Crossing the lines of culture – My experience in Iran by Lori Foroozandeh

If you writIrane a book about something that is little known, you have to be prepared for questions. Some will be silly and trivial, some will be deeper: but there will be questions. I wrote about Iran. Immediately I learned that many Americans know little about that country and its culture. Many of the questions I have been asked have been about the women of Iran. They seem so different from the women of America, so different and so very hard to comprehend.

The mere mention of Iran invokes suspicion. Backwardness, fundamentalism, and terrorism were some of the words that seemed to immediately spring to American minds.  Iranian men are seen as bearded, militant, hostile, and chauvinistic. The women are assumed to be veiled, oppressed, and submissive. Shrouded in their traditional black chadors (the ultimate symbol of their oppression), Iranian women shown on television appear angry. Holding their hands in the air and chanting anti-American slogans, they are more than willing to join the men in a fight against the United States.

Is the anger and anti-Americanism of the Iranian woman real? Are these so-called truths only media propaganda? Are these mass images a reflection of “the people,” or are they just manufactured collages that deprive the individual Iranian woman of her personal humanity? Exactly who is the Iranian woman?

While her appearance seems to typify inferiority and the oppression of the “second sex” that is so prevalent in that part of the world, I beg to differ with the stereotype. Having lived in Iran and having been in day-to-day contact with many of these women, I know them to be wise, proud, and highly intelligent. They are also tactful if not downright manipulative as they deal with the male dominated society around them. They are in many ways truly heroes.

The true Iranian woman may be oppressed, but underneath she is rebellious. She is subjugated but unruly. She is controlled and at the same time defiant. She may seem hushed and subservient, but she is strong in her faith—a true believer—and ready to fight for it. However segregated and oppressed she may be, the Iranian woman is a revolutionary, a fighter, and willing to die for her nation. Yes, she is a loving mother and a dutiful wife, but she has the heart of a warrior and the soul of Persia beats within her.

In short, there is a contradiction between the submissive and the fierce sides of these women. Westerners tend to see only the passive and subservient side. Perhaps that is because Western observers have been so fascinated by what they have seen as so different from their own cultures. Certainly the conflict with Western values has highlighted the anti-feminist aspects of Iranian culture and Islam. In part the revivalism of modern Islam has fortified these traditional values and appearances.

However, having lived in Iran for three and a half years, I have seen the other side of Iranian women. Oriented very much in the here-and-now, Iranian women are pragmatic and are often looked to for advice. Most Iranian men were closer to their mothers than their fathers.  Of course, older sons have a sense of responsibility for their mothers and sisters should anything happen to their fathers. Also, because women are removed from men in the common run of things, they may seem somehow more enigmatic, some one who has to be understood—especially after an arranged marriage, when the man is suddenly expected to take on the role of husband, a role for which he has had so little training.

It is interesting to see how greatly Iranian women change when they come to the United States, especially those women who come by themselves. Without the pressures of family, Iranian women who immigrate to the U.S. frequently give up the chador. They wait to marry. And perhaps most importantly, they continue their educations.

While the women who come here with their families and husbands continue the traditional ways (or perhaps are pressured into doing so), the women who are on their own quickly adapt to this land of new opportunities. Perhaps the most immediate sign of that adaptation is the change in their clothing. The drabness of traditional dress is suddenly replaced with color. But underneath that exuberant change, they are still some of the kindest people you will ever meet.

To read more of my experiences in Iran, visit http://www.loris-song.com/

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23 thoughts on “Crossing the lines of culture – My experience in Iran by Lori Foroozandeh

  1. Kenneth Weene

    The world has grown too small for us to not know one another. Those in the United States of Iranian descent bring the richness of their great culture to add to the mix which is America.

    Reply
  2. Lori Foroozandeh

    Yes they do bring their great culture to our land, but at the same time we have fanatic Muslims who bring the WRONG things to our land, the wrong concept of what a Muslim should be. The wrong concept and interpretation of what the Qur’an means. The wrong concept of Americans and our values. These are the ones that give a bad name to ALL Muslims, which is too bad. But then again we have the same within the American culture. We have our Timothy McVeigh’s and others. The only point I’m trying to make is don’t take these fanatics at their word, they only wish bad for our nation because they think this is the BIG SATAN.
    This article tried to explain the repression women are forced to live with over there, as well as talk about the GREATNESS and strength of the IRANIAN women. But all in all we must remember both concepts.

    Reply
  3. Salvatore Buttaci

    Because of the press that focuses on the negative side, we miss the positive contributions Iranians bring to our nation. It takes talented authors like Lori Foroozandeh to bring that good to our attention.

    Reply
  4. Lori Foroozandeh

    Thank you Sal, and just to make a point clear to people who are asking, that is not my picture at the beginning of the article she is just an Iranian protesting for equal rights. I don’t know where my picture is???

    Reply
  5. Louise Malbon-Reddix

    Lori,

    I sense a passion that only comes from writing from the heart and of a first hand experience. Thank You for this peek into the the heart and soul of an Iranian Woman, and as you have so noted, not so unlike all women and mother’s everywhere!!! Thank You for putting it to pen and paper and making it more know to all!!!

    Reply
  6. Jon Magee

    thank you for bringing your insights from Iran Lori, I look forward to seeing your further revelations next time you write

    Reply
  7. Cherrye Vasquez

    Lori,
    I have always felt very sorry for Iranian women. Media has done a great job of depicting them as women who are trampled on by their men. To learn that men are close to their Moms and protect them is great news to hear.

    Thank you for opening my eyes to a culture and about a people that I know very little about and
    about a place I’m likely never to visit.

    Cherrye

    Reply
  8. Mary Firmin

    Dear Lori, This is a very good article and answers a lot of my questions. I thank you for the wonderful book which you wrote but I am sorry you had to go through so much. I have just started your book and I love your writing style. I’ll tell you more when I am finished. Keep up the good work of making Iran known to those of us who can n ever hope to go there. Mary Firmin

    Reply
  9. Sharla

    Lori, for so many Americans especially, the views of the Iranians are one sided. Of course, this is completely understood on some fronts. Just like all Americans are not good, all Iranians are not bad. Thank you for sharing personal insight into the Iranian women. Theirs is such a different culture and it is obvious the role of women in Iran is very complex, but filled with dedication.

    Reply
  10. Martha Love

    Lori, I truly love your point that Iranian women are very strong people and I hope everyone reads this. I love that you are focusing on what is the same about us as people, our strength, love and dedication to family.
    I have some years ago had the pleasure of knowing Iranian families as well as single Iranian women who had come to live in the USA. What I found is that like most cultures of people migrating to a new land, the children who come here are able to learn the English language more easily than adults and are able to embrace both Eastern and Western traditions with far more ease than their parents, and this is both male and female. Thank you, Lori, you have reminded me to add Farsi to my list of hello and thank you words I am trying to learn.
    Mamnoon (correct me Lori if I said “thank you” wrong),
    Martha Love

    Reply
  11. Lori Foroozandeh

    Martha, Thank you can be said (kheily)Mamnoon or Merci.
    Your welcome is: Khahesh mikonam
    Hello is Salam and Good-bye is khoda hafez.
    I love you is ashekatam.
    So I hope those help:):)

    Reply
  12. Monica Brinkman

    Lori, every person I’ve spoken with has told me that one thing they cannot understand is why the people in Iran continue to love the American people. They do not like our government, but love us. It is time we realized we all live in one world. Thank you for the reminder.

    Reply
  13. Cynthia B Ainsworthe

    Lori, You write from the heart and share your most deepest feelings in this article. This is a rich gift to us all. I thoroughly enjoyed being brought from the surface of Iranian culture of what “most think” due to the mass media.

    Reply
  14. Harmlessjoyce (Joyce Elferdink)

    This is fascinating, Lori! It’s so difficult to discover the truth because so much of the media is controlled by people with an agenda. Even though you must be biased against some of the Iranian people–men especially–you obviously have a heart for the majority of the people and therefore, I believe that you are sharing the truth about our Iranian sisters.

    Thank you for sharing your experiences truthfully and eloquently!

    Reply
  15. Linda Hales

    I was surprised to learn from my friend, Azar, that many Iranian women enjoy a surprising amount of freedom behind closed doors while they maintain appearances of conformity outside of the home. To her, this is a mutual gesture of respect among many married couples in Iran. When she and her family emigrated to Canada, she assumed the equality of western ways, started her own business and believe it or not, her husband assumed the role of a stay at home father while she worked. He did the cleaning and cooking and she was only too happy to let him do it. According to Azar, this dynamic would not have been possible in Iran but it is one that she attributes to the success of her marriage…it worked for them. She is one extremely happy Iranian woman.

    Reply
  16. Marta Merajver-Kurlat

    Lori, we tend to fear the cultural other, and fear breeds enmity. Your article is a major contribution to our understanding of an ancient culture and its main reproducers: women. This is what east and west have in common, for at both ends women are the key. Thank you for teaching readers to understand the true heart of Iran.

    Reply
  17. Micki Peluso

    Thanks, Lori, for an enlightening article. I’ve been paying attention over the last 20 years of terroism stemming from Iran. It’s my belief that due to the fact that so many Iranian women are becoming highly educated in in medicine, science and politics that the time is drawing closer to them becoming the catalyst for important changes in their male-dominated culture.

    Reply
  18. Rosemary "Mamie" Adkins

    Lori this is an interesting and informative article which should be educational for most women and men alike. While we do not understand the culture of such beautiful women, they seem to be very happily married. I have a dear friend that took me a while to know as I stood back waiting for her to follow our ways since she lived in our country. But the fact is, our country is made up of so many cultures, it is hard to say who or what we actually are-Indians are thought of as lesser than the white but why? All cultures that live inside the boundaries of our country should be allowed to follow their own beliefs behind their closed doors and those that do not love our country need to get out. Much of what you offer should be included in our schools and I am sorry you had to endure the worst of their culture when you were really there against your will but we are not taught in our schools to understand the ways of different cultures.
    Not long ago as I remember the 911 tragedy and when I haled a cab with a driver dressed with a turban and black beard, I was instant frightened due to how he appeared. I wonder if the women of Iran are alarmed by us?
    I was angry that day I had fallen in that stereo type assumption but it’s a natural reaction most of us in the world feel and why we will likely never know world peace. Thank you for bringing this interesting story to us.
    Mamie

    Reply
  19. R.L. Cherry

    Thanks for reminding us of the repressive nature of Islamic fundamentalism. Given a chance, so many Iranians would choose a different path. It is sad that they are never given the chance.

    Reply
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