The women of Iran

I still intend to do one more foodie holiday post but I have been prompted to write this post because of the comments I have been receiving when I tell people I have been to Iran.  I have been asked time and time again, questions like “Was it safe?”,  “Were there police/soldiers/guards everywhere?”  I was chatting with my hairdresser the other day and I don’t think she believed me when I said I did not see one woman wearing a burkah – ie, the full face covering garment.

It got me wondering, why do people think this way about Iran?  There are a few reasons I can think of:

  • it is a theocracy and we have been brainwashed into thinking that any country that is not a democracy is, somehow, evil;
  • it is a Muslim country and we all know of the endemic prejudice Muslims currently face from the Western world; and
  • Iran was one of George Bush’s infamous axes of evil.

So why is Iran a baddie and not a goodie?  Now, I don’t pretend to understand all the politics involved but my superficial understanding is: because it has nuclear power (note: not nuclear weapons) and the US does not think it should.  But we don’t classify the following countries which, according to Wikipedia, have nuclear weapons as “evil”: USA, Russia, UK, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan & North Korea (Oops, North Korea may be an exception). 🙂

For the record, Iran is a very safe country to visit and the women do not wear burkahs.

I did not see any women who covered their faces.  The law requires women to cover their legs and a piece of clothing, called a manteau, is required to be worn as an over-garment.  Hair is to be covered by a scarf.

Let’s have a wee look at how the Irani women interpret these rules…

About a quarter to one third of women wear a chador which is a full-body-length semicircle of fabric that is open down the front. This cloth is tossed over the woman’s head and she holds it closed in the front.  I did ponder whether all the women who wore a chador did so because they were particularly religious or whether, to some, it was a convenient way to follow the rules.  If you want to go out, you don’t need to worry what you are wearing.  You can just throw a chador on and you are ready to go.

Many Irani women (especially, the young) interpret the rules very broadly. They are like most other young women – they are interested in fashion and want to look pretty.  Our travel guide told us that more than 85% of young Irani women (and a decent number of young men) have had a nose job.  They wear their nose bandage with honour.   I saw quite a few young women with pixie noses that did not look quite right.

I adore this photo because it says so much. Clearly, the three girls are friends.  They are all wearing the same style of shoes (They must be fashionable).  Something seems to have caught their eye.  Because of what the girl on the right is about to do, I wonder whether it is a boy.

The girl on the left is playing a game a lot of young people play: how far back can I push my scarf without it falling off.  The girl on the right is much more conservatively dressed but check her out.

Look, it’s the scarf flutter.  You see this all over Iran, young women flapping their scarves.  I wonder whether it is a mating call, much like a western girl’s hair flick.  🙂

A young beauty posing for a photo and adjusting things.  Is a scarf flick next?   The yellow certainly says, “Look at me, look at me”.

I like this photo because of the look on the little boy’s face and that on his mum’s.  They are both pretty happy.  The lady doing the painting was also painting faces but I didn’t get a shot of that.  It is the same all over the world.

I assume these two were taking selfies, a very popular past-time in Iran.  The smart phone has well and truly arrived.

I am not sure whether this young woman is on Face Time or taking a selfie.  I just love her gear.  This is exactly what the young were doing everywhere.  They were being very, very cool but still dressing within the rules.

Another very stylish interpretation of the rules – she has everything covered, the trousers, the manteau and the scarf.  I was able to get this perfectly posed picture because she was posing for someone else.  She didn’t see me snap on the side.

Another lovely lady.  She doesn’t look like she is posing.  Maybe she was waiting for someone.

Now this lady was posing – someone else was, definitely, taking her photo.

One very elegant mum but I don’t know about those tassels.

I snapped this lady, very quickly.  I was lucky to get it.

You may wonder why there are so many photos of young women and not so many of older women.  It is because the older women didn’t seem to be so vain.  They weren’t spending their time posing for others so it was much harder to snap them without intruding.

I hope these photos have helped dispel any misconceptions you may have had about Irani women.


19 thoughts on “The women of Iran

  1. A really interesting post Glenda on a complex issue about which I have little knowledge or understanding. My kneejerk reaction is always the fact that women have to cover up but men don’t. Next time there is a piece on TV from Iran, I shall be watching for the scarf flick. Fascinating.

    • Hi Anne, yep, it is always women who have to cover up. I nearly lost it in Armenia when I was stopped from going into a church because I didn’t have a dress on. I had jeans, a long sleeved t-shirt, a knee length cardigan and a scarf on my head. Go figure!!!

  2. Hi Glenda, wonderful photos and I really enjoyed your take on this complex issue. At the heart of the issue remains the right of women not to wear the “required” clothing if they choose not to, and clearly many of these women are testing the rules. Here is an interesting article of the experience of an Iranian woman regarding encounters with the morality police in Iran. I enjoy the thoughtfulness of your posts.

    • Hi Simon – Absolutely – As I said in a previous email, if you thought about it, you would get very grumpy. But … at least the women are pushing the boundaries and the government is not pushing back like it used to.

  3. Great post Glenda. Understanding fact and dispelling myth rather than believing media beat up is the only way to acceptance. The women of the west have much worse problems IMHO, tattoos, piercings and immodesty to mention a few, and I’m no wowser. The women of Iran that you photographed look elegant happy and proud

    • Sandra, everywhere we went people were welcoming and happy that Westerners were visiting their country. They are so proud of it and wanted to show it off. I still don’t agree that what women wear should be dictated too but, if that is the rule, at least the Iranian women are pushing the boundaries.

  4. Beautiful photos. Women may be more liberal because Iran is predominantly Shia Muslims whereas the more strict Sunni Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia.

    • Hi Kaye, yes it is a Shia country. I don’t know if this necessarily makes a difference. To be honest, I don’t really understand all the rules and why they are necessary. My guess is it is men making the rules for women.

  5. I love this post also and agree with Francesca that you should keep traveling and taking photos of women from all around the world. I very much enjoyed seeing the Iranian women going about their daily lives, in their coloufrul and inventive – but within the rules – attire.

    • Hi Ruth, It is so good to see that Iran is loosening it grip on its women. I just don’t understand why people can’t just be left to wear what they like, chador or no chador, scarf or no scarf etc.

  6. This is the best post I have seen in months, or maybe all this year, and I do read quite a few. These women look so beautiful and natural- even when posing. They look happy, fashionable and comfortable. I don’t have any misconceptions at all about the role and dress code of women in Iran. I dress fairly similarly ( except for the scarf). Forget about food- just keep travelling and taking shots of real women.

    • Hi Francesca, my objection is that there is a dress code. Why do women have to cover up but men don’t? It is always the women who have to bear the brunt of men’s rules. As I said elsewhere, it is just good to see women pushing back.

      • Yes. True, but I also think your focus was on the common sense aspect and ordinariness of the Iranian women’s outfit, clothes that resemble ( except for the head dress) clothes that are common enough around the streets of Melbourne, clothes that women like to wear. And in showing these clothes, you may convince the hairdressers and others, that Muslim women love fashion and are not defined by the Burka. On my travels , I’ve come across some stunning Muslim women dressed so beautifully, but have been too shy to take their photo. I’ve also seen some scanitly clad western tourists who look like they just stepped out in their undies. Of course being able to decide for yourself is one aspect of your post- as highlighted by the slipping of the veil shots.

          • Some more thoughts on this complex question. Some of the articulate Muslim women in Australia claim that headscarf wearing has nothing to do with patriarchy and men’s domination, but is their choice.
            French women are defined by a dress code. It;s good to see that their fashion is becoming more relaxed, but there are certain things you don;t wear in the streets.
            Dress codes are as cultural as they are religious or male dominated. We don’t tend to talk much about the wonderful ethnic groups in Yunnan China, whose modest outfits and colourful head coverings are a sight to see.
            Yes, it’s complex.

Please, leave a comment - it makes me feel loved.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.