Women's nose job rebellion in Iran

An article in the Independent proclaims widespread cosmetic surgery in Iran are a sign of women rebelling.

BoingBoing's Cory Doctorow points to an Independent article by Angus McDowall that runs down ten examples of how Iran has more liberal-democratic strains running through it than we think. Among them:

6 While official dress codes are very strict, many young Iranians delight in pushing back the boundaries of what is acceptable. Teenage girls in Tehran wear the most vestigial of see-through headscarves and tight overcoats that barely cover the bottom. This season gypsy-style scarves are in, featuring traditional Turkmen floral designs. Cosmetic surgery is all the rage, with girls proudly displaying a plaster to show their nose has recently been 'fixed'.

While I'm excited when I hear stories of young women pushing the limits of prescribed religious oppression of femininity and sexuality, I'm not thrilled to hear that some of the women have skipped right on up to plastic surgery. That the article seems to celebrate this export of Western beauty standardization boggles the mind.

We spend a lot of time -- in part, thanks to this administration -- talking about the oppression of women in the Middle East, often turning a blind eye to our own religious, and secular, persecution of women. (The NY Times recently reported on the sexual slavery of girls and women in Utah, for example, something that is little known or talked about in other regions of the country.) It's easier to talk about The Other. In a recent interview on PBS's Wide Angle, Azza Karam, Senior Policy Research Advisor of the United Nations Development Program and Coordinator for the U.N. Arab Human Development Report, talked to Bill Moyers about problems women face in the region, and how little those problems actually differ from women throughout the world:
BILL MOYERS: How do you explain that, throughout the Arab world, there seem to be fewer women in parliament, fewer women in cabinets, fewer women in the workforce? How do you explain that?

AZZA KARAM: Because of the context that I was referring to earlier of tribal norms. And patriarchy can still thrive particularly well in tribal cultures. The Arab world, again speaking very generally, and noting different exceptions, it does tend to be a tribal culture.

BILL MOYERS: Would you say it is more from that tribal custom when men were the dominant force in the tribe than from the teachings of Islam?

AZZA KARAM: Absolutely. Because if you look at the Arab world, it's such a hodgepodge of different religions. You have Christian women who are facing exactly the same difficulty as Muslim women. Previous to the creation of the state of Israel, when you had more significant Jewish populations in that part of the world, they were facing the same issues, as Jewish women, that their Christian and Muslim counterparts were facing. So I would be very categorical in saying that the religion, per se, is not the issue or the problem. And it's certainly, to me, very clear that it is the way that their religion has been used and adapted by certain already long existing patriarchal elements and tribal elements. That is where our problem is in the Arab world.

BILL MOYERS: In my own tradition, in the Christian tradition, the origins of the church assign women to a secondary position because the patriarchy was the desired form by the people who were writing the rules. I mean are you saying that's what the situation is in the Arab world, too?

AZZA KARAM: Yes, I'm saying that that's where the situation is. And most parts of the world, definitely in the Arab world, wherever the interpretation of religion--it's put into action usually by men. Wherever that has happened, the faith has been twisted in the process.

The bottom line here is that regardless of region or religion, as long as we continue to treat women's rights as separate than larger human and civil rights, as somehow 'special requests,' and ignoring our own questions of acceptable cultural norms, we're going to continue to see articles like the McDowall's proclaiming nose jobs as liberty.

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