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Sexual Politics in Modern Iran


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  • Date Published: April 2009
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9780521727082

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About the Authors
  • Janet Afary is a native of Iran and a leading historian. Her work focuses on gender and sexuality and draws on her experience of growing up in Iran and her involvement with Iranian women of different ages and social strata. These observations, and a wealth of historical documents, form the kernel of this book, which charts the history of the nation's sexual revolution from the nineteenth century to today. What comes across is the extraordinary resilience of the Iranian people, who have drawn on a rich social and cultural heritage to defy the repression and hardship of the Islamist state and its predecessors. It is this resilience, the author concludes, which forms the basis of a sexual revolution taking place in Iran today, one that is promoting reforms in marriage and family laws, and demanding more egalitarian gender and sexual relations.

    • The first book to chart the history of women and sexual relations in Iran across two centuries
    • Personal, first-hand account based on interviews with Iranian women of different ages and from different social strata
    • By one of the leading Iranian scholars in the field
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    • Winner of the British–Kuwait Friendship Society Prize 2010

    Reviews & endorsements

    '… the work is seminal and extraordinary. Janet Afary has raised a high bar on the many, many issues surrounding the politics of gender and sexuality in Iran.' Thomas Ricks

    'Janet Afary takes us beyond gender politics into a world few outsiders understand. Once again she proves herself to be an astute and original observer who sees beneath the veneer of modern Iranian life.' Stephen Kinzer, The New York Times

    'The narratives and anecdotes provide a vivid real-life texture to the history Janet Afary is uncovering. In short, the text is alive and engaging!' Miriam Cooke, Duke University

    'Sexual Politics in Modern Iran is one of the most comprehensive works done on this topic up to this moment. It combines modern scholarship and a deep understanding of the gender issues in Iran.' Farhad Khosrokhavar, Le Monde

    'Janet Afary's remarkable book gives an unparalleled account and analysis of changing gender relations in modern Iran's history and society … a unique and thoughtful work that sheds new light on Iran today.' Nikki Keddie, University of California, Los Angeles

    'On nearly every page of [Janet Afary's] engaging, amply illustrated new book, she disinters morsels of history and analysis that will surprise even those with a more than casual knowledge of Iran. Her account goes right up to the contemporary women's movement and today's ongoing sexual revolution, including the latest in Iranian gay liberation discourse. Sexual Politics in Modern Iran is an invaluable landmark, a signpost on the road to an end of gender discrimination and sexual liberation for all.' In These Times

    'The East-West battle over gender is brilliantly described by Janet Afary in her groundbreaking survey Sexual Politics in Modern Iran.' New York Review of Books

    'Afary does a spectacular job explaining, as well as detailing, sexual attitudes and practices from the nineteenth to the twenty-first centuries. Her account gives an excellent feel for how Iranian society works and how that has changed under the impact of modern times. Plus, her detailed research makes the account much more credible than some of the highly readable stories from Iranian-Americans about personal life in modern Iran.' Foreign Policy

    'Afary weaves a very interesting and complex argument together that unveils the politics of sexuality in Iran. It is bound to generate a good debate among historians and social scientists. Sexual Politics in Modern Iran is a welcome addition to the history of women and sexuality in modern Iran.' Middle East Journal

    '… Afary's book should be of interest to anyone who is looking for an in-depth overview of discussions about sex in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Iran, and to those who are interested in understanding the pervasive anxiety about the lack of, and desire for, a set of ideals (consent, intimacy, equality) that constitute the normative ground of much contemporary debate about the history, politics, and gender relations of modern Iran.' Setrag Manoukian, H-Net Reviews (

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    Product details

    • Date Published: April 2009
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9780521727082
    • length: 444 pages
    • dimensions: 228 x 152 x 22 mm
    • weight: 0.7kg
    • contains: 53 b/w illus. 1 map
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Part I. Pre-modern Practices:
    1. Formal marriage
    2. Slave concubinage, temporary marriage, and harem wives
    3. Class, status-defined homosexuality, and rituals of courtship
    Part II. Toward a Westernized Modernity:
    4. On the road to an ethos of monogamous, heterosexual marriage
    5. Redefining purity, unveiling bodies, shifting desires
    6. Imperialist politics, romantic love, and the impasse over women's suffrage
    7. Suffrage, marriage reforms, and the threat of female sexuality
    8. The rise of leftist guerrilla organizations and Islamism
    Part III. Forging an Islamist Modernity and Beyond:
    9. The Islamic revolution, its sexual economy, and the Left
    10. Islamist women and the emergence of Islamic feminism
    11. Birth control, female sexual awakening, and the gay lifestyle
    Conclusion: toward a new Muslim-Iranian sexuality for the twenty-first century.

  • Author

    Janet Afary, Purdue University, Indiana
    Janet Afary is Professor of History and Women's Studies in the Department of History at Purdue University. Her previous publications include The Iranian Constitutional Revolution: Grassroots Democracy, Social Democracy, and the Origins of Feminism (1996) and, with Kevin Anderson, the award-winning Foucault and the Iranian Revolution: Gender and the Seductions of Islamism (2005).


    • Winner of the British–Kuwait Friendship Society Prize 2010

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