Part I - Women of the Islamic Republic of Iran
It is hard to know where to start a travel log and how to describe a newfound world in a few pages. However, given the obsession with the status of women, it is perhaps appropriate to start with the women in Iran as I perceived them.
Western media with help from feminists and Iranians living outside of Iran portray Iranian women as being "oppressed" -- foremost because women in Iran have to abide by an Islamic dress code - hijab. Yes, hijab is mandatory and women choose to either wear either a chador or to wear a scarf. But what is crucial to understand is the role chador played in pre 1979 versus the post Revolution era.
Prior to the 1979 Revolution, the chador was indicative of a thinly veiled caste system. While a few distinguished women of high socio-economical background chose to wear the chador, the rest, the majority of Iranian women, were simply born into the habit. In short, the socio-economically disadvantaged wore the pre 1979 chador. In those days, the chador was a hindrance to a woman's progress; she was looked down at and frowned upon. She could not move forward or up. She was oppressed. But Western feminists were blind to this oppression. After all, the Shah was modern and America's friendly dictator.
The Revolution changed the status quo and chipped away at the caste system. A revolution, by definition, is a complete change in the way people live and work. And so it is with the Iranian Revolution. The post 1979 chador is no longer an impediment to a woman's future. Today's Iranian woman, the same (formerly) less privileged class, has found freedom in her chador. She has been unshackled and she marches on alongside her (formerly) more privileged colleague. This emancipation is what the Western/Westernized feminists see as oppression.
I myself come from yesterday's tiny minority of "privileged" women, far too comfortable in my "Western" skin to want to promote hijab, but I will not allow my personal preferences to diminish the value of the progress made because of hijab. The bleeding hearts from without should simply change their tainted lenses instead of trying to change the lives of others for Iranian women do not need to be rescued, they do not follow -- they lead.
On two separate occasions I had the opportunity to sit and talk with a group of PhD students at Tehran University's Global Studies Department. Frankly, these young women charmed me. Their inquisitive and sharp minds, their keen intellect, their vast knowledge, their fluent English, and their utter confidence dazzled me. Western feminists would consider them "oppressed". Seems to me that feminism needs rescuing, not Iranian women.