The Bahá'í Chair for World Peace Spring 2015 Lecture
Farzaneh Milani, Raymond J. Nelson Professor of Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages and Cultures, Studies in Women and Gender, University of Virginia
An unprecedented flourishing of women's literature—a literary renaissance, really—is one of the collateral, unexpected benefits of the 1979 Revolution. Finally, the pantheon of Persian literature is integrated in terms of the gender of its producers, consumers, and objects of representation. Women are publishing a record number of books and best sellers in different genres—fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. They are winning some of the most prestigious literary awards. They have attained unprecedented stature previously reserved only for male writers. Gender issues are no longer the concern only of elite, highly educated, and urban women. Nor are they considered class-specific, personal, private, or unavoidable
It is the aim of this presentation to discuss the desegregation of a predominantly all-male literary tradition and the remarkable emergence of women writers as a transformative socio-political force in Iran.
While searching for justice and beauty, women writers and poets, beginning with Tahereh Quorratol’Ayn, have advocated the reform of the family unit from within and pushed against the boundaries of gender apartheid from without. They have advocated structural and systemic change in their society. Refusing to be silenced and kept out of sight, they have transgressed religious, philosophical, political as well as spatial boundaries. They have reassessed traditional codes and conventions regulating gender relations within the family unit and by extension in the society at large.
Surely, the path to full and lasting gender-integration has been long and strewn with difficulties. Backlashes have been and continue to be inevitable. Still, traditional gender relations have broken down and conventional distribution of space, visibility, and power has been modified. A woman’s presence, voice, and vision have been inserted in the public square and the public discourse. The genie is out of the bottle and the caravan of women, led by women writers, has, in effect, re-mapped the cultural geography of Iran and reorganized its political landscape without shedding a drop of blood.
About the Speaker:
Farzaneh Milani is Raymond J. Nelson Professor and Chair of the Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages and Cultures and former Director of Studies in Women and Gender at the University of Virginia. She has published several books, most recently Words, not Swords: Iranian Women Writers and the Freedom of Movement (Syracuse University Press, 2011; co-winner of Latifeh Yarshater Award), and over one hundred articles, epilogues, forewords, and afterwords in both Persian and English. She has served as the guest editor for special issues of Nimeye-Digar, Persian Language Feminist Journal, IranNameh and Iranian Studies: Journal of the International Society for Iranian Studies. She has written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, Ms. Magazine, Reader's Digest, USA Today, and contributed to National Public Radio's All Things Considered. She has presented 240 lectures nationally and internationally. A past president of the Association of Middle Eastern Women's Studies in America and a Carnegie Fellow, Milani was the recipient of the All University Teaching Award in 1998 and nominated for Virginia Faculty of the Year in 1999.