Ruined by Reading

Lipstick Jihad

Posted in Book Reviews, Culture, Memoir, Religion by M on September 26, 2008

I recently finished Lipstick Jihad by Azadeh Moaveni, which is a memoir of an Iranian girl who grew up in California and has moved to Tehran as a BBC correspondent in an effort to find a place where she belongs. She spent her entire adolescence feeling out of place, believing that if she were to just reconnect with her “Iranianness”, she would find a home and she would be complete. Unfortunately, once she gets to Tehran, she realizes that she feels like an outsider and a foreigner there as well. While she tries to find her place, she learns about modern day Iranian society and gives the reader an insight into Iran that is about more than harems and suicide bombers.

One thing that is constantly discussed is gender relations, and the way women are treated and expected to act and dress. Amidst all the claims that hijab is meant to protect women from men, and is meant to keep sexual desires out of the public sphere, Moaveni contradicts this by asserting that it does the opposite. At least in modern day Iran it does. And it makes sense. This is also an idea touched upon by Louise Brown in The Dancing Girls of Lahore – if you keep something from the public eye, then it will become more desired by society, more scandalous when it is actually seen, and on the minds of the public even more. In this case, that something is a woman’s body. According to Moaveni, many men are perverts who take simple things, such as smiling or even smoking in public, as an invitation to invite a woman to bed. Even the clerics ask women for their numbers, which is experienced by Moaveni herself when, during an interview, a cleric asks if he could get her number and visit her, alone, when he visited Cairo. Sex is on the minds of men and women alike, and the same women who walk the streets in a chador spend their nights engaging in erotic conversations in internet chatrooms. Even though the state forces women to cover to an extent, in an effort to control society, the opposite is achieved and the product is a society that craves sex and desires to talk about it and experience it any way that they can.

Maoveni treats hijab and modest dress flippantly. But I can’t really blame her. Her only real experiences with Islam are in an unreligious community in California, and in a country where Islam is corrupted and forced down the throats of every citizen. The way Islam is described in Lipstick Jihad seems as though it would only serve to make the reader, uneducated on Islam, think that it really is inherently oppressive to women. But I can’t really hold that against the author, since this is her memoir and the purpose is not to educate Western readers on Islam – something which seems to be almost as foreign to herself as it is to many of those who will read this book. It isn’t her fault that her experiences with it have been mostly negative when it comes to the treatment of women.

I will say though that, although I agree with the idea that hijab can serve to do the opposite of it’s intended purpose, it is not inherently bad or corrupted. If the state had not enforced it, and society had raised and socialized men to believe that they can control their desires and are not wild animals, and that society’s virtue and honor does not rest solely upon a woman’s chastity, the Iran that Moaveni stepped into would have probably be vastly different. If only those ideas were applied to the entirety of the Muslim community.

Moaveni is an intriguing author and I enjoyed her memoir. Iranian politics and history are, to me, complicated and I have pretty much no knowledge of them except for my undying love for Ahmadinejad (you think I’m joking, but I’m almost serious). I realize that her memoir is hardly representative to the experiences of Iranians as a whole. She only really represents the privileged class, which is usually a class that is often exempted from the rules of society and can get away with a lot more. I would really love to read a memoir from someone who was from the poorer, working class. Someone from southern Tehran. I would love to read a woman’s story of her time serving in the Morality Police, though I doubt anything of that sort will be hitting the bookstore shelves anytime soon.


6 Responses

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  1. Fatemeh said, on September 30, 2008 at 6:12 pm

    Great review!
    Can we feature it on MMW?

    And…seriously…you love Ahmedinejad? I’m curious…?

  2. Mish said, on September 30, 2008 at 9:59 pm

    I find Ahmadinejad to be an interesting political figure, and a great speaker, and there are some things he does which I agree with and a lot that I don’t agree with. I guess you could say I have a little political crush on him.

    But yes, you can feature it on MMW.

  3. Fatemeh said, on October 1, 2008 at 12:15 am

    Ain’t nothing wrong with that! I think his motives and things are interesting as well, and I feel he’s a pretty misunderstood figure. But I still can’t force myself to like him! :D
    Thanks! This will probably be up Thursday!

  4. Lipstick Jihad « Muslimah Media Watch said, on October 2, 2008 at 7:00 am

    […] Lipstick Jihad October 2, 2008 Posted by Fatemeh in Books/Magazines. Tags: Azadeh Moaveni, Iran trackback This was written by Sakina and originally published at Ruined by Reading. […]

  5. Ramya said, on November 5, 2008 at 9:16 pm

    hey..thanks for visiting me and commenting on my post.. i came here via your comment and got to read your amazing review..:) you have a great blog here:) I agree with what you are saying though.. Azadeh’s view of Iran is not that of someone born and brought up there.. it is the view of a foreigner.. but sometimes, i think an external view is important coz they know what it is that everyone else wants to see..:)

    and i am currently reading “invisible women” which is based in Saudi and i see the discussion on the burqa/abbayah there as well – how the forbidden is somehow more enticing than something that is always shown. it is quite an interesting book.. have you read it??

  6. Mish said, on November 6, 2008 at 6:10 am

    Is it In the Land of Invisible Women? That’s the only one I’ve heard of myself and the only one that comes up on amazon.

    If that is the book you’re talking about, then no I haven’t read it but I want to. When I first saw it at the bookstore I was hesitant because it looks so stereotyped but since it’s by a Muslim woman I’m willing to give it a try.

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