Gendered Political Cultures of Iranian American Un/Belonging

Thursday, Apr 09, 2015 - Thursday, Apr 09, 2015 | 4:00 pm - 5:30 pm

691 Barrows Hall


Gendered Political Cultures of Iranian American Un/Belonging

“Women Can Do Anything Men Can Do”: Gender And Sexuality in the U.S. Iranian Student Movement, 1961–1979
Dr. Manijeh Moradian, UC Davis

While significant feminist scholarship exists regarding the gender and sexual politics of the 1979 Iranian Revolution and of the Islamic Republic established in its wake, very little attention has yet been paid to the revolutionary Iranian student movement in the U.S., which engaged in almost twenty years of organizing against U.S. support for the Shah’s regime. Based on in-depth interviews with former members of the Iranian Students Association (ISA), the main anti-Shah coalition in the U.S., this talk will excavate the lived experiences of women who were willing to give their lives for freedom in Iran. How did they fashion themselves as revolutionary subjects within the Marxist subculture of the diasporic left? How did they challenge sexism within the ISA and empower themselves through their public participation in the movement? How did they imagine and attempt to prefigure gender equality and what were the limitations of their praxis? How was sexuality theorized, embodied and regulated?

Building on post-colonial feminist critiques of leftist complicity with the establishment of patriarchal post-colonial states, I argue that the vantage point of diaspora allows for a comparative perspective that disrupts the easily exploitable equation between women’s oppression and Islam. By situating the ISA in the context of the U.S. Third World Left, and within in a global era of decolonization, the influence of transnationally circulating secular revolutionary ideas comes into view. I consider the ways the ISA diverged from and was similar to other national liberation movements. This talk thus offers new insights into the contradictions between feminism, nationalism, and socialism that were raging within U.S. social movements by the late 1960s and that were unfolding as a major crisis for emerging postcolonial nations around the world.

Eroticizing War: Sex, Lies and the Racialization of Iranian Women
Nina Farnia, UC Davis

While the contemporary racialization of Iran as an American enemy is directly linked to U.S.-Iran relations after the 1979 Iranian Revolution, such racial processes began long before the United States had formal ties with Iran or a focused interest in the Middle East. In fact, the current policies that condone state-sponsored monitoring of Iranians by the FBI and profiling at airport facilities, that effectively prevent Iranian immigration to the United States and refuse Iranians American travel documents, would not be possible without longstanding ideologies that vilify Iran and racialize Iranians. Consistent with this racial project, Iranian women have emerged as a distinct racial group constructed to support American imperial aspirations in the Middle East. In this paper, I examine the gendered racialization of the Iranian nation-state and Iranians living in the United States. Generally, when the experiences of Middle Eastern women emerge in scholarly and popular culture, they are often discussed as victims of Middle Eastern men and as such are rhetorically deployed by the state and its various native informants[1] in order to justify American imperialism. That is, Middle Eastern men are racialized in part by their perceived and constructed subordinating relations with Middle Eastern women, producing a particular racialization of Middle Eastern women as well.

Field research I conducted at two mosques in southern California describes the particularities of the racial project facing Iranian women. Because Los Angeles has the largest Iranian population anywhere outside of Iran, Iranian women there are a more coherent and visible racial group than in other regions throughout the nation, and thus more easily associated with sexual stereotypes. In fact, though both women with hejab and women without hejab are racialized in a gendered manner, these women describe their racialization as differentially sexualized. As such, while this racialization process is seemingly gendered male in both law and popular culture, it has distinct female dimensions as well. Contrary to oft-made assumptions that men are the primary targets of Middle Eastern racial projects, my research reveals how the racialization of Iranian women is itself a distinct racial project linked to U.S. aspirations in the Middle East.



[1] Native informant is a term used in anthropology to describe the “native” who gave the observing “anthropologist” information about “native” practices and life. Edward Said and other critical Middle Eastern scholars have used the term to describe the role that Middle Eastern intellectuals play in the United States.

Request Event Co-Sponsorship

CRG Forum Proposals

Interested in presenting as an individual or as part of a panel at CRG Forum Series?

Or have suggestions for future topics and presenters?