? Well, yes, most of the time they do have the option to use separate facilities, or share the same one. There are mixed dorms as well as all-girl ones. But my post is not about sharing a washroom with the opposite sex, anyways, not about differences of sexes and their separation for convenience, but about separation as a policy, on a much larger scale than washrooms and dorms. As to co-ed vs. unisex schools, as I said in the article, there is a good amount of debate, and the issue is not so simple to decide. You may have a point in what you say against co-ed schools, but there is also a point in the case for them in the same context, that is, that developing inter-sex social skills in a safe and controlable environment (school) is more beneficial. I do not see, however, how you base your argument on the premise that "teenagers are not mature enough to be able to handle their feelings towards the opposite sex." As correct as it sounds, that's only the reason we take so much pain to educate them, in controlable test environments. "years of emotional roller-coaster, weak marriages which often lead to adultery, single mothers and fathers, and abandoned children" is not anything specific to the Western societies or a result of the game of dating. The situation in Iran is quite similar, or at least not too different. Dating, if anything, should result in a better judgment, by any common sense. Since I can't go into details why it seems I disagree with you on almost all of the points you raised, let's just end this reply with a bit of statistics, as you like. According to Statistics Center of Iran, here's a table of university graduates in Iran in the year 2000-2001: Bachelor's Degree Men: 39,640 (51%) Women: 38,611 (49%) Master's Degree Men: 5,943 (78%) Women: 1,704 (22%) Doctor's Degree Men: 1,246 (72%) Women: 475 (28%) Source: University Graduates by sex, major and degree level. Even in the fields that women outnumber men in undergraduate studies by far (Humanities, Arts and interestingly Basic Sciences) the post-graduate percentages follow the averages above closely, making the popu ["Toooo long!" editors say, "Here: click to read the whole thing!"]
Ghazal at October 29, 2003 12:23 AM [permalink]:

I think the lower success of women in higher education has more to do with their traditional role in families than the segregation. As everybody seems to agree women in Iran are not doing badly on their part in high schools or getting in to colleges. Although the decline Babak suggests in his post have to encounter the time factor as well because as the desire for higher education goes up there always will be a higher percentage at the bottom of the pyramid, but still the decline starts when girls reach the averaged age that their traditional roles as wives and mothers persuade them to make career sacrifices and I think to improve the situation the more urgent effort has to be done on this front while the segregation also needs to be addressed in a very cautious way so it wouldn’t back fire.
There already are good examples of programs with coed education environments for teenagers like cultural centers, astronomy centers, Olympiad camps, … that although in most of them the interaction between the opposite sexes is very limited as it is in the universities but they are quite successful, so I think one just needs to take those experiences and develop them.

Babak S at October 29, 2003 01:26 AM [permalink]:

Ghazal, I admit the expected traditional role of women in society is a much more important determinant in what goes on to women after they graduate from high school and/or enter universities. I brought up co-ed vs. unisex schooling in my post just in a very limited area, as a reason, in combination with the given status of women and men, for the issue of self-confidence in a restricted co-ed environment as universities.

Obviously, then, the problem is not solved if co-ed schools were opened up overnight. It's probably not even a wise move, due to fear of backfire as you said, to even push for anything concrete in that direction, yet. But I think we should be aware of the problem at least. Your suggestions seem to me to be reasonable and probably feasible.

Senior Grad at October 29, 2003 12:34 PM [permalink]:

Just to make it clear to American readers what Babak means by "washroom" in one of his comments above: In Canada they call washroom what is known in the US by the name of "bathroom" or "restroom" (which is a good translation of the somewhat vulgar MOSTARAH in Persian) and in Iran by the (obsolte? Biritish) acronym W.C. :-)

Senior Grad at October 29, 2003 01:08 PM [permalink]:

My overall impression of Babak's posting was not that he claimed to put forward some "objective" facts. In fact, his post (Alright, is it "post" or "posting" for Heaven's sake? Could someone tell me?) had quite an "impressionistic" flavor.

I'm sure Babak could have done a much more fool-proof job, though. It seems to me that he admits that by writing: "So, here I would only talk about a few rather arbitrary [random?] points that have occupied my mind in the recent days and leave the rest to other people to explore."

I enjoyed the exchange of ideas, but I don't have much to contribute at this point, beside the fact that they are making it impossible in Iran for students to experience a co-ed environment. :-)

Also, Babak, I did not mention matrimonial ads merely as another mechanism for finding your prospective spouse. What I meant was, even if and when Iranian boys and girls start mingling freely in the work environment, in schools (and I shall leave it ambiguous what kind of schools), and on streets, then this lack of enforced segregation, in and of itself, would not lead, as naturally as it would in an individualized country, to their permanent union and forming a family. Because...

Well, because for two people to get married in Iran, a host of other conditions must satisfy, even among the urban Westernized stratum of the Iranian society. The families, for example, must *match* (BEH HAM BEKHORAN), while this is hardly a concern in America.

So although I can't help laughing at Indians who want to find a spouse for their children that is from the same caste, I realize that the situation in Iranian society is not much better. There are the Urban/Rural, even the Tehrani/Provincial[=SHAHRESTANI] divide, religious/non-religious divide, and the divides based on what kind of job one's father (or parents) have. So I guess the situation in Iran is almost as ridiculous...

Senior Grad at October 29, 2003 01:36 PM [permalink]:

Speaking of Indians, I remember back in Iran when I was in my salad days ;-) and had not come in touch with a non-Iranian environment, once we were having a conversation with some Indian dudes ;-) about the male-female relationship in India, or at least among educated Indians. You surely agree that generally speaking India is also a traditional society with pre-modern values and ideas about the roles and statuses of men and women, so we were surprised to hear from those dark-skinned dudes, in reply to our endless queries about how boys and girls interacted in India, that they would easily share jokes with sexual overtones with their female colleagues in the univeristy.

The point I am trying to make by relating this little anecdote being: Given the huge gap between the cultures of the East and West, for finding solutions to our problems, we better start by looking at societies which resemble our own's more. Comparing Iran and America, more often than not, will not yield practical solutions, as these societies represent the opposite poles of a cultural spectrum. So I think we should start by looking at the examples that are more similar to our own and see how they're managing to progress towards "modernity" and what possible problems they have had to tackle.

For example, to me, having been raised under the Islamic Republic's strict version of Islam, it is absurd to see in Pakistani eating places a huge poster on the wall with the word Allah or some verses of Koran embellished on it, and at the same time half-naked beauties dancing and singing on the TV screen of that easting place. I finish with another anecdote.

I once had a female student who I knew was Arab. She was always decently dressed (meaning no showing the legs or tight too outfits) but never covered her hair either. Then one day she told me she couldn't take the quiz because she was weak because (guess what) she was fasting. I was this close to asking her: How come, then, you don't wear hijab? But I realized that I'm now in America, so I better shut up and say nothing. :-)

Shiraz at October 29, 2003 05:50 PM [permalink]:
This is a very nice topic to discuss indeed, since I guess many of us by living abroad realize how much we have been affected by the limitations imposed on us by the Islamic republic regarding our interactions with the opposite sex. Actually I think Babak’s posting is quite acceptable. Sex segregation has enforced all the points that he has mentioned. Of course there are other factors like traditions and financial situation involved as well that can be discussed in other postings. In my opinion, co-ed education has more benefits than harms. I guess there is not much value in being successful women in unisex schools if later on we fail to be successful in the real mixed sex world. Besides, I don’t agree that teenagers should focus on their studies and not think about the opposite sex. And even more, that is not what is happening in our schools. Young girls spend a lot of time focusing on their self image and how to impress the guys who are waiting outside the school door. Teenage attractions are inevitable and part of ones life. I guess in our society too much attention is given to school-work and far less to children’s personality growth. School should be a place to shape the soul as well as the mind. Co-ed education gives the opportunity to children to interact with the opposite sex on natural basis. You learn to accept the other sex as a human not just as your potential mate. There was an example about Indians society, they have co-ed system and they also have strong family values and moral standards. I’m partly bothered by the fact that all the solutions that we find for our societies problems are restricted to a small number of people. How many young people go to olympiad camps to have the opportunity to interact together? How many even go to the universities? I hope we could see more that our own backyards. I agree also that separation of schools have given the opportunity to the girls from traditional families to go to schools, which is by itself a good achievement This is similar to the argument that since hejab is mandatory then many religious girls can now go to universities because no one is going to harass them. These are good results coming out of bad laws I guess the negative points are more striking than the positive ones though. We could have still encouraged the religious females to study by creating unisex schools/colleges (as in US) and not impose the system on whole female population of the country. As an example of how sex separation can result in females getting the small piece of the pie. We were in our last year of high school, our district in Tehran (mantaghe 6) didn’t allow men to teach in girls high schools. It was the third month of the school year and we still didn’t have a mechanics and math teacher! Finally they sent us a teacher who was just to fill in the empty spot with no useful knowledge. What was the solution? After the third month, we hired (with our own money) two male teachers and they had to SNICK in our classroom before the school would start (7 am) and they had to leave when the first recession had ended. We would also have sessions on Fridays. Now that I think back it was ridiculous. This is what Babak refers as “waist of money and energy”. Most my arguments are about education and mixed sex interactions. Since I have never applied for a job in Iran to see how are females affected in that front. Even though I remember one of the professors in my college once replied to one of my fri ["Toooo long!" editors say, "Here: click to read the whole thing!"]
Senior Grad at October 29, 2003 09:12 PM [permalink]:

Okay, let's make a compromise here. In absence of an Islamic regime which enforces certain moral codes on a society where a relatively big portion of the population have been steeped in "Western values" during the reign of the former regime or at least exposed to images of the West through the global media, and also in absence of some ultra-secular regime, like the one in France that seems to have a problem with schoolgirls wearing headscarves, how about having *both* co-ed and unisex schools? Let the parents decide if they want their children should focus on their studies (whom are we fooling here? I don't really know about adolecsent girls, but healthy adolescent guys are *obsessed* with girls, and keeping them away from girls may even fan their flames, rather than help extinguish them, but read on) and postpone experiencing the opposite sex until after marriage, or if they believe a certain first-hand familiarity with the opposite sex may indeed be harmless, even beneficial to their children's psychological well-being and overall growth, as opposed to growth only in one or two limited domains.

It is hard however, let me admit, to decide as a parent which alternative is "better". Of course, it all depends on the cultural make-up of the society they would be living in. I can imagine, for example, that given the chance, the Iranian upper-class families would compete in sending their children to co-ed schools, just as they would blindly compete in consuming so many other Western products and absorbing (I wish) the Western ways.

About co-ed schools in America, from the very few conversations I have had with some Americans, it seems that highschool years is usually among the most painful experiences a young adult has to go through. This results from the confusion and the psychological instability, if you will, typical of adolecsence years compounded by peer pressure and self-image issues which I do not want to bother to write systematically about. (Dark comedies about highschool years are available.)

Babak S at October 29, 2003 11:24 PM [permalink]:

On co-ed vs. unisex schools, I thought I might add that while it's understandably difficult for parents to decide which one is a better choice for their teenage children, there doesn't seem to be any argument, like the one given by Niayesh, to exclude co-ed elementary schools.

As strange as it sounds even to myself, I did go to a co-ed school the first two years of my elementary school. Afterwards when I had to go to an all-boy school for higher grades, I always missed the smooth, rather gracious atmosphere of my co-ed school, which was replaced by coarsement and violent boy fights.

Arash Jalali at October 30, 2003 09:21 AM [permalink]:

I didn't know that Babak! So that's why you were so mild-tempered as a teenager, huh? :-) Well, I can say when I was in elementary school, though known to be a "chicken" among my peers, I would never have traded those boy fights with anything else in the world, especially with girls. Yet again, I was just a kid and unable to comprehend what I was missing :-)

Joking aside, I really do not think the question of unisex vs. non-segregated systems of education can be taken out of a larger as well as more signifcant context, i.e. the society itself. I think given the current state of affairs in the "modern" or better to say urban Iranian society, a co-ed system would prove to be more detremental than useful. Like it or not, we are talking about a society suffering from a severe case of sexual repression. The first step to be taken, in my opinion, is to find a way to at least mitigate this society-wide "sex issue"; to degrade it from a major issue to just an issue concerning certain demographics, e.g. teenagers. I think what Babak's argument against this separation of sexes can be very well applied to, is the question of performance in the workplace. I cannot imagine being able to properly work with a female colleague and successfully function in a project, if we were to constantly think of eachother as someone whom we could have sex with or marry to. I realize this could happen in any country including the U.S., but in a sexually repressed society, this mindset could dominate and overwhelm the mindset of people. People potentially seek to release this urge in just any setting involving members of the opposite sex, and even if the involved parties for any reason do not do such a thing, others will most probably assume they are or eventually will. I think this is the direct result of people not having proper experience in having members of the opposite sex in different social encounters.

Also, I believe our cultural perception of the sexual roles of men and wome desparately needs to be reformed. As long as, men are seen as sole "takers", and women as sole "givers" in a sexual interaction, the takers will always be seen (by both men and women) as the hungry animals waiting to take just about anything they can take, and the "givers" as the sweet cookies in need of protection from the "takers". This is exactly the kind of image Islam depicts of men and women and the kind of justification the kind of Taliban and to some extent IRI use to justify their model for separating the sexes. I believe regardless of the sexual repercussions of such policies, it will have far more serious social consequences such as making women feel vulnerable and lose their self-confidence in every social expereince with men, as well as giving men a false sense of superiority which allows to them assume the domant role in every social experience with women.

Arash Jalali at October 30, 2003 09:28 AM [permalink]:

I would also like to make a point which might not be directly related to the topic of this posting. So many people, from Islamic scholars and Islamist theorizers and philosophizers to liberal thinkers and feminsits have put forward arguments regarding the (in)equality of the sexes. I would like to say here, that regardless of the logical and/or biological and/or religious reasons as to why men and women should or shoud not to be considered equal, I think there is a very good pragmatic reason as to why men and women should be given a equal opportunities: I think any kind of sexual/religious/racial discrimination will evetually lead to either serious social dysfuntions or opposite (and equally dangerous) extremism.

I think right now in Iran, many even presumably "successful" women - such as university professors, CEO's, directors, government officials, etc. - feel so much pressured to act as ministers and defenders of women's rights that their productivity has fallen to a degree that in some cases has caused them to be a total disgrace to even their own professions let alone women, and have therefore turned into good examples for the proponents of masculine dominance who argue that women are inherently incapable of properly doing "a man's job".

I have personally had many female professors both in my undergraduate and graduate years, and what I can strongly say about them is that they were almost all lousy scholars, scientists and even teachers; Not because of any lack of aptitude or knowledge, but because they were mostly so obsessed with proving themselves as competent "women" that they all forgot about being a scholar and a scientist. Everytime, someone reminded them of a simple insignifcant mistake they had made in the class, they took it either as a personal criticism or as just another attempt to belittle the position of a "successful womam" in a male dominated world. One could say they had developed this huge inferiority complex. One which will probably cause them to eventually either quit their jobs (as one of my professors did), or continue to be the lousy professionals that they had become!

Senior Grad (with Google) at October 31, 2003 12:09 PM [permalink]:

In regard to dating versus arranged marriage, a position similar to that of Niayesh above is elaborated on and defended in the following article by an allegedly 14 year old muslim.

I do not have time to comment on it now, but let's read it and discuss it among ourselves.

Senior Grad at October 31, 2003 02:09 PM [permalink]:
Some hurried remarks: I could not find solid statistics comparing the rate of success in arranged marriages vis-a-vis "love marriages". (Apparently, in some transitional cultures, such as in Korea and in Japan, they actually have distinct words for these two sorts of marriages. Cf for details.) But I am willing to accept Niayesh's claim that, *statistically*, arranged marriages are more stable than marriages based on dating. Marriage is a curious business. *Overall*, it seems to be the best compromise that humans have come up with, that addresses, as fairly as it is presently conceivable, the conflicting needs of the man and the woman in their "sacred" union. (I said "overall", because there may be cases in which marriage is not really the best way to go.) (The term "arranged marriage" can have different interpretations and thus admits various instances but I don't think it does justice to what is typically done among urban Iranians. To me, the word "arranged" connotes the parties involved not having the chance to exercise their own will.) I think I can sympathize with Niayesh, because not long ago I was a steadfast defender of a similar view on the superiority and advantages of traditional ways of forming a family over the new ways, that is playing the dating game, as Niayesh puts it. So at times, it quite puzzled me that with this rate of sex crimes in this country, there is still this leggy blonde girl with the most dazzling body curves strutting right in front of me in her high heels wearing the shortest miniskirt imaginable, thus making access to her most private parts a matter of a manly fit of craze for female flesh and a few short seconds. Why don't they wear soem hijab?! Wouldn't it be safer for them? Wouldn't it help sex crimes drop substantially? I see a similarity between that logic and the logic applied to our arguments *for* arranged marriage: "Statistics show that arranged marriages are more secure and durable that love marriages, so why on earth should we try dating?" Right? I guess one cannot overemphasize the importance that is given to Love and the role it plays in marriages in this culture. Love is given mythical dimensions by the popular literature (including the TV shows, movies, etc.) and there is hardly anything more frowned-upon than a love-less marriage. While in Iran, most women are more than happy to snare a husband who can provide for them and their children and who is not abusive, in the US, as far as I can report from my conversations with American females, the concept of a love-less marriage, no matter how convenient, is simply an absurdity. Hence the no-fault divorce laws, and therefore, women who find themselves trapped is love-less marriages opt for supporting themselves and their children rather than staying with someone only because he provides for them. See, there is also a logic in what these women say, and disregarding the disastrous consequences that a broken home has for the children, it does make perfect sense. I guess because in this culture Love and Freedom (and, to play with words, the love of freedom and the freedom to love) are given a value much higher than we are used to, they are naturally preferred to the convenience and durability and financial security that a love-less marricage (I just made up this word :-) ) can offer, hence the popularity of the dating game (and, I should admit, the prevalence of broken hearts) rather than accepting to a decision made, or, oka ["Toooo long!" editors say, "Here: click to read the whole thing!"]
Senior Grad at October 31, 2003 02:38 PM [permalink]:

And a few more words in praise of non-traditional marriage!

Sexual incompatibility of husband and wife is sometimes considered the root cause of some unhappy marriages. It is therefore advantagous, from a non-religious point of view, that the couple who want to spend a lifetime together, and a good part of it in the bedroom, first make sure that they are compatible in matters of intimacy. :-)

Senior Google! at October 31, 2003 04:16 PM [permalink]:

I was just reading Arash's comment about how Islam (or our culture in general: AZ SHIR HAMLEH KHOSH BOVAD O AZ GHAZAL RAM!) depicts men as predators and women as "cookies" to be eaten and then found the following interesting article:

"I have a theory that all men have a need to hunt and women are the happiest when hunted."

Elnaz at October 31, 2003 10:24 PM [permalink]:

I just had a point about Niayesh's comment.

the reason the rates of divorce in Iranian society are low is because it is a social taboo, especially for women, not that arranged marriages are happy ones.So this is not a criterion to be used against "dating game" as you put it.

An Iranian Student (AIS) at November 2, 2003 06:01 AM [permalink]:

Nietzche once wrote of two kinds of disease: one that is outwardly, obvious, revolting , bloody and honest! the other , an inward corruption , with no trace of blood, which destroys the organism completely from within.
Yes, there are many ethical problems in the west, divorce cases and broken families, or teenager obsessions with the dating game (a minor example compared to the previous ones!)...but they are all in the open and that's why they will lead to remedies and changes to enhance the situation.
In traditional societies , the problems are of the second type. Outwardly there seems nothing to be wrong, families are intact and people study, but much worse is in process, especially for women. They suffer in secret and die out without a sound, their diginity destroyed and their human worth raped by almost everybody, their parents, their husbands, the society, the government, the value system, the traditions, the supposed God...
I prefere the first kind, no matter how loud and ugly it might look, I really do!
As far as segregation is concerend, again the same thing goes, students study better, but the symptoms show much later in life, where nothing much comes out of the study! and the emotional harm they get in those critical years of being a teenager, it follows them all their life.
And I don't think I need to mention the high rate of forced homosexual tendenices during highschool years (atleast for boys, but I suspect the same goes for girl highschools.)....

Senior Grad at November 2, 2003 03:32 PM [permalink]:

Even though my comments above from the other day have all been ignored (I am presumptuous enough to assume that some of you actually *read* my comments and *then* ignore them :-) ) I would like to share some more thoughts with you about some of the points Babak raised towards the end of his writing.

Matters related to education, to be honest, are not my favorite issues to correlate to the sex-segregatory policies of the Islamic Republic, especially not the measurable education, because education can mean different things in different countries and thus the percentages should not be taken at face value, because the issues at stake are pretty much multifaceted and reducing them to a bunch of number is bound to give an incomplete, and at times, a twisted picture of the situation.

As always, I think we should resist being lured into the clear-cut easy-to-compare pictures that numbers seem to provide, because that would strip us of qualitative discussions which constitute the core substance of the accurate mathematical models to be.

In the context of Iranian women's self-confidence, I think it has a lot more to do, as some comments above agree, to the expectations that Iranian girls are raised with. By which I mean two things: expectations *of* them, i.e., their expected roles, *and* the expectation that they themselves grow to learn to have in regard to how they should be treated by the society in general and the male population in particular. To clarify my point, I could use a few examples here.

Thanks to sexual revolution of the '60s and the much older feminist movements in this country, American women today are raised to feel so independent that in day-to-day encounters they take offense if you volunteer to help them! Compare this with an Iranian woman's willingness to let you help her carry her grocery bags to her home. One of my vivid memories is when I offered a girl here to get off her car and help, you know, park the car, by saying: "BIA, BIA, BIA, BIA, HOPPP!" She was obviously mad at me for, I understood only much later, suggesting that she was incapable of parking her car without my help. If you offer your seat on a crowded bus to a lady, the chances are she'd refuse to sit (unless she's pregnant, or really old), because to her, that would mean that she's less than a man, while feminists took pains to prove otherwise. To your dismay, your chivalrous gesture, therefore, would be interpreted as a sexist one. (To be continued)

Senior Grad (cntd.) at November 2, 2003 03:57 PM [permalink]:

Now, Iranian women are, on the other hand, raised to ask for help. Iranian men, too, complete the picture by believing that it is their honor and a matter of showing proper courtesy to give a hand to the helpless, and the "gentle sex" are surely considered to fall in that category. (Let's not get, for the moment, into the contradictions of our culture, and how and why this much respected gentle sex is often subject to harsh abuses.)

If your family car needs an oil change, then both the Iranian man and the Iranian woman (and I'm not talking about the handful exceptions) know whose duty it is to get the job done. Or, let's be fair, we all know whose job it is in the house to make ghormeh-sabzi. :-)

So based on all this, I assess the lack of opportunities for young boys and girls in Iran to freely interact a *minor* cause of Iranian men's rate of failure in the so-called dating game with (North) American women. If he is wise, the single male Iranian immigrant, soon finds out that they have a better chance with non-Iranian girls who come from cultures with similar traditions.

For a curious reason, men seem to me to show more inflexibility than women in adjusting to the ways of a new culture, while many Iranian girls I have met here, seem to embrace the American way. Hmmm. But wait! Not exactly. IMHO, flexibility, being a virtue and all, is nonetheless what causes a good amount of confusion for the intelligent Iranian women in the US!

In trying to cater to Iranian man's expectations of a "good" woman (or trying to put up an image of a good would-be wife) and respect his old-fashioned sensitivities AND at the same time wanting to enjoy the great possibilities that are not available to Iranian women back home (either because of our beloved ancient culture, or our beloved regime's repressive policies, or simply because of lack of facilities), but are provided in the new country simply exacerbates this confusion. (To be continued)

Senior Grad (cntd.) at November 2, 2003 04:31 PM [permalink]:

So, in a non-malicious attempt to reverse Babak's claimed casue-&-effect (although, once again, a cause-effect model can't possible do justice to such a complicated "dynamic" system. Thanks, Hazhir :-) ), I conclude that it is in fact the traditional upbringing of not only girls, but both boys and girls, in Iran that makes the enforced sex-segregation look acceptable, and, as some comments above concur, make it undesirable, even impractical, to let them mingle freely in society.

For example, if teen pregnancy is admittedly a social problem in the West, a similar rate of teen pregnancy in Iran would have catastrophic implications. (Same is true for guns! Imagine Iranians can buy guns legally like Americans can. It can easily imagine what hedious crimes would take place in the country of flowers and nightingales! But that's another matter.) Given the current culture, co-ed highschools will lead to a lot of forced marriages (hence defeating a purpose they were established for to begin with) and, I'm sure you agree, quite a bit of raise in the national homicide, because although we're generally not as dickhead as some other peoples in the area are known to be, honor killings are not quite an impossibility in smaller Iranian towns.

Babak's favorite question, therefore, remains: What's the remedy? Where are we to start with for institutionalizing a positive change? It is such a complicated system with so many uncontrollable feedbacks reinforcing the current conditions. Should one start, as the likes of Shirin Ebadi did, by reforming the civil laws? Should we (in ideal circumstances) slowly let the youngsters mix together more loosely, at least so they have the chance to satisfy their curiosity about what the un-related members of the opposite sex are really like and thus relinquish the common youthful infatuations (common in Iran, that is!) that can cause psychological harm to them? Or should we start by empowering the "weak" sex and bolstering an image of women that is radically different the image that is so pervasive in our culture and have Iranian mothers bring up strong daughters (easier said than done) with different expectations? Girls who when a light bulb burns out go up on a chair and change the light bulb themselves? :-)

I think we should not focus on one of these possible solutions as the place to start from. One should rather fight the age old injustice on different fronts. One may prioritize, to be sure, based on what one is capable of at the moment, but while all of these, and presumably a host of other ways that I cannot think of at the moment, should be exploited, none of them alone seems to be sufficient for effecting a durable change.

Finally, in memory of saoshyant (who I hope is fine, wherever he is and whatever he's busy with), I would like to apologize for the length of this segmented comment, which is almost a post(ing) in itself. :-)

Babak S at November 2, 2003 07:51 PM [permalink]:

Senior Grad,

Thanks for your interest in my post/posting. Your comments are not ignored, surely not by me. It is just that they are quite long and multi-faceted, so much that an engagement in a conversation seems like a risky enterprise, at least in terms of time consumption :)

But here are a few points that came to my mind while going through your comments:

First off, I did not mean to post statistics as a way of proving my "ideas." I did so in part since Niayesh had wanted to see some figures, and because I realized the numbers he had in mind were not correct. Nevertheless, these numbers do mean something, and that is that for whatever reason, female graduates do not wish to or cannot continue their studies in Iran. I know many girls continuing their studies here in Canada, in the US and in Europe, some of whome contribute to this site as well. I have not made a count but my feeling is that their numbers are quite comparable to the number of their boy peers, if not more.

Now, it appears you think this population reversal is not a result of separation of sexes, but the conditions in which women live in Iran. I do agree the reason cannot be so simple as a few years of unisex school, but more complex and certainly more diverse. However, I think the unisex system of education, put in its proper place in the bigger picture of Iranian society, is a relevant element. It may not be a cause, as I said before, but definitely a determining factor, at least in the form of a constraint. It blocks the way to ameliorate the issue. We simply cannot bring up our kids in two separate, isolated camps, and expect them to match, live and interact with each other seamlessly when they grow up.

Yes, there would be problems, in the phase transition. People might get out of control, and I mean out of their own control, if there were co-ed schools suddenly, or if there were to be, for that matter, any overnight relaxation of the restrictions superimposed by the Islamic Republic, say mandatory hijab, etc. But looking at the education system as a society's only means of bringing about deep-rooted and effective positive changes and solutions to its problems, passing through this period of transition seems necessary. It should be done and it should be done wisely.

I'll come back when I restore my breath...

Senior Grad at November 8, 2003 09:39 PM [permalink]:

Sorry, Babak, for taking your breath away. ;-)

I see you're fighting in another front, and it's far from MOROVVAT [what's the English for this one?] to "attack" you here. (For the information of those devoid of a sense of humor: I'm joking here. I'm not attacking anybody in my comments-- I hope-- and hence the quotes.) In fact, I was tempted to put this comment below the post(ing) titled ``Ebadi Reconsidered", but then this does not have a whole lot to do with that topic, except a few comments there about women's and men's roles in family.

Anyway I put some more thought into the issue of the so-called arranged marriages and their (alleged, and in my own opinion, true)stability. Here I want to hypothesise that the (cor)relation between durability and arranged-ness is *not* a causal one. But first two points:

First, I have an issue with calling the type of marriage where parents' role is merely suggesting and introducing potential spouses for their children and perhaps providing free consultation, *not* forcing their viewpoints and *making* their daughters or sons marry someone *they* (i.e., the parents) have chosen. In fact, there is not much difference between this kind of marriage and the unions that are formed, at different levels, (casual dating, serious dating, and marriage), through personal ads or other mechanisms for meeting eligible boys or girls. I guess it's obvious that for two people to meet they must either meet purely by accident or it must be somehow "arranged", be parents or other means.

Secondly, just a clarification about how this is related to the subject of this post(ing). Babak suggested that Iranian men's failure in their relationships (An excerpt from a New Yorker story which is "linked to" in linkdooni: "Ali Behdad, a forty-two-year-old professor of English at U.C.L.A., sees himself as part of a lost generation, too young to have had an independent life in Iran but too old to feel completely at home in America. Iranians his age have trouble sustaining relationships, he says; he has been divorced three times, and recently married again. Between his marriages, his family in Iran offered to find him a beautiful wife if he would only come home..." Read the rest of this interesting essay in New Yorker.) has (a lot?) to do with their lack of first-hand experience with girls in a society where sex-segregation is the official policy. I am by no means denying the bad aspects of this extreme irrational unwise and in one word stupid policy of the Islamic Republic, mind you. I am just trying to shed light, mainly for myself (hence my begging you to write feedbacks) mainly on the "real" causes of such failures here.

To be continued below:

Senior Grad at November 8, 2003 10:12 PM [permalink]:

Okay, first there is one too many "mainly"s in the last line of my comment above. Cross out the second one. It's not very smart of me to first post the comment and *then* review it, but what do you expect from a Senior Grad? :->

Anyway, I want to expound on my previous comments above and suggest that the *dynamics* of Iranian (read: traditional) marriages is fundamentally different from the "dynamics" that dominates the present-day American (read: modern) marriages. I would like to claim that most Iranian guys fail to see, understand, come to terms with, and accept the latter dynamics. (You may be able to come up with a better word instead of "dynamics", but this is the best word I could think of. I do not mean to use big words just to impress you!)

The stability of Iranian marriage owes a lot to, aside from a host of *external* factors (like the fact that divorce is tradictionally considered a disgrace or stuff of this sort), the nature of the bond between the man and the woman in a marriage. In a traditional society, the *person* is not a complete social unit by itself. She or he is rather considered "incomplete" until she or he gets married, because some humans are supposed to earn money and some other humans are supposed to cook and clean and rear the children. And who does what is determined by what gender they are.

(Granted, part of it is dictated by nature: Men --well most men I've seen at least-- can't lactate! However, there is a tendency to make this natural difference an excuse and spread it to other domains where nature has remained silent, and make up rationales for, for example, why men are better as judges and women make lousy judges, as it has been the case in our society, and there is a tendency to split the hair and find out what is the exact limit of what nature has dictated and treat women and men equally in other areas and give them equal opportunities as it has been the case in the West due to feminist movements...)

In a traditional setting, therefore, the *couple* rather than the individual, is the smallest unit in society. The man and the woman stay married, because, aside from other reasons, and even in absence of very young children who need parental care, it is more convenient for both of them: The man brings home the money and changes the burnt out light bulbs and fixes the water faucet and whatnot, while the woman keeps the house clean and makes delicious Persian meals. Such is a peaceful co-existence, indeed! (Well.....)

In other words, such marriages can perhaps be described as "co-dependent", although this term has a (technical?) meaning which may not be quite the one that I'm intending here, but it is clear what I mean: they stay together because none can survive without the other, or at least the price each one should pay for living independently does not outweigh the costs --and *not only* financial costs-- of their living together under one roof. I hope you agree with me that this co-dependence makes marriages more durable.

To be continued below:

Senior Grad at November 8, 2003 11:33 PM [permalink]:

The third and last part of this long comment (what you just started reading!) is not directly related to Babak Seradjeh's post(ing) above, but is a continuation of what I just wrote. :-)

Now I would like to go so far to claim that this co-dependence (or lack thereof) is a siginificant criterion for distinguishing a pre-modern society from a modern one, or to gauge in what stage of transition a society is. In a modern marriage, regardless of how the wife and hsuband met (through parents, friends, personal ads, in work place, in school, in a park or a party), meaning, regardless of its being "arranged" (whatever that means) or not, husband and wife are ideally *not* co-dependent. True, they support (emotionally or else) each other and satisfy each other's natural needs, but they do not *depend* on each other the way they would in a traditional marriage.

If you think about it, you may notice that in a traditional society this form of relationship, this mutual dependence, is by no means limited to the realm of marriage. In fact, it goes well beyond that and permeates a lot of our social functions.

Iranians, for example, are quite used to building such co-dependent bonds among themselves and call it "friendship". This may have to do with our tribal past. Now residing in big cities and thus deprived of the benefits of being the member of a tribe, we somehow instinctively strive to make our own tribes in order to protect our interests in a cruel world dominated by the *Others*, that is those who are not connected to us (in this day no longer by blood or ethnicity, but sometimes by a rather accidentally formed bonds): "I do you a favor this time and you're bound (according to the principles of tribal morality) to return my favor whenever I am in need and you are able to return my favor."

This is not to say that this mentality is *non-existent* in modern Western socities. (By the way, it is amazing to note the similarities between our own culture in these respects and the culture of the communist block, that is the Eastern European countries as well as the former Soviet republics. My own familiarity is only anecdotal, but there seems to be surprising parallels.) But I'm simply saying that this mentality is a lot more over-arching, if you will, in our societies.

I've talked about our "tribal" tendencies (and in what ways they oppose the a democratic mentality to take root) elsewhere in this forum, so I shall stop here. I hope my argument (that "arranged"-ness durability of marriages are both caused by more rudimentaru cultural traits of traditional societies) makes A LOT of sense to you guys. :-)

Oh, and I almost forgot, Babak: One important reason why Iranian men cannot get along with American women in a relationship is because we (I apologize for using this pronoun here) want them to be subordinate and be dependent on us (that makes us feel grand and also useful) and also we want to depend on them (read: we expect them to do things for us they're not going to) the way it has been the norm in our fathers' country for ages. Of course it is not going to work out. :-)

Babak S at November 9, 2003 02:57 PM [permalink]:

Senior Grad:

I seem to lack enough sociology/psychology knowledge to have much to say about your theory. I certainly agree that one of the aspects of a modern society (the US vs. Iran, or even city vs. village) is the level of indivuality. It seems that the social bonds are looser, in a sense, in a modern society while in a traditional one, people rely and lean over each other and thus the functional building blocks of the society are bigger in a traditional society.

I was thinking of alternative examples related to my original posting, and found something nobody mentioned here. As a matter of fact, the unisex schooling is only practically feasible and enforced in cities in Iran. In small villages boys and girls attend the same and only class of the commuinty. Yet, a village is considered a less modern society.

Senior Grad at November 9, 2003 08:01 PM [permalink]:


You're quite right about co-ed elementary schools in rural areas. I agree with you that co-ed *elementary* schools are as harmless as unisex elementary schools. So *if* there are advantages to co-ed *elementary* schools (like helping bring up "mild-tempered" boys, or girls who stand up for their right), then I'm all for the co-ed *elementary* schools. (When the kids approach puberty, however, everything changes!)

I believe there is in the Islamic tradition (a hadith, maybe?) that mullahs should not endorse what is forbidden by the holy shari'a, neither (and this is often neglected) should they forbid what is allowed by the shari'a. (They shouldn't make HALAL what Almighty has declared as HARAM, neither should they declare as HARAM what He has deemed to be HALAL.) Once we accept this, then not only enforcing the sex-segragation of prepubescent youth becomes un-Islamic, absurd, and stupid, but so will be forcing seven year old girls to wear head scarves. :-)

Senior Grad at November 9, 2003 08:09 PM [permalink]:


I'm not sure if my "theories" are worthy of being called as such. I myself have had no training in sociology or psychology either, but it doesn't keep me from sharing my observations, ideas, and hypotheses. This is the only way I can subject my thoughts to criticism, and having them criticised is the only way I know to make them better. Isn't a "free market" of ideas considered the best way to reach a sound opinion about phenomena that are hard to quantify and make sense of by numbers? Didn't you once say --and rightly so, I believe-- that understanding a phenomenon must be prior to making a mathematical model for that phenomena?

Senior Grad at November 9, 2003 08:39 PM [permalink]:

And as for traditional societies vis-a-via modern (and more individualized) ones, thank you for re-phrasing what I had said. I would like to improve on my previous comments by adding that inter-dependence in a human society is unavoidable. Humans, it seems to me, gather around each other and thus make societies, mostly because each can take up a certain task. So an inter-dependence is part and parcel of every society. However, in a modern society this inter-dependence is addressed by a 'social contract', while in a more tribal and less individualized society such a contract has a liminal, if you will, presence. True, even in an Iranian city the post office employee does not *have* to know you in person in order to do his job properly, but it *does* help if you have already formed a deal, or made an alliance with him. For example, you may be both from the same region of the country or you may be the baker or grocer of his neighborhood and as a result you don't have to stay in line for picking up the medicine that your brother has mailed you from the US (that is, you receive special treatment).

It seems to me that in recent years, due to some complications in people's lives, the situation of the "social contract" in urban Iran had worsened. In many cases, you *had* to have already made an alliance with the bank cashier, even if it's in the form of empty gestures and pleasantries (AMRI DASHTEH BASHIN MA DAR KHEDMATIM!), if you wanted to receive a *fair* treatment. Or you should have made with him (and other government employees) some "tribal" bond of the type I have described before. Most such "alliances", are of course made spontaneously, and come in different flavors, all known by one word: bribe. :-)

Babak S at November 10, 2003 04:00 AM [permalink]:

I think very highly of your taking the trouble to share your ideas in an attempt to better them. Yes, I certainly think that a rough a priory idea of the solution to a problem is somehow needed to a detailed a posteriori understanding of it. I guess that's the bias taught in physics departments.

Your usage of the word "tribe" reminds me of a book on human society by Desmond Morris, the British zoologist/animal observer, titled "The Human Zoo." (He also has another best-seller book, titled "The Naked Ape" all about individual human behaviour) In brief he thinks that "biologically" (or genetically) humans are meant to leave in tribes of a few hundred people. However, human civilisation has resulted in multi-million cities in such a short time scale that there could not have been any fundamental change in that biological encoding. The human fix to this evolutionary dislocation is to form small tribes in this huge society, consisted of relatives, friends, acquintances, etc. He does not talk about the mechanisms by which these "super-tribes" are formed or their characteristics in different societies. Your ideas seem to me to be in this latter direction. And they do ring right in my ears.

Babak S at November 10, 2003 04:04 AM [permalink]:

Oh, by the way, about co-ed elementary schools and the Shiism response to it, well, if you consider the "religious" age of puberty for girls in Islam, i.e. 9 years old, then they would be justified, right? But, for goodness' sake, 9!

Senior Grad at November 10, 2003 09:34 AM [permalink]:


I don't see anything wrong with using the Shi'a Shari'a *whenever* it point to the same direction that I would like it to. :-) Of course, I do not accept the whole package as valid, but those who embrace the whole package should be faithful to every bit of it. So therefore, although I don't think forcing 9 year olds to wear hijab is fair, but I at least can argue with the believers in duch God-sent packages that forcing 7 year olds is not fair even BY THEIR OWN ACCOUNT ("their" refers to Islamic policy-makers here). Even their God frown upon forcing the little 7 year olds to wear hijab, let alone marry a 70 year old Sheikh. (Okay, not to give the wrong impression to the gullible outsiders, this is really a very rare practice, that is to say, I am exaggerating. If something as horrendous as this happens in Iran it makes news, even headlines.)

I also should thank you for the tips on the books you mentioned. Having realized recently that I cannot possibly find the time to read all the interesting books I have made a Wish List. (The latest item I added this morning was "Alice in Wonderland". I've got to read it in English one day with commentary clarifying all the allusions that may elude me). Your Desmond Morris books are now in my wish basket. :-)

AmericanWoman at January 19, 2004 11:50 PM [permalink]:

So, Arash Jalali, Babek S., Senor Grad, what do you conclude? Iranian women are paranoid, helpless, timid and socially maladroit, American women are infidel (couldn't resist), perfidious, belligerent, egocentric, and oblivious to the effect they have on the men around them. How will you raise your daughters? -- Assuming you raise them in the West, of course. Now that you have lived here for a while, are you able to associate professionaly and in leisure activities with women without hyper-awareness of their gender?

Wessie at January 20, 2004 12:58 AM [permalink]:

Moved to WessLog!

Wessie at January 20, 2004 02:45 AM [permalink]:

Moved to WessLog!

Wessie :-D at January 20, 2004 03:20 AM [permalink]:

Moved to WessLog!

Babak S at January 20, 2004 04:22 AM [permalink]:

American Woman: I certainly did not want to conclude those things you wrote about Iranian women vs. American women. In fact, it was not a comparison of any sort I was pursuing. I was only expressing as briefly as possible a few major catastrophic consequences of the current state of affairs in Iran regarding the separation of sexes.

As to your questions: yes, I can and in fact could back in Iran associate with women in as normal a fashion as I can think possible under such conditions; one should consider that there are/were literally physical bars, that's why I'm saying as normal as possible. I believe It's also a matter of choice and personal deliberation. Nonetheless, there were problems in these associations that though not apparent, I believe were indeed related to the conditions expressed in the posted articled.

About raising a daughter in the West: I would raise her/them in the freest fashion I can manage. I would not necessarily call it western style, but I guess that's the common name referring to what I have in mind.