cultural identity

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.



Mongolian nomads and globalization

By Larisa Rusu

With the advent of capitalism and the free flow of people and goods there has been an intensifying globalization which has made possible certain changes, prominently in the fields of world trade, international policy agreements, and politics. In this turmoil fueled by low-cost air transportation, the on-growing tourism industry, multinational companies and the Western supremacy, something called the “clash of civilizations” has been given birth to.

Harvard professor Samuel Huntington predicts that “The fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics”.
In this gap between cultural identity and globalization, national identity, the preservation of one’s own states’ values and war-leading national pride collide with the principles of no boundaries and worldwide acceptance of the same life principles.

In search for a speaking example of the clash between tradition and the growing globalization I found the Mongolian nomads. They are one of the last remaining nomadic cultures nowadays. Tradition of thousands of years of wandering the Mongolian steppe is now at risk as a consequence of the changing economic and environmental landscape. Sitting on a vast gold, coal and copper resources, Mongolia has seen an increasing westernization after the fall of the communist regime in ’92. Many of the traditional pastoral herders and cattlemen have chosen to give up the nomadic lifestyle and move to Ulaanbaatar’s impoverished yurt slums.

The following short documentary by the Journeyman Pictures shows how ancient nomadic practices are swapped with the more Western style of life.

Herders often chose to sell their belongings and live off underpaid coal mining jobs. The risk is the abandonment of millennia-old traditions. As Dagvadorj, one of Mongolia’s richest businessmen and sustainer of their culture sai about children born and/or raised in towns: “They seem less and less to know about the 5 ‘muzzles’ (horses, cows, goats, sheep, camels). The Westernization and increasing stagnation of our recent times are a real concern in our nomadic culture”

Young nomad herds by motorcycle

eagle hunter

Eagle hunter- Asher Svidensky

Naadam Mongolian Festival


Samuel P. Huntington- The Clash of Civilizations

Old ladies with tattooed hands. A brief study

by Laura Vlasa

During the Ottoman occupation of Bosnia-Herzegovina (1463–1878), home-made tattoos became widespread among the suppressed Catholic population, especially women and children. After the Second World War, the Communist administration banned religion and the practice had since been forgotten.

The tattoos represented allegiance to a secret Catholic cult in a time when people were forced to convert to Islamism by the oppressing troops and, if the conversion took place, a mark of the actual faith in people’s hearts. It was an age of terror for the Bosnia-Herzegovina population, an age marked by murder, rape, kidnapping and slavery. The women tattooed themselves and their children on their hands, chest, elbows or foreheads with the belief that they represented a spiritual and physical protective shield.