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.
Women and Feminism ThemeTracker
Women and Feminism Quotes in Funny in Farsi
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.