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Our series Love in Far Off Lands tracks her journey, highlighting the best of her encounters. “Yep,” the woman began, “If you’re a girl, you get to decide how much you’re worth.” Now there’s a sentence that inverts the American conception of women in Iran. My grandmother walks around with a whip and my grandfather is basically not allowed to talk. Iranian culture is almost but not quite matriarchal. One of the men elaborated, explaining that modern Iranian women are the embodiment of a “hard core backlash.
It was a Thursday night in Istanbul and I was sitting on a patio at a going away party with three Persian cousins: two men living in Istanbul for graduate school and a woman living there who works as a journalist. So it’s forbidden by law, informal dating when you’re not married. The men explained that when a woman gets married she decides on an amount of money that the man owes them if they get divorced. Also they’re graduating a lot more from university, to the extent that if a girl and boy are both applying to the same department at university, they’ve lowered the standards for the boys to try to even it out.
I didn’t want to turn playtime into work time but the opportunity seemed too ripe to relinquish. How often do we get to share a beer and actually try to understand each other? I told them that I was writing about dating cultures in different countries. But you know, everything forbidden is more interesting.” I asked how dating is different for them in Istanbul than it is back home and both men instantly replied that it was way easier to date back home in Iran. ” One said and laughed, but then added more seriously, “Maybe they feel more freely. But because they are so repressed, they go to extremes to compensate. They’re totally dressed up and made up and with the hair… They’ve got like three boyfriends, they’re always screwing around… They explained that the right of divorce is the man’s, but that most middle and upper class men sign a clause in their pre-nuptial agreement giving their wife the same right. The graduation rates are like 62 percent girls.” I walked away from this conversation a bit rattled and sad.
They agreed to interviews but definitely, absolutely did not want me to use their names; they said it could end up preventing them from re-entering Iran at all. When you’re in a closed place and you’re under pressure, you want to experience something that is illegal.” The other chimed in, “Yes, I have had 15 girlfriends and I’m only 30! But here, it’s much harder to get girls.” I asked if girls in Iran have sex before marriage and one of the men speculated that 10 or 15 years ago only 10 percent of girls would, but that now the percentage is probably closer to 90. Not sad for the Persian women, but rather that in my mind and in the general American imagination, we paint them as such helpless victims.
You can’t hold hands with someone or you’ll get arrested.