One Reason It’s Important to Pay Attention to the Elections in Iran


This is important to pay attention to not because it means women are suddenly free of discrimination and oppression in Iran, but because it demonstrates that Iranian women are not the helpless, powerless victims they are often portrayed as in Western media. It demonstrates that there is a women’s movement in Iran that is alive and well, that there is a civic life in Iran that far surpasses the images of that country we are used to seeing here. This election by itself may not change very much, and Iran certainly has had elections before that seemed to augur substantive change, which, in the end, did not. Nonetheless, if only because it gives the lie to so many of the misrepresentations that have dominated our view of Iran, I think this election is worth paying attention to.

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16 Responses to One Reason It’s Important to Pay Attention to the Elections in Iran

  1. 1
    Pesho says:

    I think that some readers here may benefit from learning exactly how much power the Islamic Consultative Assembly has. I mean, after the members pledge a few things in writing, have had their discussions led by some more equal members, do not touch on any of the things they are not allowed to even discuss, follow the express wishes of the Supreme Leader, even when they disagree with the Constitution, have had their decisions approved by the Guardians’ Council … and a few more things that you can look up for yourself… after all that is said and done, there are at least four different mechanisms through which their ‘legislation’ can be shot down.

    It is, significantly more often than not.

    When the legislation actually tries to influence anything that matter, it is, period. To my Iranian friends, the ‘Talkery’ is a joke. There are idioms about it. Sure, my friends are not exactly loyal to the Supreme Leader and his apparatus… I cannot find it in myself to blame them for that.

    Also, remember, Christians are barely underrepresented in the Assembly, at about 80% of their share of the population. Women are proportionally less represented by an order or two of magnitude. If you think that having less political presence than Christians in the Islamic Republic is a reason for celebration, please, celebrate away.

  2. Pesho:

    If you think that having less political presence than Christians in the Islamic Republic is a reason for celebration, please, celebrate away.

    I am well aware of just how little power elected legislators have in Iran, as I am well aware—as I have no doubt the women in Iran and the makers of this video are well aware—of women’s second class status in that country, which is why I didn’t say anything about celebrating. I said there was reason to pay attention. There is a difference.

    ETA: Also, the fact that electing a record number of women does not do much to alter the fundamental underrepresentation of women does not mean that it is not worth celebrating; it just means you shouldn’t pretend that one is celebrating anything other than the election of a record number of women and the change that represents—in the electorate if nowhere else. In other words, as long you’re not celebrating it as the beginning of some kind of revolutionary change, as long as you’re honest about it, I don’t see why you shouldn’t celebrate it. And given how hard Khamenei and company worked to keep reformists from getting elected, the fact that so many of these women are reformists is also worth paying attention to.

  3. 3
    Brian says:

    You are an odd flavor of feminist, I have to say. You sure spend a lot of head space defending a sexist culture stemming from a sexist theology. You may want to start learning about what you are defending.


    Quran (4:11) – (Inheritance) “The male shall have the equal of the portion of two females” (see also verse 4:176). In Islam, sexism is mathematically established.
    Quran (2:282) – (Court testimony) “And call to witness, from among your men, two witnesses. And if two men be not found then a man and two women.” Muslim apologists offer creative explanations to explain why Allah felt that a man’s testimony in court should be valued twice as highly as a woman’s, but studies consistently show that women are actually less likely to tell lies than men, meaning that they make more reliable witnesses.

    Quran (2:228) – “and the men are a degree above them [women]”

    Quran (5:6) – “And if ye are unclean, purify yourselves. And if ye are sick or on a journey, or one of you cometh from the closet, or ye have had contact with women, and ye find not water, then go to clean, high ground and rub your faces and your hands with some of it” Men are to rub dirt on their hands, if there is no water to purify them, following casual contact with a woman (such as shaking hands).

    Quran (24:31) – Women are to lower their gaze around men, so they do not look them in the eye. (To be fair, men are told to do the same thing in the prior verse).

    Quran (2:223) – “Your wives are as a tilth unto you; so approach your tilth when or how ye will…” A man has dominion over his wives’ bodies as he does his land. This verse is overtly sexual. There is some dispute as to whether it is referring to the practice of anal intercourse. If this is what Muhammad meant, then it would appear to contradict what he said in Muslim (8:3365).

    Quran (4:3) – (Wife-to-husband ratio) “Marry women of your choice, Two or three or four” Inequality by numbers.

    Quran (53:27) – “Those who believe not in the Hereafter, name the angels with female names.” Angels are sublime beings, and would therefore be male.

    Quran (4:24) and Quran (33:50) – A man is permitted to take women as sex slaves outside of marriage. Note that the verse distinguishes wives from captives (those whom they right hand possesses).

  4. 4
    Ampersand says:

    Brian, I don’t think that anyone here disagrees that we want Iranian culture to change and be less oppressive of women.

    And the women in the video Richard posted are working directly and in a very real way to make that change. Saying that Iranian women are not just helpless victims is not the same as saying there’s no struggle going on.

    I’m confused as to why you’d object to Richard posting this video.

  5. Brian,

    Before I respond, I’d like to know if you are the same person as this brian. Thanks.

    Though I will also say that Amp’s response is fundamentally the same as what my initial response would have been.

  6. 6
    brian says:

    The reason is that the elected body being discussed is generally considered to be a powerless body, by those who follow politics in the region. It is essentially window dressing, a Potemkin village. To praise it for letting women in is equivalent to saying how nice the painted wood food replicas in North Korean model stores are.

    The only God allowed to speak in hate speech is Iuz the Old, in the World of Greyhawk. Other than that, any culture that idolizes the author of these witticisms should only be held up as a negative example. I still don’t get why you’re letting a pro-fat, pro-feminist etc blog host apologetics and white washing for cultures beholden to a theology that wants you personally to die. It’s not healthy.

    I’ll go back to my own blogs now. But just because you’re face blind doesn’t mean everyone you see is your friend or your ally. Some people hate you for existing, and you shouldn’t assist those who assist your enemies. Nuff said.

    Check this out, I’ll check back in a year to see if you’re still giving web space to your enemies. Have a great 2016, I’m damn proud of how well you’re doing.

  7. 7
    Ben Lehman says:

    Boo howdy, you really do hate muslims.

  8. 8
    brian says:

    Ben, that’s the sort of remark that SOUNDS clever when you first think of it, but when others read it, they just think “wow, what an idiot.”

    I hate theology that degrades humanity. I hate philosophies that treat human beings as things. I despise economics that feeds humans to a system.

    I love people. Just don’t like the ideas some of them act on. See you in a year Ben, when I check back on my friend around my next birthday, to see if his preferred playmates deserve him. You don’t, for instance.

    [Enormous wall of quotes, which it appears Brian cut-and-pasted from this site or a similar one, deleted by Barry.]

  9. 9
    Sarah says:

    Brian, that wall-of-quotes might have LOOKED clever when you first copy-pasted it, but when others skim past it, they just think “wow, what a bigot.”

  10. 10
    Mandolin says:

    Hey Brian, you’re dominating this discussion in a way that makes it impossible to discuss the original subject. Please step away from the thread (unless Richard says otherwise).

  11. 11
    Ben Lehman says:

    Reply to Brian removed, as he’s been banned from the thread.

  12. 12
    Sebastian H says:

    So is this a real step forward? Or a propaganda game in a mostly figurehead ‘legislative’ body?

    When Republicans have a few token black people and gay people, we see it for the propaganda game it is, not as a sign that black people and gay people are making strides in the Republican Party. Is this a move similar to that, or something of actual significance?

  13. First, thanks, Mandolin. I’ve been away from a computer where I could respond to Brian till now, and I would have said precisely the same thing.


    So is this a real step forward? Or a propaganda game in a mostly figurehead ‘legislative’ body?

    I think the answer to that depends on what you mean by “step forward” and for whom. Is this going to make an immediate, real, substantive difference in the workings of Iran’s legislature/legislative process/overall government? Almost certainly not, for precisely the reasons that Pesho outlined in his first comment. Things are structured over there so that even a relatively progressive (by Iran’s standards) president cannot effect much change without the approval of the Supreme Leader and a whole lot of other people. Just look what happened to Khatami when he was president and consider the fact that two of the people who ran for president in 2009, when people took to the streets to protest Ahmadinejad’s re-election, are still under house arrest.

    On the other hand, the fact that so many women were elected—and that so many of them were reformists, despite the hard-liners attempts to keep reformists from getting elected—signals a change in whom Iranians think is worth voting for. In other words, it matters that Iranians are willing to vote for more and more women, even if the “more and more” represents in this case just a minuscule percentage of the legislative body, and even if these particular women end up not making the kind of difference which you mean when you ask if something is going on here of “actual significance.” It also matters because it speaks to an increasing visibility of women who are speaking up for women’s rights, of the women’s movement in Iran, which—as I suggested in the post—gives the lie, in my opinion, or at least provides a meaningful and necessary alternative to how Iranian women have for too long been portrayed here in the US, and perhaps in the west in general.

    And just to be clear—I wish I didn’t have to say this, but experience has taught me that it must be said—I am not saying this means everything is now hunky-dory for women in Iran. Women are still treated overwhelmingly as second-class citizens; women are still put to death for having the temerity to defend themselves, sometime fatally, against the man who is trying to rape them—or who succeeds in raping them; women still need the permission of their fathers or husbands to travel; they are still arrested for not covering themselves adequately; controlling their sexuality is still high on the government’s priority list—witness the parliamentary debate a little less than two years ago which determined that leggings are not pants and that women, therefore, should not be allowed to wear them in public.

    All of that is still true. Indeed, in many ways precisely because all of that is still true, I think the fact that Iranians elected a record number of women in this election is worth noting and paying attention to.

  14. 14
    nm says:

    Feel free to ignore this if it’s too off-topic, but I have a question about how the Qur’anic restrictions on women play out in actual lived practice. I mean, obviously there are modesty police in Iran, and that sucks. But aren’t marriage contracts written to prevent a husband from taking additional wives, and don’t parents make gifts to their daughters to get around inheritance rules, and stuff like that? I ask because I don’t know much about Iran, but I know that Muslims (and Jews) in medieval north Africa and Iberia did these things, and I thought they were fairly standard.

  15. nm: I don’t have time to reply right now. I will, to the degree that I can, later.

    I also want to share a link to this piece by Shirin Ebadi in the New York Times. It is heartbreaking and speaks to how much things in Iran have not really changed:

  16. nm:

    Now that I have read your questions a little more carefully, I have to say that I don’t have an answer. I would not be surprised to learn that those things go on in Iran, but I have no idea.

    Also, here’s a piece from The Washington Post that goes into more detail about the role women, and other activists, played in Iran’s recent elections.