Under attack from all sides, where does feminism go next?

We are at a turning point in how we think about feminism, womanhood, and resistance. In the US, feminism is under attack from the right, the left, and from within—causing American feminists a “triple bind”. As has historically been the case, the conservative right attacks feminism by trying to incite a moral panic. Feminists are cast as scheming women tearing the fabric of family life by putting their careers and aspirations ahead of procreation or child-rearing, without a care for “life” as tho

New York’s Hyphenated History

Hyphen , she explores the way hyphenation became not only a copyediting quirk but a complex issue of identity, assimilation, and xenophobia amid anti-immigration movements at the turn of the twentieth century. In the excerpt below, Mahdavi gives the little-known history of New York’s hyphenation debate. In the midst of an unusually hot New York City spring in 1945, Chief Magistrate Henry H. Curran was riding the metro downtown to a meeting at City Hall. Curran, the former commissioner of immigr

The story of the Iranian new year, Nowruz, and why its themes of renewal and healing matter

As the days grow longer and the flowers start to bloom, my 5-year-old gets excited and exclaims, “Nowruz is coming.” Nowruz – or “new day” in English – is the Iranian new year. Celebrated at the exact moment of the spring equinox, this is a secular festival with roots that go back over 3,000 years. It was shaped by people of the Zoroastrian faith, believed to be the world’s oldest religion. An Iranian American anthropologist, I have spent much of my life studying my ancestral culture. Festival

"Hell on Earth": Feminist Lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh Returned to Iran's Qarchak Prison

Nasrin’s family, her advocates, and Nasrin herself won’t be silenced. On Wednesday, as celebrations erupted around the world in response to the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, Nasrin Sotoudeh, the Iranian human rights attorney, was quietly moved back to Qarchak women’s prison—known as one of the worst and most harrowing carceral institutions in the world—after a brief respite in the hospital where she was seeking medical care. While Jan. 20, 2021 was a lar

The Global Women's Movements That Helped Kamala Harris Rise

As Kamala Harris readies to take the oath of office this January, she does so knowing that she will be the first woman, the first Black woman, the first Asian American woman, and the first daughter of immigrants to be elected to the White House. And while her victory stands on the shoulders of many American feminists, looking at the activism of women of color around the world, especially over the past decade, is crucial to understanding both the importance of Harris’s election and how it became

The Ms. Q&A: Activist and Artist Parastou Forouhar Is Fighting for the "Iran That Could Have Been"

Artist and activist Parastou Forouhar knows what it’s like to have one foot in the past and one foot in the future. Forouhar was born and raised in Iran, but in 1991, under threat of persecution due to her family’s dissident views and her status as an artist and woman, she opted to leave Iran and immigrate to Germany, where she still lives and works. Currently she is a professor of fine arts at Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, and her work has been exhibited around the world. Forouhar i

From Legal Battery to Contractual Sterilization: The Politics of Women’s Incarceration in the Middle East

Not only are laws about migrant women’s bodies resulting in the mass incarceration of women in the Gulf—they are also producing a chain reaction in the form of a generation of children who are stateless. The echoes of babies’ cries reverberate off the prison walls. Black and Brown mothers scurry around the cramped space, seeking what little pockets of privacy might be available to nurse their infants. A sense of sadness and frustration hangs in the air. The Al-Awir prison is located at the out

"Nasrin": Speaking to the World From a Prison in Iran

“For the past two decades I have been researching and writing about human rights, women’s rights and feminist activism in the Middle East. I have increasingly met activists like Nasrin who pay a dear price for trying to change laws that perpetuate injustice.” On September 26, 2016, Farhang Amiri—a 63-year-old Baha’i man who was much loved in his community of Yazd, Iran—was found stabbed to death outside his home. Two brothers confessed to the murder, citing that they killed Amiri because he wa

Is There a Moral Panic Over Campus Speech?

As part of the ongoing Free Speech Project, Future Tense editorial director Andrés Martinez invited Robby Soave, senior editor at Reason; Pardis Mahdavi, dean of social sciences at Arizona State University; and Sabine Galvis, a 2020 graduate of ASU who served as the executive editor of the student newspaper the State Press, to talk on Slack about rising concerns (and rising pushback to those concerns) about eroding tolerance for free speech on college campuses across America, and throughout soci

Party on! Why some young people are more concerned about their reputations than catching coronavirus

“Are you going to Cooper’s party tonight?” asked a young female voice behind me to a friend. It wasn’t a conversation opener I had expected to hear during my grocery run, some 14 days into a crisis in which everyone is being urged to stay at home and avoid groups. But it continued along these lines: “I kind of don’t want to go,” came the reply. “I mean, with the whole social distancing thing, a kegger doesn’t seem like the thing to do right now, right?” “You have to go,” implored her friend.

Celebrating Iranian Feminism and Feminists: Nevertheless, They Persist

Last week, in honor of International Women’s Day, Nasrin Sotoudeh, an Iranian women’s rights activist and lawyer, published a letter in Time. Sotoudeh sent the letter from Evin Prison in Tehran, where she is currently serving out her 33-year sentence for her work to promote women’s rights in Iran. While initially she was told that she would be serving a five year sentence, seven additional counts were leveled against her—landing her 27 more years in Evin, as well as 148 lashes for the crime of

How the US repeatedly failed to support reform movements in Iran

After decades of conflict, recently escalated to near-war, it appears there’s little chance that U.S. relations with Iran will ever improve. For 40 years, the relationship between the U.S. and Iran has been marked by disagreement – but also by a series of missed opportunities. Over the past two decades, a number of organic Iranian activist movements have steadily been growing stronger. If, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo alleges, the U.S. has been worried about the Iranian regime for the pa

Another Possible Casualty in Iran: Feminism

Iran is in the midst of powerful and lethal unrest. The past few months have seen some of the largest protests since the Iranian revolution of 1979, news of which had exploded onto the international media scene in almost unprecedented ways. Internally, the groundswell of a social movement in opposition to the regime began growing to a tsunami like tidal wave. But before this movement could begin to unseat the regime, the U.S. escalated external pressure by the killing of Iran’s most powerful mi

Essential Readings: Migration and the Gulf by Pardis Mahdavi

When looking at migration in the Middle East, it is important to address questions of how to define “migration” and “labor” and what distinguishes “forced” from “voluntary” migration and labor. Drawing on key ethnographic insights, these authors also challenge the artificial divide between “forced” and “voluntary” labor/migration that has dominated international trafficking policies and debates about gendered migration and coercive labor in Asia.

Trafficking as terror

In 2005, two young men were executed in Mashad, Iran, sealing multiple fates at once. Outside Iran, the execution was labeled an “execution of gay men because they were gay.” Inside Iran, the story was different. Neither of these two young men identified as gay, and their crime was that of raping a young boy. By mislabeling it “yet another case” of a Muslim country’s backward policies on sexuality, the violence of the rape was erased, as were the strengths of movements inside Iran rethinking sex

How #MeToo Became a Global Movement

On October 15, 2017, American actress Alyssa Milano posted a tweet urging women to speak up and out about their experiences with sexual assault or harassment using the phrase “me too.” Overnight, social media erupted, as #MeToo took hold in every corner of the world. By the end of the day, there were similar movements in multiple languages, including Arabic, Farsi, French, Hindi, and Spanish. Today, women in 85 different countries are using the hashtag to bring attention to the violence and hara

Is the #MeToo movement the beginning of a political revolution?

A sexual revolution is underway. Survivors of sexual assault — of which women represent 90 percent — are asserting their control over their own bodies and pushing back against gender inequality in the corporate world. The immediate results have been staggering. Stories detailing sexual abuse and harassment have become regular elements of daily news coverage, leading many perpetrators to issue public apologies and resign or lose their jobs.

Trafficking in Fiction Versus Trafficking Facts

By Pardis Mahdavi (Associate Professor of Anthropology at Pomona College) for the Provocations series, in conjunction with UCI’s “The Future of Truth” conference There is an age-old problem relating to truthfulness that seems to be rearing its head again in troubling ways. During my time conducting fieldwork in Iran, people often ridiculed a sharia-based decree that states that if there is an earthquake and a man from an upstairs apartment “falls into” a woman from a downstairs apartment, and

Stateless and for Sale in the Gulf

Last year, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) handed Semira, 19, a passport for the Comoro Islands, one of the poorest nations on earth, and told her she had 11 months to leave. Although she had been stateless all her life, Semira was born and raised in Dubai and had fully embraced its cosmopolitan culture. She has never stepped foot on the tiny, tropical islands that were to become her homeland, nor did she want to, as she has no roots or family there. She doesn’t have much of a choice, though. Sin
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