Zoned Desires: Prostitution, Family Politics, and Sexual Ideology in 20th Century Iran
MetadataShow full item record
This dissertation explores the regulation and representation of prostitution in Iran during the twentieth century, and concerns itself with dominant sexual ideologies during this period. While Tehran's red-light district, Shahr-i Nau, is largely absent from modern Iranian historiography, I argue for the significance of this contested urban space to the understanding of Iranian history and society. Using citizen petition letters, police records, and government memos, I highlight the gradual shift in Pahlavi policy from policies focused on the informal removal or relocation of prostitutes to one focused on systematic regulation, epidemiological surveillance, and the geographic concentration of prostitution. The dissertation also frames the social attitudes towards and the multiple meanings assigned to prostitution and examines efforts to control the meaning and image of prostitution. Using women's magazines and scientific studies, I demonstrate how female reformers considered prostitution a result of outdated modes of family practices. The discourse surrounding the links between family and prostitution, then, contributed to an elite form of women's rights activism in Iran that perpetuated paternalistic frameworks within society. The entertainment industry also concerned itself with prostitution, and a growing number of Iranian movies began representing prostitution. Visibility and space were integral to the understanding of sexuality. For women engaged in the commercial sex industry the consequences of regulation were mixed and often contradictory. Female prostitutes lived in a perpetual state of vulnerability that stemmed from inequalities in the law and social double-standards. Despite this, they strove for their own interests in the context of unequal relations of power. In Iran under the Islamic Republic, the Pahlavi policies adopted to control and maintain sexuality and prostitution have manifested along comparable lines, highlighting cultural continuities that remain intact in the face of substantial political change. I argue that despite the momentous political and social changes that have affected Iran in the twentieth century, a study of prostitution and temporary marriage suggests that sexual attitudes remained similar. In post-Revolutionary Iran, temporary marriage was advertised as the solution to society's sexual concerns. In both cases, deviant sexuality was accepted so long as it was separate and invisible.