21 February 2011

Iran: Women in Community

This past weekend I had the privilege of celebrating the near arrival of my dear friend’s first child! Her baby shower was beautiful and the people there, even more so. My friend is Iranian. She moved to the states 2 years ago with her husband who is working on his PhD at our university. We met at an International Thanksgiving dinner 2 years ago, and we got together often so she could practice her English.

I have many Iranian friends, so I was not prepared for the wonderful surprise that awaited me at this shower. It was unlike the other times I had hung out with large groups of Persians before. This time it was all women, and it was wonderful! I was able to observe so many wonderful differences between their female culture and my own; differences that ought to be celebrated, and perhaps adopted.

I know that the gender issues in Muslim cultures can be a hot topic for Americans with so many of us holding to feminist ideologies. Many of us have a tendency to struggle with a Muslim woman's position in their society, in their family, and the implications of modest dress and head coverings. Many of these misunderstandings and assumptions are born out of fear and the unknown. It wasn't until yesterday that I realized I had made any assumptions about my dear friends, and wasn't until yesterday that I was finally able to see this aspect of their culture for what it is...a celebration of all things female!

While many Iranians are quite lax, there are some who hold to a more modest code of Islam. As the party progressed and more and more guests arrived I couldn't keep from chuckling. These gorgeous women would walk in covered head to foot and when the door closed the "veil" was lifted to reveal awesome party clothes, the cutest shoes, and gorgeous jewelry. I wanted to punch myself for all the times I had assumed they hated dawning what I saw as oppressive clothing, understanding now that underneath it all, they looked like absolute divas. 

Soon the food was served and morale was high. Ladies laughing, shouting, cheering, joking. There was a female comradery present that I have never felt when surrounded by a group of my own American girlfriends. It was an understanding that all the women there were strong and beautiful, successful mothers, daughters and wives. A sense of pride in unity of culture and tradition and a celebration of those things Persian. It was a safe place, a place where one could be understood, defended, and set free.

I'm sure many of my friends would be the first to tell you that like all women, they struggle with their appearance, their body type, their insecurities and their fears. Most aspects of being a women are just universal, but they seemed to have something right that I was just missing.

Tea was served, cake was cut, and Persian music was blaring. The ladies took turns dancing in the middle of the room, each cheering on their peer, whistling, chirping, laughing. It was a wonderful time to celebrate the beauty of each one. A wonderful time to see my very lovely and very pregnant friend dancing and enjoying this exciting moment in her life. I was happy to witness it all (and even happier to capture all these moments on camera)!

I left the party wanting more. More freedom with my friends. More enjoyment in who we are. More celebration in all that it means to be a woman- the success, the fertility, the beauty, the tradition, the love and the family. And most of all....more dancing.

What are your "girl time" traditions? How do you celebrate what it means to be a woman. If your a man, what do you love about the woman in your life?


  1. This is such a thoughtful and beautiful post! It's true--I've been to my fair share of girl parties (in fact, I'm invited to 3 of my friends' girl graduations this month!), and it's still shocking even for me to see us all come in modest dressing and then strip down to our dresses and heels. I love wearing the hijab--it makes you feel that much more beautiful once you share what's underneath it with people you know. Imagine how a husband must feel when he sees his bride in her beautiful wedding dress and hair all made up for the first time--I think it's truly magical. :)

  2. I can only imagine! Hopefully one day I'll get to see the look on the grooms face at a wedding like that. It's on my list of to do's in life- go to an Arab/Persian wedding! :)