Iran's Sexual Revolution

President Obama ran on a platform of change. And when Iranians go to the polls in early June, rivals of current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are also hoping that a promise of change might convince the country not to vote for the incumbent.
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Whether or not political change will arrive in Iran is yet to be seen, but as Pardis Mahdavi argues, Iran has already seen a massive amount of change in the past several years, specifically when it comes to sexual mores. In Passionate Uprisings: Iran's Sexual Revolution, the Pomona College anthropologist suggests that among those between 15 and 30, a sexual revolution is taking place.

As she writes in her prologue, "In other words, because the Islamist regime exercises much of its power through a fabric of morality (by legislating the body, comportment, and proper behavior), the young people indicate that in the absence of an option for overt dissent, regardless of how peaceful, they are attacking the regime by seeking to create a state of fitna, or moral chaos, to undermine the regime's moral fabric. I argue that consequently a new sexual culture is emerging among Iranian young adults that has captured the attention of the state."

This larger idea, developed through detailed ethnographic fieldwork and a consideration of dress, dating, cheating and STDs, among many other topics, has several interesting implications.

The sexual revolution in America is an important aspect of the social changes in this country since the 1950s. This study of Iran provides a comparative example so that we can consider the roles sex and sexuality play as markers of freedom and methods of resistance across time and place.

Second, by concentrating on the resistance by the youth, Mahdavi complicates the notion that all Muslim youth are in danger of being radicalized.

Finally, within the context of the West, Islam and the Middle East, women have become a contested symbol. In the West, the veil has come to symbolize the oppression of women, while in the Middle East, legislations that limit the freedoms of women are justified through the ideological use of tradition. Mahdavi allows us to hear from women in one particular locale, complicating their roles as pawns or victims in need of being saved.

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