Iran and the Struggle for "Normalcy": Woman, Life, Freedom
Panel IV-18, 2023 Annual Meeting
On Friday, November 3 at 11:00 am
The death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini on September 16, 2022 in Iranian government custody sparked what is commonly referred to as the "hijab protests" but the uprising is about much more, including such themes as agency, women rights, human rights, democracy, political freedoms, due process and justice. This panel investigates how women are at the forefront of resistance to the "Resistance State" in the struggle for "normalcy," exploring such themes as the connectivity of this protest movement to its antecedents in the post-1979 period, how the protests are changing the feminist canon, and " the perverse state of mind and the female resistance.”
The "hijab protests" or the "Mahsa Amini protests" are often described as the proverbial "fork in the road"--the moment in Iran's post-1979 history in which there is "no going back." Such descriptions remove the uprising from its historical underpinnings and present them as part of a void, yet the preceding protests have helped to bring dissent in Iran to a crescendo. As such, my paper will focus on the "hijab protests" and their connectivity to preceding protests in post-revolutionary Iran, specifically focusing on the Green Uprisings in 2009 as well as the protests in late 2017/early 2018 and the November fuel hike protests in 2019 in order to argue that the "Mahsa Amini protests" are connected to such moments in Iranian history to cascade dissent in Iran.
The #WomanLifeFreedom uprising of 2022 in Iran echoed many voices from the Iranian community on social media and in the streets, some of which strongly challenged the existing feminist scholarship about Iran and its normalizing gaze in incorporating the history of ethnic and sexual minorities in the nation.
The death of Mahsa Amini in police custody could be appropriated as a simple anti-veiling protest against the Islamic State. However, her funeral in the Aychi cemetery turned into the site of demonstrations, with Kurdish women taking off their veils and protesters chanting against the Islamic regime, followed by protests in Balochistan province supporting the Kurdish community. These protests bloomed into complicated questions of whether or not "Mahsa was the new George Floyd" and highlighted the urgency of an intersectional analysis of the Iranian women's movement. However, the existing scholarship on the anti-veiling movement barely touches upon the social construction of the unmarked female body and its place in the history of government repression.
The Iranian queer community pushed forward the second essential inquiry. Showcasing the hate crimes against this community, not persecuted and sometimes encouraged by the state, the queer community portrays necropolitics as the normal of their lives. Some of the members of this community lost their lives in the middle of protests by honor-killing, executions, and shooting against protesters. Two community members vouge in front of the Iranian Embassy in Ecuador to connect their protests with other queers of color protests since the 1980s. At the same time, queer people demand accountability and address the heteronormativity, exclusion, and invisibility of their lives within Iranian feminist scholarship.
While the existing scholarship primarily engages with the "woman's question" and investigates the role of pre and post-revolutionary states in ruling women's bodies, the voices of ethnic and sexual minorities direct us to take a radical intersectional approach to understanding womanhood, the question of whose lives matter and the extent of freedom one can claim.
In this presentation, I investigate how these two foundational questions can challenge feminist canons and their heteronormativity. More importantly, I advocate for the urgency of an anti-racist and transnational feminist lens to focus on the absence of different sections of the Iranian community. Finally, I argue that without such a radical epistemic shift, our knowledge production in academia remains only as another site of erasure.
Until recently, theories of perversion have limited their scope of inquiry to sexual behavior and personal trauma. Freud defined perversion as any form of sexual behavior which deviates from the "norm." Lacan described perversion as not a form of behavior but
a clinical structure. The distinction between perverse acts and the perverse structure which are easily extended to social and political domains. This paper will discuss the cultural as well as clinical perversion in the construction and operation of the Islamic Republic from a psychoanalytic perspective.