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Repression or Empowerment? Unpacking the Symbolism of the Chador in "A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night"
Abstract by Mazyar Mahan On Session XII-27  (Traversing the World)

On Sunday, November 5 at 11:00 am

2023 Annual Meeting

"A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night" is a Persian-language American independent film made by Ana Lily Amirpour, an Iranian diasporic filmmaker. The film’s main character, a chador-wearing unnamed figure referred to as “The Girl,” has been widely interpreted as a symbol of Muslim feminism and seen as a rejection of Islamophobia and a promotion of religious tolerance. However, this paper challenges this interpretation and argues that it is not representative of the actual situation of Iranian women. Instead, I propose a psychoanalytic interpretation of the film. Drawing from the Freudo-Lacanian concept of repression, I argue that the Girl’s chador represents the ideology of the Islamic regime and its suppression of Iranian women, while her actions symbolize female desire, power, and agency. This distinction between the chador and the character wearing it offers a more nuanced understanding of the film and its portrayal of the struggle for female empowerment and agency in Iran. The current dominant reading of the film oversimplifies the complex relationship between Iran, Iranian women, Islam, and the chador—a full-body veil that covers the entire body, except for the face and hands—in contemporary Iran. The compulsory hijab law in Iran is partially responsible for this misunderstanding. This law requires women to wear a veil in public. This has led many scholars to think that the movie is about empowering women and rejecting the restrictions of the chador. But this view needs to consider how complicated the situation is for Iranian women and how the chador signifies oppression. The character of the Girl offers two types of signifiers, which I argue are paradoxical. On the surface, she wears a chador, a nationally specific symbol of religious patriarchy and the ruling ideology. However, when it comes to the character under the chador, the Girl contradicts the way the Islamic Republic’s ideology pictures women inside the domestic space and only in relation to the male members of the family, such as the father, husband, or son. She embodies female desire and sexuality, something the Islamic regime does not want or recognize for a chadori woman. A psychoanalytic approach to the film offers a solution to this paradox.
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