Constructing gender identity in a repressive society

by Evelyn Jozsa

The most important thing people can learn is how to be comfortable in their own skin. We are constantly in search of our identity as if we have lost it before we were even born. Another theory is that the story starts right there: at the moment you were born. Everyone starts with a blank page and during the journey we construct the person we wish to be.

We build our national and gender identity and our personality as individuals. However, the process is not as simple as it sounds. Gender inequality has a long history everywhere in the world, and some societies still fail to acknowledge women and girls as human beings. Iran is one of those countries, where women are still the object of the men who have the authority to kill their daughters or wives without legal consequences. In Iran, women and girls are put behind one mask: their headscarves. The world defines them by that one item. Has it ever occurred to you that there’s a complex personality behind a hijab?

Queen of Luna is an artist who turns herself into famous characters, using make up and wearing a hijab.

While some girls obey the rules and become the puppet of their culture others fight to give voice to their full personalities and learn how to be a woman beyond the boundaries. Farideh[1] is a 26 year old girl from Tehran, the capital of Iran and after a long fight with her parents; she left the country in order to pursue her dream to become an artist.

Farideh discovered her passion for art at a very young age, however she was convinced to pursue a degree in computer engineering, because the options were limited. This degree did not satisfy her. “I wanted something that I really like, something that won’t turn into a routine. Therefore I chose animation, for the reason that I love art. I like to read, to draw. I want to do something special before I die. Art is something that makes me forget everything about society. I want to do something for humans, because we only live once,” said Farideh “The system in Iran made me forget about my passion for art.” Iran is highly repressive when it comes to arts, and in case of the women it is even stricter. For instance, women are not allowed to sing in public, because their voices cannot be heard by men other than their husbands. Woman singers in Iran have to be very inventive and creative to be able to perform. “These women have to do all sorts of tricks,” Farideh describes.

Queen of Luna is an artist who turns herself into famous characters.

She believes that it is very unfortunate that she was born in a third world country, where women’s rights are radically restricted. Nevertheless, she considers that growing up in an Iranian society made her stronger. “On the other hand I was so lucky, because if you live for example in a country like America, you don’t have any restrictions, in my idea. You can do anything you want like the other humans, it’s easy, you can go to the university, you can sing, you can dance, you can do everything. But in Iran you have to pass these restrictions, and then become who you want to be.”

Farideh has walked a long road in order to become the woman and the person she wants to be. She lived through difficulties and overcame her restrictions. “If you want to live as a girl in Iran, you have to hide everything from your parents. Women are forced to not live as they want to live.” Her parents wanted to arrange a marriage for her several times; however she did not give in to it, she has a boyfriend and she believes that it is only her decision what she’s supposed to do with her life and who she should marry. “It´s human rights, you have to decide about your body, it´s your body, your spirit, your soul, you have to decide about it, and no one else, not even your parents and the rest of your family can choose for you.” Farideh’s relationship with her parents is not a good one; she fought for herself and was not afraid to talk about the things that bothered her. She calls herself a rebel, someone who goes against the system. Farideh experienced the worse and when she tried to talk about it to her mother she got the response that what happened is her fault.

“Rape happens every day around the world, but in Iran, because of the religious problem you shouldn´t say anything, or even if your parents know about that thing they are just like: “Be quiet, don´t tell anyone about that situation that happened to you” and these things happen especially for the children – the girls.” She continued, “It happens to you by your close relative, especially with your close relative, not with strange people in the street. And you should just keep all these things to yourself. It´s really hard, it´s really, really hard and I have to say that I experienced this, I experienced this situation and I told my parents when I was… I think, I think I was 7 or 6 years old, or maybe younger. But my mom told me: “No, you were the one, who made a mistake, nothing has happened” I didn´t know about that rape thing at that age, you know, but I felt that it´s strange that someone touches you when you are a kid. And this happened to me three times…Three times, I think it´s a lot and now when I am here I think it´s weird, because this thing really affects your mind, affects your situation.”

Farideh managed to overcome this with the help of her open-minded boyfriend and she is currently working on an animated book that tells her story. However she is still concerned about whether she’ll be able to reveal that it is her own story. “I’m really thinking about whether I can ever write my name on the cover of the book. Is it possible, or can I say it´s my life?”

Her wish is to become an inspiration for the girls living in Iran. She wants to show them that they can become themselves and should not be afraid to express their true identity as women. Farideh had to leave Iran to become the person she desires to be. She had to leave behind her national identity to be comfortable in her skin as a woman and as an artist.

“I want to live according to my style, I don´t want to live by the rules in Iran,” said Farideh.

[1] The real name of the person was replaced in order to protect her identity.

 

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