In the male-dominated Iranian culture, the word ‘masculinity’ per se is not only synonymous with decency, courage and reliability, but it is also associated with power and/or violence which is perceived by the populace as being awe-inspiring. It is a standardized form of power, a powerful model of relationship, the standard ideal of being human. This is the normative or dominant masculinity, the most valued form of masculinity, with dominance and control over women as its essential component. The Iranian hegemonic masculinity is defined by factors such as moustache, physical strength, courage, status and achievement, sexual prowess, toughness and aggression, rejection of femininity, suppression of emotions, power over and control of the social environment, especially in relation to female relatives and children.
Two important cultural factors in the production of the Iranian hegemonic masculinities are the classical Persian literature and Islam. The classical Persian literature from which Iranian culture derives, amply presents the masculinity of war. Part of Persian mythologies, as reflected in Shahnameh epics, is about the blood-drenched lives of pre-Islamic kings and warriors, fighting for national or individual pride, territories and the possession of women. The hegemonic masculinity of these characters have affected the Iranian men for centuries.
These same masculinities were practiced by men of all different ethnicities who invaded Iran, including the Muslim Arab men who not only looted the nation and raped Iranian women but also imposed their violent and misogynous religion on the Iranian populations through violence. Consequently, the Iranian culture is deeply masculine and masculinist.
The Islamization of the Iranian society since the 7th century AD meant that men entered into a religious hierarchy and prevented women from attending mosques. The economy was centered on the bazaar where only men worked, women being relegated to housework chores. From the 16 to 18 century AD, under the Safavid Empire, Shiite kings and governments ruled the country, revitalising the concept of martyrdom that goes back to the assassination of Ali and his son, Hossein, as Muslim warriors.
Violence against women
There may be important conceptual connections between hegemonic masculinities and two forms of violence against women: male violence and state violence (which targets non-complying men as well, but often differently, as women are targeted by the State with the collaboration of their male relatives.) The violence of the ordinary Iranian men against ordinary Iranian women in both private and public spheres of social life has been historically widespread in the Iranian society. Also, as despotism and dictatorship of various kinds (religious, military, or monarchist regimes) have been the dominant forms of governance on the Iranian plateau, and as Iran has been invaded several times by foreign occupying forces for the last 3,000 years, women have been submitted to various types of violence by the ruling despots and dictators and individual conquering men as well. These socio-historical facts have shaped Iranian national and regional cultures, traditions and mentalities.
In both the despotic State’s and ordinary men’s violence against women, female citizens and relatives and passers-by who do not comply with the State’s rules and regulations or ordinary men’s whims and wishes or just for being female are punished by being reduced into docile bodies through mental and physical tortures.
Masculinities and violence against women under the Pahlavis
During the second Pahlavi era, as a result of the Shah’s White Revolution, Iran experienced fundamental, progressive societal and cultural transformations - urbanization, industrialization, and Westernization , which transformed the gender relations and configurations of gender practice. Middle-class urban women benefited the most from the White Revolution. In 1962, it granted the right to vote to women, who previously did not enjoy suffrage. Women’s educational and employment prospect improved, and reforms of family and labour laws resulted in their public participation. The age of marriage was raised and the fertility rate lowered.
Along with the emergence of new models of femininity, new models of masculinity developed and were added to the more traditional ones. The new hegemonic masculinities were represented by the old aristocracy, upper middle-class men such as professionals, doctors, engineers, lawyers, judges, university professors, high-ranking civil servants, military officers and Ayatollahs. The new complicit masculinities were represented by the medium to low-ranking civil service employees, teachers, small business owners, police officers and low-ranking military. The subordinated masculinities were represented by the manual and industrial workers as well as the traditional merchants’ (bazaarsis) and peasants. The marginalized models of masculinities were represented by the ordinary mullahs who were part of the lower-middle-class, mafiosos (jahels), louts, the leftist revolutionaries and Islamist revolutionaries of the 1970’s. There were masculine women, mostly lesbians, who were considered ‘strange’ and therefore part of this category. There was the famous case of a colt-wearing lesbian woman living in one of the northern provinces of Iran who would threaten men who wanted to ‘take away’ ‘her’ female lovers.
Male sexual harassment of women is not a new phenomenon that has emerged under the Islamic State. Since the time of the late Shah of Iran, one of Iranian men’s and boys’ troubling pastime has been sexual harassment of women and girls. Under the shah’s rule, this issue was raised a few times in women’s magazines, such as Zan-e Ruz, and even eight young women created a ‘Strike Group’ to defend themselves against sexual harassers. Women and girls were advised, by their family members, to remain totally passive and never react to their harassers as this would encourage those men even more. Thus women and girls accepted their oppression and tried to save face by denying that they have ever been subject of sexual harassment.
Threatened Subordinated masculinities
Traditional men of the lower-middle-class and the newly urbanized rural population did not welcome the Shah’s Family Protection Laws of 1967 and 1975 that improved women’s condition. For them, women’s liberation was about immorality and corrupt Western influence. They perceived the urban upper-middle class and middle class women as useless and shallow, resenting their hyperbolic, eye-catching spending. It was the TV programs and women’s magazines that created the illusion of such grandiose consumer lifestyle of a corrupt elite. The traditional classes viewed the unveiled urban middle-class and upper-middle class women as the most obvious symbol of this corruption. Intellectuals and members of the leftist, nationalist and religious clandestine oppositional organizations, both men and women, had the same deliberately and negatively biased image of the urban middle-class women (for the purpose of opposing the Shah and his progressive White Revolution), overlooking the benefits of these women’s educational improvement and higher participation in the economic and social life.
Based on the above perception of the modern urban women, the traditional bazaar men and men from lower classes experienced anxiety over the dominated status of their masculinities and the influence of the consuming way of life on ‘their’ women. There was also a general malaise of jealousy and resentment towards the educated and working middle-class women among men from lower and lower middle classes. I remember a scene in downtown Tehran where a man shouted at a policewoman whether she needed sanitary pads for her menstruation and another scene where a policewoman had to subdue a man who had physically assaulted her to prove his physical superiority. At universities, especially in the engineering and medical faculties, Tehrani female students often felt the heavy, resentful gaze of provincial male students from middle and lower-middle classes. In the expressed opinion of these men, by getting university education, the middle-class women were usurping the places that males were entitled to take. Entitlement to power, by the males from different social classes such as the clergy, the landowners, the lower middle class and working class, was the main reason behind the Iranian upheaval of the 1978-79.
Masculinities during the Iranian social upheaval of 1978-79
Under the reign of Mohammad Reza Shah, two different essentially male-dominated revolutionary ideologies were developed in the clandestine opposition: leftists and the Islamic groups. The common denominators of these groups as well as the lower social classes were the rejection of the Westernized middle-class women’s emancipation and their alleged consumerism, fashion-friendliness and vanity, the corruption and shameful impact of the West, embodiment and symbol of the Pahlavi depravity.
During 1970’s, there were new violent and dominant models of masculinity. These were the revolutionary hyper-masculinities, which were created in opposition to the secular and modern dominant masculinities under the Pahlavi monarchy. These hyper-masculinities helped the violent overthrow of the monarchy and the creation of the Islamic dictatorship of Iran in 1979.
In pre-revolutionary Iran, the leftist, the nationalist and the Islamist organizations had adopted an anti-feminine reaction to the Shah’s regime. Following Al Ahmad (1977), they were hostile to the Westernization of urban middle-class women who were called names such as ‘painted dolls.’ They all adopted a hyper-masculinity that rejected femininity and considered oppositional violence a legitimate reaction to State Violence.
Despite women’s participation, the 1978-79 Revolution was fundamentally masculine because of the masculine and violent nature of both the imperial forces (the SAVAK, the Imperial army and the Shah’s men) and the leftist and religious oppositional organizations. Power politics and behind the door negotiations and decision-makings (among Iranian politicians and between Iranian and Western politicians) took place basically among men. There is no doubt in the hyper-masculine nature of the revolutionary organizations who won and the ones who lost the battle for the power as well as the hyper-masculine and misogynistic nature of the Islamic State.
Leftist revolutionary hyper-masculinity
While the Islamic fundamentalists were radically misogynistic, the leftist men completely rejected anything considered feminine, such as emotions and compassionate feelings and behaviours. They frowned upon showing vulnerability or tender feelings. Men had hyper-masculine attitudes and behaviours, and women rejected feminine attire and neglected their appearance. A result of this rejection of the feminine is treating women and gay people with contempt, even becoming hostile towards them. This is the same attitude that was adopted by the Nazis. ‘Eva-khaahari,’ ‘obnei,’ and ‘gheitaas’ (in Abadan) are some words people in general as well as leftists used to describe gay men.
Regarding the women’s rights, the leftists, especially their leaders, had the convenient position that gender inequality was not the main issue for them, and that they would abolish sexism only in a future socialist society.
A dress code had been adopted by the leftist organizations, which was pants and a loose and long shirt for both women and men. Women were supposed to be quite unfeminine. Men were expected to have a scruffy air and a heavy mustache and wear jeans and shirt and field coat with heavy duty shoes. The comrades of both sexes considered ordinary women who wore make-up and dresses as ignorant and inferior to the masculine women of the leftist organizations.
Islamic revolutionary hyper-masculinity
The anti-woman and anti-femininity of the Islamic revolutionary hyper-masculinity is represented by Ayatollah Khomeini and Ali Shariati’s speeches and writings. In 1963, before being detained and exiled to Turkey and later to Iraq, Khomeini issued a fatwa, which was a violent discourse, equating women’s suffrage to prostitution. Ali Shariati, the ideologue of the Islamic-leftist organization of the Mojahedin-e Khalegh, coined the misogynistic expression of ‘a nothing-woman’ (zan-e hich-o puch) to depict the middle and upper-middle-class women who did not work for a living and used the work of a maid at home. (1) He also called these women ‘woman of Friday nights,’ simply because he believed they were interested in having sex with their husbands, which traditionally happened on Friday nights. He equated these women to the sex workers of Tehran’s red light district, which men frequented on Friday nights.
The Islamic men, members of the Mojahadin Khalgh Organization, the Imam’s Line group, and other smaller Islamic groups, wore a loose and long and untucked shirt over their slack pants and grew a beard and a thin mustache. The Islamist women wore an Islamic hijab, consisting of a scarf and a long coat, different form the traditional Iranian chador. The Islamic hijab allowed women to the public sphere, while supposedly allowing them to avert the daily sexual harassments on the streets. However, Iranian men on the streets harassed any woman no matter what they wore. The true function of the Islamic hijab was to separate Islamist women from secular middle-class women who were considered to be mindless consumers of Western products.
For both the leftists and Islamists, masculinity was praised as it was equated with self-reliance and resistance. Femininity, which was equated with shallowness and immorality, was frowned upon. The ideal was gender neutrality and the repression of sexuality.
Iranian masculinities under the Islamic Republic
With the 1979 Revolution, the seizure of power by the Islamic fundamentalists, and the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran following a national referendum, Khomeini dismantled the Iranian army and created Islamized armed forces: an Islamized military and an Islamic paramilitary composed, mostly, of the lower class men, unemployed workers, louts, mafiosos and sons of bazaaris. There was also a drastic shift in the gender regime. Several masculinity types of the Pahlavi era, such as artists, civil servants in three-piece suits and ties, and military officers, were rejected. Instead, the Islamist ideologues and the fundamentalist ruling elite imposed new models of masculinity on the male population.
In other words, the Islamic and leftist revolutionaries and the new Islamic fundamentalist leaders subordinated the modern, secular hegemonic masculinities of the second Pahlavi era and replaced them with their hyper-masculine gender regime, that is, more violent patterns of masculinity. The leftists’ hyper-masculinities remained untouched and became part of the normative hegemonic masculinities under the theocratic regime.
*1. Masculinities in the first years of the Islamic State
During the first decade after the establishment of the Islamic State, the Islamic rulers and their media created the most conspicuous model of Islamic masculinity, which was represented by young, fanatical bearded men, especially the Basijis (volunteer militia men), in military fatigues or dirty long shirts from lower middle classes, wearing a bandana and carrying Ak-47 guns. As Khomeini had made disparaging comments about the tie, it was rare that any man wore a tie during this period. Cleanliness and happy colours were signs of decadence, especially on men.
On the International Women’s Day of 1979, when the Women’s organizations and the Liberation Front organized a rally against the Ayatollah Khomeini’s decree on compulsory hijab for all employed women, the machismo members of the Fedayeen-e Khalq, the largest leftist organization, displayed their rejection of modern and secular femininities by organizing a massive workers’ demonstration the same day to distract the public from the women’s anti-hijab demonstration.
The Islamic Republic’s adoption of Sharia Law, and the domestic and public violence against women it contains and generates, deeply satisfies not only the leftist men’s masculinity but also the psyche and masculinity of the majority of Iranian men. During the Anti-Hijab demonstrations, women were knife-attacked by groups of Islamic thugs who chanted, ‘either Hijab, or blow to your heads’. Although, these were a minority of men, educated and non-religious men did not support women en masse and did not organize any male protest against the compulsory Hijab (for instance with men wearing Islamic Hijab in solidarity with women). This is because not only the compulsory Hijab and other parts of the Sharia Law did not even scratch the Iranian men’s masculinities, they placed men in a more powerful position in relation to women in all aspects of social and private lives. The collusion of secular or non-practicing men with the Islamic State regarding women’s abnegated rights in the first decade after the establishment of the IRI, remains another historical confirmation of the Iranian men’s reputation as male chauvinists – at least men of the 1979 Revolution generation.
Sharia Law fully corresponded to the hyper-masculinity of the revolutionary Muslim men. This Islamic hyper-masculinity, the worst form of hegemonic masculinities, became the exalted and normative model of manhood, represented by the brutal and powerful and armed clergy as well as the armed ordinary men who followed Khomeini and his fundamentalist discourse.
One of the manifestations of the extremely masculinist nature of the Islamic Republic is its anti-femininity. Besides its discursive and psychological fear and hatred of women, the Islamic State has violently disapproved of dervishes and sufis, attempting at marginalizing or eliminating members of these ‘sects of Islam’ who are peaceful and do not have tendencies for aggression and violence in their personal identities or masculinities. In fact, the rituals and beliefs of Sufi and Dervish communities reveal a rather feminine approach to relating to God. Or if we believe their eternal survival strategy of declaring themselves as Muslims, they have a mystic and feminine interpretation of Islam, which is in direct opposition to the violent nature of the Islamic State’s political Islam.
At the national level, the masses of ordinary Iranian men in general benefited from the establishment of the Islamic Republic, and women in general suffered from it. The collusion of the majority of the Iranian men with the Islamic State in the oppression of Iranian women demonstrates the violence of both the Iranian hegemonic masculinity and the 1,400 year-old misogynistic Islamic discourse. This violent discourse made it culturally possible for Muslim Iranian men to welcome, rationalize and contribute to the oppression of Iranian women. Islamic misogynous discourses have been mixed with the pre-Islamic epic and masculinist discourses of masculinities and other Persian belief systems to outline the meaning of the Iranian manhood.
*2. Masculinities during the Iran-Iraq War
With the onset of the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), the leaders of the Islamic State created a discourse on an Islamic hyper-masculinity that was based on two religious codes of Jihad and Martyrdom. In Shiite Islam, the concept of Jihad has both the meaning of a Muslim's internal struggle to live out the faith and a warfare against the infidels, and martyrdom indicates both a personal and a public commitment to the fight against the infidel aggressor in order to protect the Islamic Ummat. Young men or even boys were recruited or volunteered as Basiji to go to war in order to defend the Islamic Ummat (identified with the Islamic Iran). Injured basijis, soldiers or ordinary men were called ‘alive martyrs’. As dead and alive martyrs, they became the model of Islamist masculinity.
One of the effects of the eight-year Iran-Iraq War was the over-masculinization of the society as a result of the prevalence and institutionalization of violence. In addition to physical violence experienced by those men who had returned from war as a veteran or prisoners of war, the generalized insecurity that affected the lives of the war survivors caused aggression and violence, sense of social discrimination in comparison to men who had become rich during the War, and prevented these men from being loving husbands and fathers.
The combination of the young pro-khomeini Muslim men’s militaristic and para-militaristic machismo, Khalkhali’s serial executions of the previous regime’s high-ranking military men and politicians (including the female Minister of culture), Khomeini’s jihadist and expansionist discourses on the concept of Ummat and the necessary seizure of foreign cities of Karbala (Iraq) and Jerusalem (Israel), as well as his insistence on prolonging war for six more years to achieve the Islamization of all social institutions , reflects a masculinist consciousness that was extremely aggressive and violent and interested only in power scheming.
It is in this hyper-masculine cultural context that the modern masculinities of the Shah’s era were completely eliminated and replaced by three models of the Islamic masculinities, which have continued to this day. The pure and courageous warrior -martyr, the God-fearing mullah, and domineering and carnal average men.
*3. Masculinities in the Post-Khomeini Period and in today’s Iran
With the end of the war and death of Khomeini, a reformist movement began to take shape among the Islamist elite and supporters of Khomeini. There was also a shift in the normative or hegemonic masculinity from martyrs and warriors to Pasdars and religious men who supported the Islamic regime by participating in different religious and political demonstrations, wearing beards and clean shirts.
Today in Iran, in an economy where the participation rate for men is 88 percent while it is 12 percent for women, i.e., where most women are removed from the labour force and are thus economically dependent on men, men have to work double, take false employment, and engage in financial abuse and corruption in the market. No wonder the crime rate among men, embezzlement and bribery in the public sector is rife. Today, as a result of their own male chauvinistic choices, Iranian men are doubly oppressed. They are victims of most injuries and stresses of urban life, economic and employment pressures and criminal and physical threats. The great majority of street fights happen among men and they constitute the great majority of prisoners of the country. The high-stress and high-conflict lifestyles, economic insecurity, psychological pressures of working two jobs, traffic hazards of living a long distance from the workplace, legal and professional conflicts, and brain and heart strokes, are some of the negative results of men living in a highly masculinist society.
In today’s Iranian society, we can observe the following types of masculinities:
*1. Masculinities of the mullahs, paramilitary men, intelligence staff, governmental authorities, fundamentalist politicians, traditional-religious Bazaar merchants, and ordinary religious men, which depend on their having obedient wives who cook for them and bear them sons; although they (except the mullahs) wear suits, live in cities and inhabit modern and luxurious houses. Traditional-religious bazaar merchants are famous for their interest in temporary marriages, i.e., sigheh, with numerous women. They demonstrate their masculinity by buying women’s sex with their immense wealth, and they are the class of men most hated by the Iranian population.
*2. Masculinities of military men and reformist politicians (since Khatami) is less hegemonic than that of the above groups. Reformist men and some military men accept women’s civil rights. But the concepts of ‘zeal’ and ‘honour’ are still important to them.
*3. Young civil servants and young-secular bazaaris, who are usually university graduates, are not sensitive about their wife’s ‘Hijab’ or would like to marry a woman who is employed and participates in the society. These men’s wedding ceremonies are mixed, as they consider segregated ones to be a ‘Hezbollahi weddings!’
*4. Academic men are generally more progressive than other groups of men in Iran and adopt rather complicit masculinities. Many of them support women’s equality and some have participated in the One Million Signature Campaign for the Repeal of Discriminatory Laws against women. They are called ‘Men of Laleh Park,’ which turns them into men with subordinate masculinities.
However, there are some academics who are fundamentalists, have adopted hegemonic masculinities and are called ‘establishment academics.’ As most academics cannot accept them as their colleagues, they call them ‘basiji academics’ or ‘old-fashioned donkeys.’
*5. Others (the unemployed, petty marginalized) are men with a variety of masculinities that range from the Islamic hyper-masculinity to secular hegemonic masculinity. None of them are modern men agreeing with the women’s rights, because of their low literacy levels and being influenced by the Islamic State’s Masculinist propaganda.
The Islamic elite in Iran glorifies masculinity and degrades femininity. The anti-femininity and misogyny of the Islamic hegemonic masculinity manifest itself via a contempt for women’s clothing and hijab. In December 2009, Majid Tavakoli, a human rights activist and a student leader was arrested and forced to put on the women’s hijab by security forces to ridicule and discredit him. He had made a speech about the disputed June 2009 presidential election and against Ayatollah Khamenei’s dictatorship to a crowd at Amir Kabir University of Technology on National Student Day. The hardliners, who put masculinity next to godliness, wanted to embarrass him. The Iranian state TV lied that Tavakoli was arrested while leaving Amir Kabir university ‘disguised as a woman,’ and Fars News Agency compared him to ex-President Absolhassan Banisadr who had ‘allegedly’ disguised himself as a woman to escape Iran in 1981. Hundreds of Iranian men showed their solidarity with Tavakoli by posting pictures of themselves in Islamic hijab on different websites and by participating in ‘I am Majid Tavakoli’ campaign on Facebook. It is noteworthy that the same men, or their fathers, did not show the same solidarity with the Iranian women in 1979-80, when they were being forced to wear the veil, which was a humiliation for them as well.
Another similar ‘humiliation’ of men through the imposition ‘women’s clothing’ by the Islamic elite happened in April 2013, when a court in the Kurdish city of Marivan sentenced three male defendants to wear women's clothing and the police carried out the sentence by making one of the convicts parade in red Kurdish women’s clothing in the back of a truck to set an example for others. Kurdish women protested the use of women’s clothing as a means of punishment and humiliation, by demonstrating on the main streets of the city in red Kurdish outfits. The Special Guard forces attacked the women, broke the leg of one of the female protesters and severely injured the heads of several others. Immediately, a campaign on Facebook began and more than 4,000 people joined. On the page of the protest campaign was written, ‘Being a woman is not a means to humiliate and punish anyone,’ and Kurdish men were asked to take photos of themselves in women's clothes to support the campaign’s slogan and to show that being a woman is not a source of humiliation.
About the same time, in a speech against the economic sanctions against Iran, Mohammad Reza Rahimi, first vice-president under President Ahmadinejad, said, ‘Today, some foreign and Western countries that sanctioned the Iranian oil, are smite and chador-wearers.’
Male and State Violence Against Women
It seems that in the Iranian-Islamic society, the hegemonic masculinity socialization determines both male violence against women and Islamic state violence against women. The Iranian hegemonic masculinity socialization itself is rooted in Shia Islam (and other patriarchal religions that are practiced in Iran), male-dominated families, which includes authoritarian fathers and son-worshiping mothers, and the Islamic-imbued public schools. This socialization ensures the prevalence of male violence and the Islamic regime’s violence against women. So, as long as our society finds hegemonic masculinity normal, violence against women by both men and dictatorial regimes will persist and struggles to prevent them will not be very successful.
Chastity and Honour Violence Against Women
A 'woman’s chastity’ or ‘nāmūs’ belongs to her close male relatives, and ‘a man’s ‘honour’ or ‘qeirat’ is synonymous of his “defense of the close women relative’s chastity.’ In Iran, the dominance, power and control of men over women is exercised in a specific way that is called protecting the chastity (nāmūs) of the female relatives and showing intolerance (having honour or qeirat) towards the transgression of this compulsory chastity by harming or killing the female relatives and male strangers with whom they have allegedly had sexual or romantic contact.
A man’s chastity or ‘nāmūs’ is not his own chastity, but that of his female relatives. His honour is not within himself, but in controlling his female relatives’ chastity (by controlling their bodies and minds) and showing intolerance and committing violence towards these women (including killing them) when the women’s chastity has been ‘tarnished’ by their being raped or by being sexually involved with a stranger man. ‘Qeirat’ is the right of every man to the total control and repression of his closest female relatives’ body, mind, and lifestyle. When ‘qeirat’ is synonymous with the men’s right to dominate their female relatives, then good men, i.e. men who do not get involved with the issue of their female relatives’ chastity, are considered ‘bi-qeirat’ or tolerant.
The Sharia Law included in the Iranian Islamic constitution supports honour-Killing. There has been an increasing number of fathers killing their children under the Islamic State and the Sharia Law is partly responsible for this increase. According to the article 220 of the Iranian Criminal Code, if a father or paternal grandfather kills his child or grandchild, he will not be convicted and punished for murder. In fact, article 1179 of the Civil Code states, ‘Parents have the right to punish their children within the limits prescribed by law.’ Furthermore, a father cannot receive conviction of retaliation (qisas) for murdering his child, but can undergo only three to ten years in jail. When a brother murders his sister or another female relative, the Sharia Law grants the victim’ next of kin (awliyā-e-dam) the right to decide whether the murderer must be forgiven or put to death. However, in these cases, the murdered woman’s family members either don’t place a complaint or, in case they do, they forgive the murderer.
The article 630 of the Penal Code frees a husband from punishment for killing his wife and her lover if he catches them engaged in sexual intercourse. However if he is aware that this is a case of rape, he can only kill the rapist. Before the 1979 Revolution, Article 179 of the General Penal Code gave the husband a similar right. Under the Islamic Republic, in addition to the Article 630, a paragraph of the Article 300 emphasizes the exemption of husband from retaliation (qisas) if he murders his wife and her lover after catching them in the act of sexual intercourse. The Islamic authorities who show no interest in changing the laws that support honour-killings, are also negligent in mapping them in a systematic way. So, we have no verifiable and realistic statistics about this major issue.
Although, honour killings happen in Persian-dominated regions of Iran, it is not a tradition and no social pressure on Persian men to kill their close female relatives for having trespassed the code of honour. Honour killings mainly happen among Nomad and sedentary tribes and in rural areas, and in provinces that are home to rural tribal communities such as Khuzestan (especially among Arab-Iranians), Ilam, Kurdistan, Azerbaijan, Loristan, Sistan and Baluchistan, Fars, Kermanshah, and in Sunni Muslim-dominated regions. (2) However, it seems that in recent years, Iranian men’s honor killing practice has increased, bringing this crime of hegemonic masculinity to bigger cities as well.
Iranian men seem to have hardly ever broken away from their hegemonic or hyper-masculinity during the last three thousand years. In the pre-Islamic times, we had male chauvinistic mythological heroes (such as Siavash with all his misogynistic declarations about women) who affected (and still affect) the formation of the Iranian hegemonic masculinities. While there are many interesting and positive aspects to The Shahnameh (The Book of Kings), Iranians need to go beyond their nationalistic zeal and bias in favour of this world-renowned epic work to consider some of the harms some of its blood-drenched warrior heroes such as Rostam and Siavash have caused to the Iranian masculinities and collective male psyche! Unlike Greco-Roman mythological heroes, the Shahnameh heroes are very much present in the Iranian daily life and collective psyche - via the tradition of Souvashun (mourning the death of Siavash) or the art of ‘naghali’ - the traditional epic story-telling from Shahnameh in public tea houses. With the advent of Shia Islam, Imam Ali and Imam Hussein became the great warriors of Islam and symbols of the best types of manhood. The glorification of Imam Ali’s sword fights and his Jihad for Allah, and the annual mourning ceremonies for the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, which includes beating the chest (sine-zani), beating oneself with chains (zangir-zani), and hitting oneself with swords or knives (qama zani) contributed to the formation of the Iranian masculinities.
Today, we can observe most Iranian men’s drive for power and domination over “their women” and many Iranian men’s violence as the expression of their hegemonic masculinities. We can also see a type of violence by the Iranian men that is the result of their impeded entitlement to power and domination. Research on rape and domestic violence demonstrates that men start being violent when they think they have lost the power to which they feel entitled. As a result, the husband hits his wife when she does not prepare the kind of dinner he wanted, when she does not want to have sex with him or when she disagrees with him. In other words, he becomes violent when his power over his wife is questioned or denied, and not when he has his supper and sex as he wants them or his wife’s obedience, which are demonstration of his power and its rightfulness. There is not a single period in the Iranian history when men have abandoned their hegemonic desire to control their wives and other female members of their family.
Yet, Iranians continue to equate masculinity with kindness and helpfulness and faithfulness, all of which take the name of ‘ma’refat!’ Ma’refat and masculinity are viewed as being the same character trait, and those, whether male or female, who are unkind or back-stabbers are called “bi-ma’refat’ (unkind to their relatives and friends) and ‘naa-mard’ (non-man /not a man), as in someone who does not have ‘masculinity’ and does not deserve to be called a ‘man.’ I find this concept to be one of the most misogynistic and fascistic concepts in the Iranian masculinist culture. It is so entrenched in their collective psyche that even women use the term ‘not a man’ when they speak of a very unkind or back-stabber female. There is another term, ‘naa-mardom’ or someone who does not behave like people, which has the same meaning. However, the term ‘not a man’ has a stronger connotation in the Iranians’ psyche than ‘not a people,’ hence their resistance to abandon a term that is most insulting to half of the human population.
(1) Shariati, Ali. 2009. Fatemeh Fatemeh ast. Tehran: Ali Shariati Cultural Foundation.
(2) Bakhtiyarnejad, Parvin, Silent Disaster: Honor Killings, p 15. (published on Feminist School website.)