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Women with Mustaches and Men without Beards

Women with Mustaches and Men without Beards: Gender and Sexual Anxieties of Iranian Modernity

Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: 1
Pages: 377
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  • Book Info
    Women with Mustaches and Men without Beards
    Book Description:

    Drawing from a rich array of visual and literary material from nineteenth-century Iran, this groundbreaking book rereads and rewrites the history of Iranian modernity through the lens of gender and sexuality. Peeling away notions of a rigid pre-modern Islamic gender system, Afsaneh Najmabadi provides a compelling demonstration of the centrality of gender and sexuality to the shaping of modern culture and politics in Iran and of how changes in ideas about gender and sexuality affected conceptions of beauty, love, homeland, marriage, education, and citizenship. She concludes with a provocative discussion of Iranian feminism and its role in that country's current culture wars. In addition to providing an important new perspective on Iranian history, Najmabadi skillfully demonstrates how using gender as an analytic category can provide insight into structures of hierarchy and power and thus into the organization of politics and social life.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93138-1
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    Years ago, in the heat of a polemical exchange with a historian of Qajar Iran (1785–1925), who expressed regret and dismay that doing Qajar women′s history was impossible because few historical sources and solid extant records about women of that period existed, I retorted, ″But if we use gender analytically, sources about men are also sources about women.″ From the moment of its utterance, the sentence began to haunt me: How do we employ gender analytically so as to write history differently, to write history from which women are not absent and gender is not a missing category; one...


    • 1 Early Qajar
      (pp. 11-25)

      Notions of beauty were largely undifferentiated by gender in early Qajar Iran (1785–1925); that is, beautiful men and women were depicted with very similar facial and bodily features. Sometimes only the style of headgear distinguishes male from female in visual representations.¹ Other times it remains very difficult to tell, as in figure 1, labeled ″Amorous Couple.″

      In written sources the same adjectives were used to describe male and female beauty. For example, Rustam al-Hukama describes the young men toward whom Tahmasb Mirza (Safavi) was sexually inclined in these terms: ″young beardless men, rose-faced, silver-bodied, cypress-statured, narcissus-eyed, coquettish, with sugar...

    • 2 Nineteenth-Century Transformations
      (pp. 26-60)

      By the end of the nineteenth century, portrayal of beauty became differentiated by gender. Depictions of male beauty and male-male loving couples disappear. Royal portraits of men after the late Nasiri period no longer have the slim waists and facial features attributed to beautiful men in earlier decades.¹ Similarly, female figures have more individualized and distinct facial and bodily features. In other words, the language of representation underwent important shifts. As Ekhtiar and Adamova have observed, Qajar visual culture turned away from phantasmic painting to naturalism and realism.² Adamova (1998, 74) dates this shift to Muhammad Shah′s period. Ekhtiar (1998)...


    • 3 The Eclipse of the (Fe)Male Sun
      (pp. 63-96)

      In 1836 Muhammad Shah Qajar (r. 1834–48) formally adopted the lion-and-sun as the official emblem of the Iranian state.¹ The lion was male, the sun was (fe)male (figure 12).² Over the following century the sun burst into a magnificent Qajari (fe)male face, and the lion became more masculinized (figure 13). By the early twentieth century, however, the sun gradually lost its hair and distinct facial features and was left with two dots for eyes and a few marks for a nose and mouth. These remaining features were permanently erased sometime in 1935–36, and by the late 1970s, the...

    • 4 Vatan, the Beloved; Vatan, the Mother
      (pp. 97-131)

      Although to modernist Iranian sensibilities, thoroughly imbued with the notion of vatan (homeland) as a female beloved or as a mother, it may sound radically disconsonant, if not offensive, there is no inherent reason why vatan could not have been a male beloved.¹ As Meisami has observed about medieval love poetry, ″Doubtless the strong homoerotic convention of love poetry, which is also seen in theqasidahsof the Ghaznavid poets, further facilitated the use ofghazalfor encomiastic purposes, making the transference from beloved to lord even easier because of the absence of what I may be excused for calling...

    • 5 Womenʹs Veil and Unveil
      (pp. 132-155)

      Fatima Mernissi′sBeyond the Veil(1975) offered a bold proposition about the structural work of the veil in Islamic societies. Mernissi argued that Christianity and other Western philosophical traditions, including Freudian psychoanalysis, presumed a passive female sexuality. Islamic doctrine, on the other hand, was based on the assumption of an active female sexuality. If it is not contained and controlled, this powerful force would cause social chaos (fitna) and threaten men′s civic and religious lives. The veil and the closely related institutions of gender segregation are the mechanisms through which Muslim societies contain and control female sexuality.

      This proposition is...

    • 6 The Tragedy of Romantic Marriage
      (pp. 156-180)

      The modernist project of heteronormalization of sexual mores and heterosocialization of public life called for a reenvisioning of marriage from a procreative to a romantic contract. It was no accident that Mirza Fath‘ali Akhundzadah, who wrote early political essays against women′s veil, also wrote some of the first plays that condemned arranged marriage, temporary marriage, and polygyny and advocated instead monogamy and the triumph of marriage based on love.¹ Yet romantic love turned out to be a hard sell. Akhundzadah′s political writings were immediately echoed and expanded in writings of intellectuals such as Mirza Aqa Khan Kirmani. But there were...

    • 7 Crafting an Educated Wife and Mother
      (pp. 181-206)

      Hushang′s preoccupation with tailoring his own companionate mate for a lifelong monogamous marriage inA Pitiful Talewas in a sense the culmination of a century-long challenge first posed in the early nineteenth century when Iranian men learned about the European notion of marriage. Iranian men in Europe, keen observers of European marital relations, were also being observed by Europeans, women among them, who would bombard them with questions about ″their women back home″: Why didn′t they bring them to Europe with them? Why did they cover them and keep them at home? Why did they take more than one...

    • 8 Women or Wives of the Nation?
      (pp. 207-231)

      Articulation of homeland (vatan) as a female body had highly contentious repercussions for woman as citizen. Within the familial trope of the modern nation, whether as asister-citizen or as an occupant of the same gender category asmothervatan (or a female beloved vatan), woman became subject to man′s possession and protection. What did it mean to claim parity with men as citizens, as children of the same mother homeland, yet to be under the protective fold of brother-citizens? What did woman-as-metaphor for homeland do for woman-as-citizen?

      Moreover, in the early years of the twentieth century, the very wordwoman,...

    • Epilogue: Feminism and Its Burden of Birth
      (pp. 232-244)

      In a recent issue of an Iranian feminist journal, an author recounted a curious episode:

      The daughter of a friend of mine, a student in a good Tehran high school, came home bubbling with a report about the school, her class, and the teacher. Her teacher had said that Qajar women made themselves look like men. The daughter added, ″and we saw their pictures, the women were really ugly.″ My friend and I asked in surprise, ″What do you mean? Were they dressed as men?″ She responded, ″No, they were very fat and had mustaches.″ We asked again, ″Were they...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 245-306)
  9. Glossary
    (pp. 307-310)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 311-340)
  11. Credits
    (pp. 341-342)
  12. Index
    (pp. 343-363)