Iranian woman street scene tehran escapefromtehran com (1 of 1) 2

The struggle of the Iranian woman
“I’m tired of fighting …”


X confronts men in public and bosses them around at her job. A lawyer by training, she feels women deserve to be treated exactly as men. She complains about the struggles and hardships Iranian women face everyday.

But X, 36, has a problem. She lives in Sabzevar, Iran, a religious town 700 long kilometers east of Tehran— where women have gained at least some semblance of legal and social deference, at least more than what they had before the 1979 Islamic revolution — and thousands of miles from any European town that offers women the kind of respect X yearns for.

Her list of complaints against chauvinism is long. The stories she recounts are telling.

In her own words:

“My 9-year-old son and I go out for exercise. He’s on his bike and I’m walking quickly behind him. We’re out for an hour or so, when I suddenly feel a hand grabbing my behind. It is such an obvious grab that I am sure it’s a female friend playing a joke, so I just turn around with a smile, expecting to see a familiar face.

“But instead I see this guy running away, jumps on a motorcycle and takes off. I am shaken. I call my son and we hurry back home. Then I realize the same guy is following me on foot. … I yell for help. He runs away, toward his friend waiting on a motorcycle. I run behind him to try to take the license plate.

“Suddenly he stops and turns around, looks at me with such contempt, like he pities me. ‘Get lost.’ he says. ‘There’s nothing you can do.’

“That’s what gets me. He was so confident that a woman is helpless, that women can be abused with impunity.

“And he was right.

“Another time a letter comes from my son’s school. It was a thank-you letter sent by the principal to all the parents. But it was addressed only to my husband, saying ‘Dearest Father of so and so.’ There was no mention of the mother’s name, even though I am the one raising him; I am the one who is there [at the school] every other day talking to his teachers.

“I went to the principal and told him, ‘you could have at least addressed the letter to something like ‘Dear Parents.’ He wouldn’t hear any of it.

“Sometimes, after I’ve had some confrontation, some kind of debate with a man in public, I end up sitting at home scared and worried, worried that they come and take me away on some trumped up charge.

“This is a daily struggle. Even walking the streets alone with manteau instead of the chador [worn by the majority of Sabzevaran women] causes men to look at you like you’re a prostitute.

“If you so much as go to someone’s home and sit down and talk to the man of the house, his wife gets upset, like I am going to sleep with him.

“But the man is permitted to talk to as many women as he wishes to or even have a girlfriend and his wife is expected to keep quiet.

“Double-standards are everywhere. The woman gets half the inheritance of her brothers. If a woman kills a man on purpose, she is executed. But a man has to kill two women before he’s executed.”

Struggle of Iranian women? It’s their own fault, says the brother

Y, a college professor, is X’s older brother. He agrees with much of what X says, but takes issue with her blaming the men.

“It’s the women who keep taking it; that’s why they are in the state they are in.

“Almost all the women I know behave like sheep. There are only two things they are interested in: cooking at home and going window shopping for gold jewelry. None are well-read; I know not a single woman who is well-read.

Struggles of Iranian women? Tourist females buying jewelry great bazaar of tehran escapefromtehran com
Struggles of Iranian women? “There are only two things they are interested in: cooking at home and going window shopping for gold jewelry.” Window shopping at the Great Bazaar of Tehran. Photo copyright Ali Torkzadeh,

“I give you an example from my class: I tell my students to choose one among themselves as the representative of the class. There are 35 women in class and only ten men. Yet the women immediately turn to look at the men.

“I tell them, ‘There are three times as many as you. Why don’t you take charge? why do you keep expecting the men to take the initiative? But they just giggle.

“This is why they are treated the way they are. The man treats the woman badly because he already knows that she’ll take it. We simply don’t have any women who are well-educated and willing to fight to change the status quo.

I reminded him that it was an Iranian female lawyer who won a Nobel prize in 2003 for her human rights work.

“That’s one. That’s just one,” he answers.

I mention the Iranian woman who just a few weeks ago went into space abroad a Russian capsule.

“Okay, that’s two.”

I mention my own mother, who founded an NGO in the United States, or the woman we had seen on Voice of America television the day before, who had founded a couple of research institutes in the US and UK.

I ask X about the writing on her shirt: “Pimp My.”

“Do you know what a pimp is?” I ask, struggling to keep a straight face. When I tell her the meaning, everyone breaks up.

“Someone gave it to me as a gift; I never thought it would mean something like that,” she says.

A village near Sabzevar, Razavi Khorasan Province, northeast Iran, Copyright Ali Torkzadeh,
A village near Sabzevar, Razavi Khorasan Province, northeast Iran, Copyright Ali Torkzadeh,

Y doesn’t loose a beat.

“You see? You see? What did I tell you?” he bellows, pointing a finger at X. “She wears a shirt whose meaning she doesn’t even know. This is what I mean when I say women don’t even read.”

It’s nearly 5:30 pm, the sun has set and the evening call to prayer from the downtown mosque seeps in through an open window.

The sky is silvery; the mountains surrounding this ancient desert town shimmer in a resplendent warm blue, reminding me of New Mexico’s magic light. There’s a light cool breeze and the traffic below is slowly thinning.

People are hurrying to get home to break their fast. It’s 27th of the month of Ramadan.

Y is the only one among us who fasted today and I realize that hunger probably contributed to his irritability with X. He sits down for a meal of abgoosht [stew of lamb] and the fresh Sabzevari bread he says he could never do without.

Y says he’ll never leave Sabzevar, to the chagrin of his Isfahani wife – sitting nearby – who says this town is “too limited” but “I will go wherever my husband goes.”

Struggles of Iranian women: “takes so much energy …”

X now looks worn out and indifferent.

“It takes so much energy to stand up for your rights here,” she says plaintively, her eyes misty under the orange glow of the tungsten lights she’d just turned on.

She has something to look forward to, though. She’s taking language lessons in preparation for immigration to Holland, where she just spent two month admiring how “men choose for women exactly what they choose for themselves.”

“I am tired of waiting [for change]. I’m tired of fighting.”


Ali and Saeideh plan their Iran roadtrips from their home in Mashhad. More about us here >>

Other dioramas in the category of The People of Iran


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