20 years of state-sponsored literature in Iran
Art, and consequently story writing, are trips to a person's interior and being, to their transparent and hidden layers. It is a journey of discovery of its layered secrets and mysteries; secrets and mysteries which cannot be explained without referring to environment and society. The more succinct and effective the singular language of art and literature, the more effective and valuable the creation. The language of any art form embodies its significance and value and the secret of its durability must also be sought in these relations.
Whatever the nature of the revolution of February 1979, it transformed the moral and material conditions of society which naturally effected art and literature. Out of the revolution, and the government it gave birth to, a new "style" of art and literature, "Islamic writing", arose in Iran. This "innovation" has now been around for decades, during which thousands of books, novels, stories, poems, anthologies, magazines etc... have been, and are being, published whose authors call themselves "Islamic writers".
Yet the spirit dominating these works illustrates a complete absence of any deep or novel movement. A talent that is in step with social development is just not there. The thinking governing this literature have enclosed it with such a high rampart that any deviation from, or violation of its framework will not go unpunished.
The words are antiquated. Disused, decayed and non-contemporary words are embellished with Arabic terms in an excuse to show off knowledge, as well as disseminating "Quranic writing". The effect is to disjoint Farsi writing without, in turn, creating a distinct and acceptable attributes for the style they have invented.
The regime's theoreticians of art claim that the days of diverse artistic and literary styles are over. Contemporary life can no longer be displayed in those artistic moulds. They have allegedly founded a new style and loudly denounce all existing artistic and literary styles as infertile and valueless. Yet despite screaming the death of all schools, after two decades nothing has been accomplished by "Islamic writing".
The writers of these works live here on earth, but in their writings try to link humans with an unknown circle. Their creations are not derived from any pressing need from life. They have turned to the heavens, they say, to gain a new expression, vision and perception of life. It is easy to trace here the increasing inclination and promotion in every work of superstition, blind fanaticism, delusions, submission, and….
The present work tries to uncover the image of women in "Islamic writing" in Iran. The evidence comes from the various utterances of the regime's artistic and literary theoreticians, as well as novels and stories that have been offered as the finest examples of "Islamic writing".
Historic step back
Never in our history have women been presented in the way they are in society today. In Iranian literature women have at times been presented as fairy or an angel of mercy in the heavens, and at times as a fellow traveller of the devil. Sometimes she is a goddess of kindness, love and fertility and at others an insane and foolish creature. Some see her as half or a semi-human. What is certain is that the majority see her as a creature for men, and in his service. The history of our country is filled with literary works showing the domination of men over women. Throughout history women have been used by men as sexual objects.
In the use of this "means" Islam has devised special rules, and it is this that has grown and been implemented in particular ways in our male-centred culture. It is a certain form of this which dominates "Islamic literature", only in amore backward form.
The domination of men over women and her sexual exploitation means that it is taboo for a Muslim to write or talk of the least sexual act, even a kiss. When depicting the different dimensions of the image of women in literature, she is never taken seriously. The paternalistic perspective, the male-centred culture as well as the socio-economic status of women has meant that in hardly any story can one find a trace of the real image of women, and what takes place not in fantasy, but in the reality of her daily life. The female model for "Islamic tales" is a traditional, dogmatic, passive and religious person. This is an undoubted backward step, even in the light of the depiction of the role and image of women in the literary history of previous centuries. The world view of "Islamic writers" in this field is so narrow and barren that even female "Islamic writers" in practice follow this line in their works.
Because of the particularities of Iranian society, stories and story-telling have always had an educational form. Islamic writers try not to neglect the educational aspects of literature, while intertwining religious issues into the stories. In this way the superiority of men, his being wiser and more complete, is made manifest in most tales. For example note the words of a female character in a story written by a man: "… I have little patience, you have such endurance, you are a man. My heart is fragile, you are not fragile, you do not break, you are a man. Let my life be an offering to you, man". Now compare this written by a woman: "Father, don't pay much attention to the tears of us women. Crying comes easily to us. It is at hand. It is just a habit. To give up a habit is a cause of illness". In these tales the man is the protector and keeper of women. Without him the woman is nothing. And it is a woman, who speaking in the language of "Islamic writing" says: "you [meaning man] have chosen this road to save the likes of me, to save the women and the girls of this country, to save the chastity of us all". Or "Nargess was a runner flower who needed a scaffolding [meaning a man] and now she had lost her scaffolding. That is why she spent most of her time at home."
Love and passions are portrayed upside down. Earthy love is introduced as sterile and life on earth valueless. Consequently love is shown full of hate. Love is directed at the other world (death). For example observe the following ideal for love, as presented by an "Islamic writer" from the mouth of a woman: "women feel good if they are being praised and eulogised by men. You were forever praising my cooking, my taste, my looks, my clothes and my temperament and swept my heart away. You stole my heart with your praises, your words, with your recital of the Qur'an, your soft and pleasant voice while standing to prayer, with your modesty and humility. You took my heart, and if I were to know that you have taken my heart with you to heaven I will have no worries".
The artistic and literary theoreticians of the regime believe that to picture "a love affair of the earthly variety" in a plot "ultimately does away with morality and the values of faith and the divine, and disseminates a form of delinquency and licentiousness and is a license for the banal."
"Islamic writers" say: "religious morality forbids the individual to mention a depravity which they have personally seen or heard so as to prevent the spread of prostitution". Therefore to portray these scenes is proof of the spread of prostitution and ultimately "to read such images [scenes of love] have no function but to unnecessarily and mischievously provoke sexual temptation, temptations that are even more [real] in private".
Consequently the greater part of Iranian and world literature is rejected and denounced as anti-value. Because "the whole book is surrounded by an aura of sex and banality. A banality which undoubtedly comes from the sick mind of the author" since the "most ugly immoral scenes that can corrupt the younger generation is depicted in these novels". Islamic stories arrived at such value judgements because its authors came to view the works of outsiders as "merely the embodiment of sexual and non-sexual longings, bitter complexes and personal wailings of the writers".
They themselves prefer to concentrate on subjects such as chastity, purity, shame, modesty, hejab, virtue, and …so as to educate women and turn them into obedient creatures giving service to men. The point of attack on non-Islamic writers is precisely from this angle. That is why most Islamic authors prefer not to have a woman in their stories. For example in all the books published in the winter of 1992 for young readers, three characters only were female compared to 42 males.
Mother or widow
When the "Islamic writer" has a need for women in his/her story she appears in the guise of a mother or widow of a martyr, or a propagandist in the spiritual instruction of women.
Marriage is the only route foreseen for women in an Islamic society. Women must marry and have children. In the Islamic stories a woman is either married or about to do so. Indeed, women are only defined in relation to marriage. A woman, before appearing as a woman, is portrayed as a mother of her children. It is only in the realm of motherhood that women "evolve". And it is precisely in this role that Islamic writers take her into their service. It is as a mother that a woman is honoured.
Men are complete and autonomous beings, while women are incomplete and dependent. Men are the means of production in relation to society, while women are described in their relation to men. Women are the servants of men and produce for him, that is give birth to his children. It is here that the inequality between men and women in life is reflected in literature, and indeed is promoted. Men ad women both serve God. Meanwhile women serve men too. Women were created in order to satisfy man's expectations.