Conquering enclosed public spaces

Masserat Amir-Ebrahimi

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Amir-Ebrahimi, M. (1). Conquering enclosed public spaces. Cities, 23(6), 455–461.

andaruni/biruni , Body , Islamic revolution , Public space , Public sphere , Tehran , Veil , Women

During the process of modernization, a number of Islamic countries encouraged women to unveil. Among them, only Iran has recently returned to the earlier era of requiring women to veil themselves as the precondition of presence in public spaces. However, this time the difference was that women were already present in almost all public spaces: in universities, administrations, industries, and even in the government. Being marginalized after the revolution, Iranian women have learned how to overcome the obstacle of the veil. To maintain their presence and activity in public, they constantly reinvented new strategies to challenge the existing authority, by claiming, appropriating, and re-inventing new public spaces. Paradoxically, the reveiling of women and the gender segregation of public spaces helped many traditional women enter public spheres as social actors and to gain power, albeit in silence, in different socio-political and cultural fields. Today, more than ever, Iranian women try to conquer new public spaces/ public spheres with their transparent visibility and with a stress on their differences.

Main finding
In post-Islamic Revolution Iran, traditional religious authority took power and changed how women were expected to appear and behave in public space - inclusive of the re-veiling of women and segregation of the sexes to separate Iran form Western influence. This new control over public space was met with some contradiction since during the war with Iraq in the 1980s, women took on more active roles in the professional work force and their skills utilized in the face of a brain drain. Additionally, women took on more masculine duties in the home where men were more absent. The minority of women living in more modern and westernized portions of Tehran were not used to legally gendered public space and eventually found ways to overcome their veiling and maintain an active role in public space albeit in subverted ways. The presence of moral police in public squares in the city would abruptly change the behaviors and dress of women in the spaces as the identity of these places and spaces took on a temporary order of andaruni or subjection to traditional Islamic codes. The presence of the moral police however, was mostly absent from non-modern, non-westernized traditional neighborhoods of south Tehran. To negotiate the andaruni order of public space, women in modern parts of the city found the forced wearing of the black hejab as a form of social control, but paradoxically also as a way to homogenize themselves and maintain the invisibility sought by the authorities while simultaneously being able to carry on activities in masculine space without visually standing out or seeming "other". It granted a kind of freedom and under-the-radar form of subtle inclusion while also being a form of disciplined enclosure.

Description of method used in the article
The author doesn’t explicitly describe the methods for this research, but there is evidence of historical analysis and archival research as well as descriptions of public space and events likely taken from participant observation. It is it not clear if any interviews were conducted.

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Organising categories

Other or N/A
Archival / Historical Participant Observation
Physical types
Geographic locations