Single women in America deal with being stigmatized and stereotyped, but it’s nothing like the outright discrimination single women face in Iran.
“Young people who are not married are nude, as marriage is like divine clothes to cover them.” That quote, from a sermon given in Iran, appeared in a story from the New York Times, “Single women gaining limited acceptance in Iran.”
Living single is a big deal in Iran, and to traditionalists, the growing trend is not at all welcome. Women have long been expected to live with their parents if they are not living with a husband. Now, though, more and more single Iranian women are headed to universities, where they want to live on their own.
Sometimes they feel the need to fake wifedom by buying a cheap wedding ring. Only then do landlords agree to lease them the apartments they covet.
Another denunciated practice has also become much more commonplace in Iran over the past decade – divorce. Apparently, a moral panic has ensued.
I don’t know if Iran has an equivalent of the National Organization for Marriage, the American group that likes to create ominous videos and pronouncements about the supposed immorality of same-sex marriage. The country does, though, have a “Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution.” A few years ago, in response to all of the single women wanting to make it on their own and the married people who were divorcing, the group set out to make marriage “as cheap and easy as possible.”
That didn’t work. An Iranian sociologist told the New York Times, “Instead of making marriage more attractive, they turned it into fast food. Because of this attitude, marriages are dissolved as easily as they are solemnized.”
I have no personal expertise on Iran, so I turned to someone who does. Professor Farzaneh Milani, a dear friend from my Charlottesville days and an eminent scholar, said she thought the Times article was onto something. Iranian women who are single or divorced do sometimes want to live on their own. It is a challenge, and they are writing about it. The theme appears, for example, in “Heart of Steel,” not yet translated into English. One of the most iconic Iranian poets, Forugh Farrokhzad, has also given voice to her struggles to live the life she chooses.
The appeal of living single is not just a Western phenomenon. As the number of single people grows, nations around the globe are becoming unnerved, and they are trying to put an end to the trend. They are not succeeding.