Funny in Farsi

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Women and Feminism Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Immigration and Cultural Assimilation Theme Icon
Prejudice  Theme Icon
Women and Feminism Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
American Values Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Funny in Farsi, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Women and Feminism Theme Icon

One of the most important aspects of Funny in Farsi’s portrait of Iranian culture is its treatment of women and femininity. Throughout the memoir, furthermore, Firoozeh evokes feminist themes more broadly. Although Firoozeh doesn’t mention any close friendships with American women (this aspect of her formative years is more important to the second memoir she wrote), the clash between American and Iranian notions of what women should want and accomplish in life is fundamental to her book.

As Firoozeh portrays it, Iranian culture places highly specific demands on women: that they should marry a man early on in life, bear children, and spend their remaining years cooking and supporting their children in any way they can. Firoozeh portrays Iranian notions of femininity primarily through the character of Nazireh, her mother. Nazireh was a bright child, but because of the unwritten laws of Iranian society at the time, she was pressured into getting married and having children at the age of seventeen. Nazireh abandons her formal education and her dreams of having a professional career, suggesting that Iranian women are expected to prioritize marriage and bearing children before everything else in their lives. (Firoozeh’s Aunt Parvine, one of the few Iranian women of Nazireh’s generation who has a successful career—at least in the book—is the exception that proves the rule, since she becomes a doctor in Switzerland.) Furthermore, Firoozeh suggests that Iranian women are pressured into worrying about their bodies and their beauty primarily for the pleasure of their male partners. An astounding number of Iranian women get “nose jobs,” Firoozeh explains, mostly because they want to look beautiful and get married.

It could be argued that, given that some Iranian women go on to have successful careers, Iranian culture’s view of women isn’t as suffocating and repressive as Firoozeh often suggests. However, Firoozeh is unambiguously critical of the Iranian view of women, which she describes as stifling and condescending; her entire adult life, as a college graduate and later as a professional writer, contradicts the Iranian view. However, she takes a gentle, affectionate tone when critiquing Iranian feminine ideals. Instead of viciously attacking the sexism of Iranian society, Firoozeh often suggests that certain Iranians are simply old-fashioned and afraid of change. Furthermore, there’s never a scene in which Firoozeh quarrels with another Iranian person about her decisions to go to college, get married relatively late in life, and become a working professional.

Ultimately, Funny in Farsi critiques Iranian notions of femininity but also suggests that Iranians can shift their traditions and learn to support a more equitable view of women: thus, Nazireh becomes a “pioneer” of progressive values by supporting Firoozeh’s decision to go to college and marry a non-Iranian later in life, even though she would have been criticized had she done the same thing as a young woman. In the place of Iranian gender norms, Firoozeh advocates what she sees as more tolerant American notions of feminism, which encourage women to educate themselves, pursue careers, and marry when and if they want to marry. While one could certainly argue that American society is guilty of many of the same forms of sexism that Firoozeh recognizes in Iranian society, Firoozeh herself doesn’t explore such an argument: instead, she celebrates America as a place of feminism and equality, in direct contrast to Iran.

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Women and Feminism Quotes in Funny in Farsi

Below you will find the important quotes in Funny in Farsi related to the theme of Women and Feminism.
Chapter 1 Quotes

The problem was that my mother, like most women of her generation, had been only briefly educated. In her era, a girl's sole purpose in life was to find a husband. Having an education ranked far below more desirable attributes such as the ability to serve tea or prepare baklava.

Related Characters: Firoozeh Dumas (speaker), Nazireh
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:

Nazireh, Firoozeh’s beloved mother, is a typical Iranian woman of her generation. She was raised to believe that women’s purpose in life is to get married (and, it’s implied, have children). Therefore, she completes her education in the sixth grade, and gets married and has children before she’s eighteen years old—something that many would find shocking or even shameful. Strangely, Nazireh comes from a relatively progressive Iranian family—her father wants her to have a career as a midwife instead of simply getting married—but even Nazireh ends up getting married at a young age.

Throughout the memoir, Firoozeh honors her Iranian heritage, but she also criticizes it. Firoozeh dislikes Iranian culture’s expectations that women must marry and bear children, and suggests that in the United States, women have more freedom and are given more opportunities for personal fulfillment. Though this is the point of view the book takes, one could argue that Firoozeh too broadly idealizes American society (which also places unfair, sexist pressures on women) and denigrates Iranian society (which, as Firoozeh shows, does produce successful, professional women).

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Chapter 12 Quotes

When I was eight years old, we went to Switzerland to visit my aunt Parvine, my mother's sister. Aunt Parvine has always been considered something of a deity in our family because she managed, despite being an Iranian woman of her generation, to become a doctor and to set up a successful practice in Geneva. The woman overcame so many hurdles to reach her dream that she deserves to have her likeness carved in marble.

Related Characters: Firoozeh Dumas (speaker), Aunt Parvine
Page Number: 71
Explanation and Analysis:

Firoozeh has many good female role models in her family. Her Aunt Parvine has forged a successful career as a doctor in Switzerland. Parvine’s career is (as Firoozeh presents it) anomalous among women of her generation; most Iranian women of her age are encouraged to get married and settle down with children at a young age. So perhaps it’s appropriate that Aunt Parvine settled in Switzerland instead of remaining in Iran: if she’d remained in Iran, she might have given into the pressure. (Although one could also argue that Aunt Parvine’s success proves that Iranian society isn’t quite as repressive and sexist as Firoozeh implies.) In any event, Aunt Parvine’s perseverance and ambition have a major influence on Firoozeh as she gets older: she takes after her aunt and goes to college and goes on to have her own career as a writer.

Chapter 16 Quotes

Times being what they were, Sedigeh was not allowed to pursue her education past sixth grade and was married shortly thereafter. All her brothers became engineers and doctors. My father found this a huge injustice. He always told me that if his sister had been able to pursue her education, she would have become the best doctor of them all, for not only was she smart, she was resourceful as well.

Related Characters: Firoozeh Dumas (speaker), Kazem , Aunt Sedigeh
Page Number: 100
Explanation and Analysis:

Firoozeh describes the life of her Aunt Sedigeh, an intelligent, resourceful woman who nonetheless never had a professional career because of her gender. Kazem, Sedigeh’s brother, often says that Sedigeh was more than intelligent enough to become a successful doctor. He finds it outrageous that Sedigeh never got to pursue her career, and it’s further implied that he encourages Firoozeh, his daughter, to pursue her own education in order to ensure that she achieves the professional success that was denied his sister.

The passage shows that Kazem, despite his Iranian roots, doesn’t embrace every aspect of Iranian culture. Where many Iranians believe that women should forego their education and career in order to marry and settle down, Kazem believes that women, no less than men, should pursue professional success if they want to. That Firoozeh becomes so successful as an adult is, in no small way, the result of the encouragement Sedigeh and Kazem give her.

Chapter 22 Quotes

Once my mother realized that I wanted to marry François, she said, "He will be like a third son to me," and wiped the tears off her face. At that very moment, my mother threw aside everything she and her generation knew about marriage and entered a new world where daughters select their own husbands. She became a pioneer.

Related Characters: Firoozeh Dumas (speaker), Nazireh (speaker), François Dumas
Page Number: 144
Explanation and Analysis:

In Chapter 22, Firoozeh has decided that she’s going to marry François Dumas, a French classmate of hers at Berkeley. When she introduces François to her parents, she’s somewhat afraid that they’ll refuse to support the marriage, because François isn’t Iranian, and he’s a Catholic. However, to Firoozeh’s delight and relief, her parents are very happy about the marriage. In Firoozeh’s eyes, Nazireh then becomes a “pioneer” for feminist values by supporting her daughter’s decision to marry François, rather than trying to cling to the traditions Nazireh herself was raised with.

Nazireh is one of the most moving characters in the memoir. She’s clearly a wonderful, loving woman, but she’s not as much of a presence in the memoir and Kazem, and Firoozeh often seems much closer with her father than with her mother. However, even though Nazireh herself was raised in a traditionally conservative Iranian culture, she abandons these traditions for the greater good of her daughter’s happiness.

I could only hope that my wedding would work a bit of magic for this uninvited guest. I like to think that she eventually found a husband, a tall Iranian doctor maybe, or perhaps a short Mexican businessman with a big heart, or a medium-built Irish Catholic book vendor whose family thinks she's the best thing that ever happened to their son.

Related Characters: Firoozeh Dumas (speaker)
Page Number: 153
Explanation and Analysis:

Toward the end of the chapter, Firoozeh describes her wedding, during which the two families come together (although very few people from François’s side show up) and celebrate the happy occasion with a mixture of Catholic and Iranian traditions. At the end of the night, Firoozeh throws her bridal bouquet (a traditional Western marital practice—legend has it that whoever catches the bouquet will be the next to get married). The woman who catches the bouquet, a woman named Soheila, isn’t related to either family in any way—Firoozeh’s relatives invited her because she had done a family member a favor. However, it’s significant that Firoozeh concludes the chapter by suggesting that it doesn’t matter what the ethnicity of Soheila’s husband is. Firoozeh’s marriage to François is a major event in her family’s history, because François isn’t Iranian, and Firoozeh hopes that other women will marry for love, as she has done, even if their culture encourages them to only marry people of the same ethnicity.

Chapter 24 Quotes

I remembered how much I admired Jane Fonda's nose when I was in fourth grade in Tehran, and how much I hated my own. Thinking of all that wasted energy, I wanted to scream and tell my fellow countrymen and countrywomen that a nose by any other name is just a nose.

Related Characters: Firoozeh Dumas (speaker)
Related Symbols: Noses
Page Number: 165-166
Explanation and Analysis:

Throughout the memoir, Firoozeh has criticized Iranian notions of femininity and womanhood. She finds it outrageous that Iranian society frowns on women who pursue careers and educate themselves and celebrates women who get married and have children before they’re eighteen. Another aspect of Iranian standards of womanhood is the emphasis on physical beauty. Iranian women are trained from an early age to worry about their appearances, especially their noses, so that they’ll be able to marry handsome, successful men and lead “successful” lives. Indeed, many Iranian women get nose jobs so that their noses can be as attractive as possible. Firoozeh turns down the chance to get a nose job, and she later realizes that this emphasis on superficial feminine beauty is tragic—it would be better if women celebrated the beauty they’re born with and, better yet, pursued success in many different avenues, rather than simply getting married right away just because they’re told to.

It’s interesting that Firoozeh directs most of her criticism at Iranian culture, when it could be reasonably argued that American society also places unrealistic beauty standards on its women, and encourages them to pursue happiness by conforming to the desires of men, to the detriment of their careers or educations. Indeed, Firoozeh’s own example of unrealistic beauty standards concerns a white American movie star, Jane Fonda, no doubt appearing in an American movie—as clearly the beauty standard she is told to idealize centers around white women with small, straight noses. But for the most part, Firoozeh doesn’t really criticize America for its sexism; rather, she celebrates the country for encouraging women to learn and achieve greatness.

It’s also worth noting that Firoozeh, as usual, remains relatively lighthearted even while discussing serious issues, ending the passage with a pun based on the Shakespeare quote from Romeo and Juliet: “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Chapter 25 Quotes

The girl we had selected was undoubtedly the underdog. She was quite overweight, she was the least physically attractive, and she had the smallest cheering section. She was, however, the most articulate.

Related Characters: Firoozeh Dumas (speaker), François Dumas
Page Number: 178
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chapter, Firoozeh and her husband, François, are traveling in the Bahamas. The owner of the hotel where they’re staying, who’s from the same part of Iran as Kazem, asks François and Firoozeh to judge a beauty pageant. Firoozeh is highly reluctant to do so, since she regards beauty pageants as offensive for the way they enforce conventional beauty standards onto women. However, during the course of the pageant, Firoozeh finds a way to subvert these beauty standards. Instead of voting for the most conventionally beautiful woman, she and her husband vote for the most articulate woman, even though she’s overweight and not conventionally attractive. In this way, Firoozeh feels like she takes one small step toward fighting societal sexism, rewarding women for their intelligence and articulacy, rather than their attractiveness.