Since Ayatollah Khomeini’s Velayat-e Faqih became its cornerstone after the 1979 revolution, Iran has been a theocracy. But it’s not just a theocracy – it’s a patriarchy, too. It may appoint some token women to key roles – such as former health minister Marzieh Vahid-Dastjerdi – However, these women are only permitted to rise up the ranks when fulfilling men’s wishes and interests, often to the detriment of Iranian women. Vahid-Dastjerdi, for example, was a hardline conservative who advocated sex-segregated healthcare. Thus, even in positions of relative power, Iranian women remain subordinate to men higher up the ranks – with men occupying the uppermost echelons of power.
The world received a glimpse into the inner workings of Iran’s patriarchy this week thanks to Sheena Shirani, a PressTV presenter who went public (and was subsequently forced to flee Iran) after enduring years of sexual harassment from her employers.
Shirani, a single mother, recorded and published an explicit phone conversation with her boss, influential newscaster Hamid Reza Emadi (also known for interviewing journalist Maziar Bahari under duress in order to extract a false confession, for which he was blacklisted by the European Union), in which he demanded that she do him a “favor” and “satisfy” him sexually after she finished her overnight shift. She refused – and instead, went public with the conversation.
A single mother, Shirani knew she would face a backlash for finally speaking out. But she continued to bravely speak out throughout this week, telling Masih Alinejad – founder of the My Stealthy Freedom campaign to free Iranian women from compulsory hijabs – that if you are not a “privileged” Iranian, that is, connected to the religious or political “people in power,” then “you are basically on your own,” particularly as a single woman/mother who is “completely devoid of any value in this society.”
Shirani’s decision to go public seemed to pay off this week, with the Western press giving her favorable, supportive coverage, and with PressTV firing two executives (unnamed) in the wake of the global furor ignited by the recorded call allegedly “outing” Emadi for harassment.
And yet, Iran’s patriarchy continues to oppress women unimpeded, in the workplace and elsewhere. On Shirani’s Facebook page, among the many supportive comments thanking her for making Iran “a better place,” there were those who accused her of “ruining” the channel’s reputation – and the “life, job, and family” of the men allegedly involved. Apparently, in post-1979 Iran, the role of women is narrowed down to one thing: serving the revolution – or being subservient to powerful men who run and control it.