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Abstract

The politics of gender have dominated Western conversation concerning Iran since the Islamic Republic’s founding more than three decades ago. Often, this conversation centers on the veil and other aspects of Iranian women’s dress as a symbol of Iranian women’s inability for self-advocacy. Women, though, occupy a rich space in modern Iranian history. Beginning with the Tobacco Boycott of 1890 and ensuing Constitutional Revolution, following to the 1936 unveiling law and the 1963 White Revolution, women’s rights were central to the Pahlavi regime’s modernization plans. These plans utilized a Western, humanist discourse that proved inimical to the fulfillment of women’s participation in the public sphere and presented female enfranchisement as immoral and dangerous to Iranian society. Following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, though, opened doors to women’s activists to make use of Islamic and Islamist discourse to further their political goals for equal rights. In this paper I examine the 1890 Tobacco Boycott and Constitutional Revolution, the 1936 unveiling law, 1963 White Revolution, and 1979 Islamic Revolution to present a brief history of Women’s movements in Iran, trace the changing forms of discourse, and demonstrate how the Islamic Revolution opened the doors for Iranian women to develop an indigenous feminism that could not be characterized as immoral, dangerous, or Western.

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