“Pretty” is the protest?

Jezebel has an interesting post, entitled “In Iran, “Pretty” Is Sometimes The Protest.” She writes:

So, when you see this woman with red fingernails, she’s not just risking arrest for holding that sign, she’s risking it for the shade of her nail polish.

It relates to a Juan Cole piece, “Class v. Culture Wars in Iranian Elections” in which he pointed out that “the Iranian women who voted in droves for Khatami haven’t gone anywhere…”

I don’t know enough about class and gender politics in Iran to say much about this. The fact that the women in these pictures often conform to Western notions of glamor, including fair skin, had struck me in the media coverage about the elections, but I hadn’t thought about it beyond that until I read Jezebel and Juan Cole’s posts. What do you think?

UPDATE: Thanks to Gregory Starrett for mentioning Pardis Mahdavi’s new book, Passionate Uprisings: Iran’s Sexual Revolution. Here is an interview with her:

11 thoughts on ““Pretty” is the protest?

  1. I think that the fact that you can get yourself thrown in the clink for wearing nail polish doesn’t mean that you should.

  2. Pardis Mahdavi’s new book, Passionate Uprisings: Iran’s Sexual Revolution (Stanford 2009) details the roles of fashion and sexuality in Iranian youths’ resistance to political repression in the country. “Many key informants reminded me,” she wrote, “that because wearing a DKNY headscarf or being in a car with a boyfriend could get them arrested, the headscarf was more than a label and the boyfriend was more than a passing amusement; instead these behaviors are a threat to the social and moral order affecting all aspects of the Islamic Republic” (p. 38).

  3. I remember hearing a report on NPR sometime ago about the brisk black market in Iran for Victoria’s Secret underwear. This is, as Jezebel notes, not simply a matter of a West-facing youth uncritically adopting Western beauty notions. As numerous anthropologists have pointed out (I’m thinking especially of Lisa Rofel in _Other Modernities_, but there are numerous others) Western imagery is not consumed “Westernly” but locally, and is shaped by local histories, traditions, and conditions.

    As outside observers, we get far too caught up in a simplistic dichotomy between “modernity” and “tradition”, which we map onto the politics. The reality is far more complex — yet another justification for anthropologists’ obsessions with local knowledges.

  4. [MTBradley wrote:] I think that the fact that you can get yourself thrown in the clink for wearing nail polish doesn’t mean that you should.

    Reading this brought to mind a quote of the immortal Homer Simpson, looking suitably mystified: “[MT], you and I are very different people!”

  5. To each his own, Andrew. Personally, I would rather not be thrown in jail for anything.

  6. The hotness of Persian women being a key trope in the politics of Orientalism of course…

    Hijab >< Hot … argh the political frisson!

  7. See Azadeh Moaveni, _Lipstick Jihad: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America and American in Iran._ Sort of goes along with the red nail polish. She was being interviewed on some NPR program about the demonstrations in Iran.

  8. I’m reminded reading this of the philosophy grad student who comes back to school in the fall after teaching undergrads in summer school and when asked how it went said: “It’s was strange. My students were all obsessed with sex! Not the idea of sex or the meaning of sex but sex!”
    True story. I was told it by a witness.

    “Difference” feminism. Puritanism vs the feminine prerogative. What you’re looking at in these women is the sexual performativity of mediterranean culture. The best casual commentary on Iran in the press over the past years [the ‘serious’ commentary has all been by film critics] has been Elaine Sciolino in the NY Times, who spends half her time covering the Parisian glamour beat. Here she ridicules a former CIA officer and the model for the central figure in the film Syriana for his assumptions about Iran.
    Here is her discussion of Azar Nafisi

    Look at Pardis Mahdavi in the video: the make up on her eyelids, the way she moves her hair. Are you that unaware of the performativity of your own culture?
    Glamour is conservative and Iran is a conservative culture. But when it works it works!
    Has no man reading this ever had a beautiful woman blow smoke in his face?

    And by the way the women of Saudi Arabia spend more money on lingerie than any other culture on the planet. A Saudi princess was given a court summons in Paris last month over payment of a 60,000 euro bill from one shop!
    She coughed it up.

  9. Seth, what’s a conservative culture? As compared to what? “Who” is part of that “culture”, exactly? Who are you talking about?

  10. http://www.wired.com/beyond_the_beyond/2004/08/milan_or_tehran_5/
    Milan or Tehran?
    Glamour is the performativity of the sexually intimidating woman- intimidating according to conservative gender roles: the woman not as passive but as judge.

    I just won and lost a beautiful girl by assuming that our connection revolved primarily around ideas when in fact it centered on trust. Even at my age too often I’m clueless . We communicated wonderfully but for me I was concentrating on the surface while she was judging my behavior: my manner, my confidence, my openness, my comfort with her.
    Later she’d begun to test me -her description- and I’d gotten nervous, I began to grasp. Needing someone is not the same as liking or respecting them. She pulled away; I gave chase, briefly. But you can’t chase from weakness. I stopped and waved, she waved back and laughed and kept going.
    Trust isn’t what you say it’s how you say it and in the end I was saying very interesting things badly with obvious ulterior motives. There’s a very solid logic to the girl’s decision-making process. Trust and Intimacy are not ideas.

    The entire weekend revolved around sex and sexuality. Not cheap sexuality but the sexuality of intimacy or the possibility of intimacy. Gender roles -either in standard form of reversed- give structure to performance and allow people to read and recognize behavior patterns. I’m a formalist. But the distinction between methodology and ideology; that’s where it gets interesting.
    Catherine Deneuve?

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