115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Nation in Peril: Woman as Threat to the Nation in Post-Revolutionary Iran and the Contemporary U.S.

Shabnam Piryaei, San Francisco State University

In the name of protecting the Islamic state against Western and non-Muslim infiltration, the post-Revolutionary Iranian government imparts ongoing legally sanctioned gendered violence. Iranian cinema-as-discourse provides a site at which critical interventions can be staged in state violence. Asghar Farhadi’s film The Salesman strategically employs ambiguity as a means to disclose and undermine the authority of the Iranian government’s punishing morality, and thus to challenge the laws derived from it.


This paper closely examines Asghar Farhadi’s 2016 film The Salesman, surveying the film as a site of discernment and disruption of post-Revolutionary Iranian gendered state violence, and in particular the designation, by the government, of women’s bodies as a site of corruption. Specifically, I consider moral and narrative ambiguities deployed by the filmmaker to disclose ideologies underlying physical and representational violence against women. I use this reading to then examine the 1978 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case of Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe to consider parallels in gendered state violence between Iran and the U.S. This federal judicial decisiondetermines that tribal courts cannot exercise criminal jurisdiction over non-Indian U.S. citizens—and leaves countless Native American women unprotected from, and targeted by, non-Native sexual predators. While I employ Farhadi’s film more generally as a means to read state violence against women and for possibilities of subversion of this violence, I seek specifically to consider the following questions: How can a subversive film co-opt, or creatively and indirectly intervene in, existing power structures? How does gender figure into the conception of the nation in the U.S. and in Iran? How is masculinity, and in the U.S. white masculinity, at stake? How does the presence or absence of laws pertaining to gender in a state of emergency (such as laws that mark a woman’s body as a site of corruption) impact the rights of women interpersonally and institutionally?

This paper, in considering how women pose a threat to the state. seeks to examine the gendered—and simultaneously racially/ethnically determined—aspects of post-Revolutionary Iran and the contemporary U.S. I draw from Marguerite Waller’s assertion that nationhood itself is read as hetero male, and in the U.S., I propose, also as white, to investigate means through which Iranian and Native American women are marginalized, targeted and considered perilous in Iran and the U.S., respectively. After the Revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini specifically indicted cinema, and the role of women in particular, as an instrument of Western contamination of Iran. According to Negar Mottahedeh, “by Khomeini’s logic…the impurities introduced into the media by the intervention of foreign forces stained national vision and hearing under the Pahlavi regime and linked the body of the nation to the world outside.”[1] By acknowledging “the body of the nation” in this way, Mottahedeh offers a reading of the nation not only as male and heterosexual, but also as possessing the body of a man. Embodying a man’s bodily senses, the nation’s physical and moral security are susceptible to the perpetual threat of woman as a site of corruption. Khomeini notes that the main “site of contamination” is a woman’s body, and this contamination is a doorway that leads to other poisons such as imperialism and capitalism.[2] In this way, women, and specifically women’s bodies, perpetually present a national security risk for the Islamic Republic of Iran. In the same way that individual women can tempt individual men, woman can tempt, and thus put at risk, nation-as-man.

[1] Mottahedeh, Displace Allegories, 1.

[2] Mottahedeh, Displace Allegories, 2.

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