A sweltering hot summer day. The sound of water splashing mingles with laughter and joyous shrieks of children. Amongst the happy water-players, a couple of small children are cavorting with their father, most likely as fat as a seal and as hairy as a bear. By the water’s edge, sitting close enough to the sweet father-and-kids group and looking anxious enough to make it clear she is the mum, is a woman. Despite the soaring temperatures, she is in fully veiled, her hair and her body all completely covered with clothing, generally of dark hues. She shows no inclination to tear off the clothes and join her bathing family and splash around in the cool water. She can’t.

This tableau irritated me as child, when I came across it in England (yes, there are some days and some beaches when you can bathe outdoors in England, and my beach-lover parents hunted them out). It drove me mad in the cat-country, where as likely as not, I would be the veiled woman sitting by while the men-folk and children splashed around freely. It annoyed me in Antalya, since once we made enough money we took our summer holidays in Turkey, like millions of other Iranian holiday-makers. And now that I am seeing it on the beaches and by the swimming pools of Nova Scotia, it still makes me as crazy and as uncomfortable as it used to when I was six. 

Oh yes, theoretically, there is nothing to prevent the woman living in Canada to join the rest of her family in water-fun. Except the prisons of the mind, as they say, are far more powerful than any external barriers. And that is why this scene makes me particularly uncomfortable in Canada, whereas back in Iran, it simply made me furious. The implicit element of judgement, of moral superiority, the assumption of modesty, the pose of virtue which frames this scene. Look, we are a good Iflamic family. And look at you, in your decadent swimsuit, flaunting your body naked for all eyes to see (not that anyone is particularly interested in ogling me). You who have betrayed the values of your ancestors, your country, your culture. You who are aping the Westerners. Oh the whole swimming-pool, no, the Atlantic Ocean itself isn’t wide enough to contain my figurative vomit.

Trivial stuff, yes? Mind your own business, you may say. If she wants to cover herself in tinfoil, the better to bake in the heat, let her do so. Respect, politeness. That is all we owe each other, in Canada at least.     

But I should make it clear that it is not the woman in herself which annoys me. She may be, indeed most likely is, a friendly, nice, intelligent woman like everybody else. She is my aunt, my mother. But it is the actual scene itself, and the whole system of unfairness, inequality, supression, force and bullying which frame it, that gets me. The man, by virtue of having an extra piece of meat dangling between his legs, may enjoy the water. The woman, lacking that most precious organ, should cover herself up.

Very logical indeed. Absolutely crammed with fairness,  I must say.



  1. TheNightingale

    What sarcasm. Absolutely burning.
    It seems YOU are the one making the judgement, not others.

  2. GoLi

    Wow that was really powerful!

    (I can’t help appreciating the awesome stuff, although I’m still mad at you; that’s how I value art)

    Yeah that’s one of the things that religion does to people: taking away the most basic human rights. I think it’s really tragic how it hurts people and their minds n lives, sometimes without their own realization)

  3. thenewcomer

    Mad at ME? Why? I’m not the visa officer who refused your application!!! I mean, what do you expect me to do? I didn’t really mean to drown myself, you know! That was just Art.

  4. GoLi

    No not drowning, but u can easily get a ticket and come here for a while. Coming to iran for a while is not like drowning, YOU KNOW.

  5. OMG- stop with the bellyaching! I SAID I’d try to come in december, OK? And I still haven’t told my boss, etc etc etc.
    FYI, our dear parents, The Lovers of Iran and Family, spent FIVE YEARS continuously in the UK (before you were born) without all this moaning and groaning and “I need to see my mum and my sis and my bro” and all this stuff.

  6. completely agree with you

    However, there are other “modern” forms of discrimination too. Just today, I attended a seminar on some technology-related subjects in Microsoft in the city I am living in. To my surprise, there were only 3 women out of around 70 attenders! I was discussing this with one of the attenders (not Microsoft staff) there. Somewhere in our discussion he said: you can use this fact for your own benefit! [for example] in working in sale [in IT industry] this factor helps you to attract more attention of possible clients/customers… what he said is absolutely true, but the mind behind it, even in a highly technical industry, is still only the “feminine” and “attraction” feature of a woman. He was definitely a nice and polite man but how come such guys never imagine / suggest a technical – managerial role for a woman? You must have heard about “glass ceiling”, don’t you?

    In such situations, I always recall the work of Oriana Fallaci: “The Useless Sex” (in Farsi, it has been translated as “jens-e zaif”)

  7. teng

    i’m stuck in the same situation… sort of…
    i’ll tell you later

    but you know, i think its only because we hate it so much that we keep bumping to it… the old snake and rosemary (?) tale 🙂

  8. thenewcomer

    To self-express: Oh yes- I’ve heard about the glass ceiling. Even in Canada, which has a reputation for equality and woman’s rights etc, there are many who believe strongly that there is continuing discrimination between men and women, men continue to earn more, on average, etc.

    To Teng: You know, it is not that we bump into it more, it is simply that we are more sensitized to this issue, and so we notice it wherever we go. A “native” white Canadian would generally not even notice the woman in the veil, or (if the Canadian is like my classmates) think that she is so “strong”, she is “resisting Western values like Britney Spears”, she is so “devoted”, she refuses to be brainwashed by the media, etc etc. They would see her in a much more positive light than we do. They do not realise there are far more dangerous forms of brainwashing…

  9. rozamontazami

    in-hameh moshkelat va masa-ele naghz-e hoghough-e zanan ast, to chera chasbidi be in ke az hameh cheep-tar va bikhodtare? !

  10. A year ago I saw this on the beach in Tel Aviv (http://persian-cat.de/?p=2675), and have to admit I liked it. It is everybodies own choice what to wear on which occasion. If one likes it or if one finds it inappropriate is one thing, but one should have enough tolerance to accept the people as they are, whatever they wear.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: