My daughter's keeper: Nahid Persson's Prostitution behind the veil

Crossposted at Muslimah Media Watch

For a relatively high-brow TV channel, BBC4 is known for providing top quality programs and dramas. So when the BBC commemorated the 30th anniversary of Islamic Revolution in Iran, I became glued to the channel’s string of intriguing documentaries on all things Iranian, post-1979. There were plenty on Iran-US nuclear politics and the fall of the Shah, all testosterone-fueled stuff. Sticking out from the rest for bearing themes that were uniquely female was the unfortunately-titled Prostitution Behind The Veil (2004). Yes, nothing captures the definitive spirit of being a woman in modern-day Iran better than a program about sex work with groan-inducing references to the veil.

Directed by Nahid Persson, who brought us Four wives – one man (2007), the documentary follows the grim day-to-day lives of two women, Mina and Fariba, in an equally grim corner of the capital city. Making ends meet as sex workers in a country notorious for its curtailment of women’s rights, the two friends juggle their roles as single parents and negotiate their way around the prohibitive laws against prostitution. With their husbands in prison for an assortment of crimes, no relatives willing to help, and a drug habit, the clandestine flesh trade is their last and only resort.

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Malaysian mail-order brides: what fairy tale?

Excerpted from The New Straits Times:

Once upon a time, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella had to battle witches and overcome spells to find Prince Charming. Now, young women are discovering that the road leading to “happily-ever-after” is wider, shorter and much less of an obstacle course.

In recent years, a large number of the fairer sex have chosen to sign up with matrimonial websites to increase their chances of meeting a knight in shining armour. The mail-order bride industry has been around for ages. However, limited to print ads in monthly magazine, singles had a slim chance of finding their perfect mate.

There is something decidedly twisted about comparing mail-order brides to fairy tale princesses. But perhaps due to sheer naivety, the news report ignores the fact that mail order brides have long been an established object of racism, poverty, sexism, and comedy. Despite Malaysia’s notoriety for pompous display of first-rate infrastructure and tall buildings, it shares with a number of foreign bride exporting-nations the kind of urban and rural impoverishment that invariably affects women the worst.

So, for the many women involved, the reasons are largely economic. But there is nothing romantic about meeting and marrying someone you barely know for the sake of an improved standard of living. Except for Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella were, after all, born from affluence, not economic refugees. For the men who search through mail-order bride websites, however, it’s all about accomplishing an impossible romantic dream:

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Lipstick feminism is not feminism

There are a couple of reasons why feminism has a difficult time taking root in many places; first, it’s because there is widespread suspicion of its origins. Historically and currently (by the Bush Admin), it has been abused to spread imperialism. It has strong associations with the privileged and ironically, paternalistic women who like to tell Muslim women what not to wear. Also, because it is home to lipstick feminism. Renee at Feministe has posted a good argument against women who claim empowerment from fashion and make-up but often forget the many other women who are tragically disempowered to keep lipstick feminism alive:

When women who are middle/upper class engage in a debate as to whether an article of clothing, or makeup is suitably feminist what they are ignoring is that they are  in a position to engage in this particular conversation, because they exist with class privilege.

A woman who is making less than 1USD per day does not have time to concern herself with whether or not patriarchy is informing her clothing choices.  This woman must deal with trying to provide subsistence for herself and her family under brutal economic slave labour.  Her class location informs her position, as the realities of her daily lived experience extinguish the angst that lipstick/utility feminists engage in.

Regardless of your position regarding performing femininity through make up and or  clothing, what cannot be denied is that any purchase within our capitalist economy is predicated on the exploitation of women.  The cult of I blinds us from the reality that in  our debate about agency and autonomy, we are completely obscuring the degree to which we personally are responsible for the impoverishment of others.  Class position we posit is based on meritocracy, but I must ask, who works harder than a sweat shop labourer?  Though feminism is a movement to end oppression against women, often times the failure to acknowledge privilege leads to the marginalization and exploitation of the most vulnerable within our society.  Class division is not a  flight of fancy, and to ignore the ways in which the Cult of I, turns us into oppressors is to decide unilaterally that only certain women matter.

You can read her full article here.

Update: Here’s an article posted at The F-Word that got me questioning about how I identify myself as a feminist and here’s a bit of defending the post’s title (Lipstick feminism is not feminism): I like lipstick and I do believe that to some extent it boosts my self-confidence, it assures me that I look pretty. There I said it, I need make-up for self-esteem sometimes. But then again, without make-up and new clothes I’m still me, the same self-assured woman-Muslim-feminist-daughter-lover-cook-pianist-artist who does not need to put everything I enjoy into boxes labeled feminist or not, ‘cos that’s just silly.

The tackiness and insensitivity that is Vogue India

This was originally posted on The New York Times website:

NEW DELHI — An old woman missing her upper front teeth holds a child in rumpled clothes — who is wearing a Fendi bib (retail price, about $100).

A family of three squeezes onto a motorbike for their daily commute, the mother riding without a helmet and sidesaddle in the traditional Indian way — except that she has a Hermès Birkin bag (usually more than $10,000, if you can find one) prominently displayed on her wrist.

Elsewhere, a toothless barefoot man holds a Burberry umbrella (about $200).

Welcome to the new India — at least as Vogue sees it.

Vogue India’s August issue presented a 16-page vision of supple handbags, bejeweled clutches and status-symbol umbrellas, modeled not by runway stars or the wealthiest fraction of Indian society who can actually afford these accessories, but by average Indian people.

Perhaps not surprisingly, not everyone in India was amused.

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Ramadhan TV: Four wives, one man – a synopsis

Having recently added Women Make Movies on my bookmark list and remembered its last update on Nahid Persson’s documentary, ‘Four wives, one man‘, I was pleasantly surprised to find it on More 4 tonight in its True Stories series; the one that brought ‘Lakes of Fire‘ on British TV. It’s a beautifully shot film about a polygamous marriage living under one roof in rural Iran. The man in the title is Heda, and he had just recently taken Ziba, as his fourth wife and she’s his favourite. The other wives complain while the mother-in-law makes crude comments about her son’s lustful ways:”All my son thinks about is pussy!”.

Heda takes his four wives, Farang, Shahpa, Goli, Ziba, and their 20 kids in a bus for family picnics. Soon he starts building separate family homes for each wife. Fair amount of film time is given to each member of this marriage to voice their thoughts about their circumstances, and each time it’s Heda’s turn, he ends up sounding like a complete ass. Time passes and Ziba yearns for a child. After a failed first marriage to a drug addict, she divorces and finds love in Heda. But soon Heda starts talking about marrying virgins:”They’re the best. They don’t know anything. You tell her it’s day, she’ll say it’s day. You tell her it’s night. she’ll say it’s night.”

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