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Blurring the Red Line: How Women in Iran Have Pushed Back at the Ban on Solo Singing in Public
Abstract by Payam Pilvar
Coauthors: Siavash Rokni
On Session VII-30  (Staging Performance and Music)

On Saturday, November 4 at 8:30 am

2023 Annual Meeting

The pursuit of agency and empowerment by Iranian women has been a persistent and evolving process spanning several decades. The movement for women's agency has influenced and been influenced by other important aspects of Iranian culture, social norms, politics, and religion. One of the red lines that was drawn by the Shia Islam jurisprudence in Iran after the 1979 revolution came in the form of banning women to sing solo in public. At the same time, the female voice has been allowed in public so long as it is accompanied by other voices (either a man’s voice or other female voices). As decades passed, changes were made to the rules pertaining to female solo singing whereby women were able to organize concerts where they would sing to female-only audiences (Siamdoust, 2017). Moreover, women have continued to find ways to have their voices heard in public. In this paper, we would like to look at the cultural practices that are pushing back at this red line. In other words, what types of strategies and practices have female vocalists in Iran employed over the past four decades to challenge seemingly immutable laws governing women’s public performances? To answer the question, we first problematize what “female solo singing” means by looking at how this concept is interpreted in Islam and the ambiguities that rise when this question is asked. Theoretically, we frame our question within the field of cultural studies (Hall, 1992; Williams, 2001) and argue that small and seemingly insignificant cultural practices lead to a slow change in society, a long revolution. In this sense, the site of negotiation between cultural norms and political power is in ambiguities that arise from the interpretation of what “female solo singing” means for the Iranian government as well as cultural practices that negotiate what is or is not allowed. Our paper pushes this idea further by looking at three forms of cultural practices: persistent (Rokni, 2021; Siamdoust, 2019), resistant (Olszewska, 2013), and defiant (Khosravi, 2008) practices. Methodologically, we will be analyzing several music experts and show how the female voice is integrated into the music (orchestration, usage of recording technology, social media and alteration of public space).
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