In the memoir, Reading Lolita in Tehran, it talks about all the extreme risks the women of Iran are taking just to be able to do simple tasks, such as reading westernized literature (The Great Gatsby, Pride and Prejudice). It documents the experiences of women in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. A very thought provoking book might I add. The men are practically free to run around and do as they please within reason.
Following the revolution, everything changed…leading the opposition Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini returned to Iran establishing an Islamic Republic and he brought with him the idea that old laws should be reestablished, the women once again had to wear a chador, or long dark colored robe. We always take for granted what we have in the United States; criticizing every little thing that doesn’t go our way… the women in Iran had everything they loved taken away. We all have dreams of being able to do what we want.
The first and most prominent difference Iranian women had to endure would be that they were forced to wear a chador, under all conditions no matter how unbearable the weather was. Women in Tehran had little or no freedom outside of their houses. Azar Nafisi (author) was taking a huge risk with her seven women students, she invited them into her house to discuss literature, if caught she could be put in jail because books they discussed were banned; fearing that they would cause a conspiracy.
When heading to University the women would have to step aside and be checked to make sure they didn’t have anything ‘illegal’ on them , often making them late for class, while the men just walked right on in not a word was said. If the women attending university were not veiled they would not be allowed inside, losing their right to education (Nafisi was expelled for not wearing the veil). Mr. Bahri, a co-worker of Nafisi’s was in a meeting with one of her students and asked her why she would want to put the revolution at risk for a “piece of cloth” (164).
Some have argues that the veil was just a way to distract the women from more important matters like health care, divorce, and education. Women couldn’t divorce their husbands unless the husband agreed to it; you could be stuck in a relationship with them forever. The women took extreme risks just to maintain a little bit of personal freedom. Women were not allowed on the streets without a man by their side. Nafisi was meeting with her whom she called “the magician” at a local coffee shop when they raided, it was llegal for them to be together like this because they were not related but she refused to take punishment because she was doing nothing wrong.
Some of the stories told in this memoir are quite shocking. One of Nafisi’s students was taken by the police for apparently eating an apple too “seductively”, another suspected of wearing mascara because she had naturally long eyelashes (59). It is also unthinkable for a woman to be intimate, but a man can have sex with a chicken to cure his sexual appetite (71). Women were considered to have half the worth of men (261).
These women do not exist as individuals; they simply exist as one large symbol of femininity. As you can see from just a few examples mentioned above these women had it far from easy. As for the men of Tehran and other surrounding Iranian countries they had it pretty easy. In the past both men and women got to dress colorfully, wear makeup, and be as elaborate as they wanted with their styles but things changed…Men didn’t have to worry about wearing chadors or robes; they could wear what they wanted and wouldn’t get arrested if seen out of their house wearing typical pedestrian clothes.
They were allowed to enter the university without being searched and that meant they arrived in class earlier than the women. Being a man in these times was a good thing. All the freedom you could possibly imagine. Men controlled marriage, women could be married off to older men at the age of 13, they controlled when and if they got a divorce. Eventually the marriage age was lowered to 9, and if women were caught committing adultery or prostitution they would be stoned (261).
You may ask how life has changed since the revolution… A lot has changed. There was a rapid change in social order. They still often chant such things as “Death to America” (105). Khomeini was widely popular at the time for making his country so independent from the West. People in those countries will never have as much freedom as people in other countries such as the United States but coming from such a strict past they probably believe this is what it’s like to be free.
Some women still have to wear their chadors but not every woman has to. Western literature may now be read. In conclusion, Reading Lolita in Tehran helps you understand what life was really like at that time. You can’t grasp what really went on from reading a history book, but reading someone’s memoir on it helps you understand it and makes you realize how easy we have it. Women had so many restrictions while men could do what they want. Times have hanged and life has become easier but things will never be what they want. All those women that protested made a significant difference for their daughters and granddaughters. If it wasn’t for them they would still be stuck hiding in their houses reading books they aren’t allowed to have and not getting an education they rightfully deserve. In the end, I see things will gradually improving till they can wear, read, sing, and do whatever they want just like everyone else.