Gender Related Social Groups

Male-female separation characterizes much of Iranian social life. Females spend much of their time in the company of other females. Before the employment of many women in the public sector during the 1960s and afterward, females (except the poor) generally stayed at home with female family and relatives, running the household, and interacting with kin and neighbors. Upon marriage, a young couple typically lived with the groom's family, at least for a time. However, the Iranian kinship system is basically bilateral, and wives maintained close connections with their own families and relatives. Male relatives, such as a father and his sons and perhaps uncles and cousins, might well form the basis for political groupings, particularly in tribal and rural areas, and economic endeavors. However, kinship groups in Iran exhibit a network character of changing alliances rather than a corporate nature. People could also utilize connections through women and partnerships with unrelated persons to form interest groups. During kinship, neighborhood, religious, and political gatherings, wedding celebrations and mourning ceremonies, and religious rituals, men and women gathered in separate buildings, rooms, or spaces. During ad hoc political meetings and economic consultations of men, women might find opportunities to listen discreetly while serving tea and other refreshments. Urban middle-class men often joined one or more dorehs or circles, meeting regularly with a fixed membership, although more recently often both husbands and wives attend such gatherings. Segregation along gender lines continues to organize social life. Since the formation of the Islamic Republic, government officials have required the segregation of unrelated women and men.

Rural people have migrated to urban areas, and those men who maintain their homes in villages frequently commute to work. Village women have fewer animal-tending and food-processing responsibilities. Factory-produced goods have replaced handicrafts. Men dominated the arts as well, writing the poetry so central to Iranian culture, painting Persian miniatures, and working as professional musicians. Since the 1960s, when women gained educational opportunities, they have begun to publish, paint, create, and perform, although less than men. The much-loved female poet, Forugh Farrokhzad, began publishing her poems in the 1950s. The first female novelist, Simin Daneshvar, wife of the outstanding author, Jalal Al-e Ahmad, published her book Savushshun, or The Mourners of Siyavush, in 1969 (Milani, 1992). Women have become teachers, work in government offices, and serve in medical capacities. Now women work in virtually every type of field and position, although as a minority in non-nurturing areas. Men generally hold the more powerful positions.

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