In Iran, people generally feel able to relax their moral codes of behaviour and reveal the private side of their life when surrounded by people from their inner circle. These are primarily their family members and close friends. One usually turns immediately to family for assistance and may tell their problems and issues only to their family members. Individuals then keep any information surrounding troubles within the family circle away from public knowledge. This ensures that the household’s name is not implicated with trouble and their honour is protected. Families are also usually the basis for people’s social and business network. These relationships can provide support, guidance, employment opportunities or help navigating bureaucracies.
Being a society, people in Iran show very strong loyalty to their family. The interests of the family can supersede the needs of a single individual. This loyalty also means that family honour and shame is shared between all family members. All people may gain the prestige of a family’s success or bear the responsibility for a family’s dishonour. This being said, most families seek to encourage individuals to be independent. Children are not necessarily expected to go into their parents’ profession, but are urged to follow their passion.
Couples tend to only have one to two children. While the is modestly sized, close relationships with the extended family mean people’s family networks are sometimes quite large. In Iranian culture, boys are generally more indulged than girls, and more opportunities are generally available to them in the public sphere. They are also sometimes taught early that the protection of family honour also resides with them. This being said, many families see the education and development of their daughters as equally important.
Family roles and dynamics vary significantly between those households that have progressive understandings of women’s rights, authority and privacy and those that maintain traditional values. Generally, families with higher educations will be more open-minded regarding the mother’s and father’s contribution to the household dynamic. Across most households, elders are deeply respected and cared for. When an elder family member’s husband or wife dies, they will usually move into the house of one of their children.
Separation of Genders
Almost all Iranians respect the principle of modesty in the Islamic religion. According to the scripture, there should be a ‘partition’ (‘hijab’) between men and women that are not related (‘non-mahram’). As such, women are expected to cover up anything that could be considered an erotic provocateur to avoid unwanted public attention – i.e. her figure and her hair. Iranian women have traditionally been some of the most liberal in their interpretation of the , often wearing a ‘shayla’ significantly looser than what is customary in most other Muslim cultures.
This changed as the Islamic Republic legally enforced the separation of genders and placed extreme restrictions on women. Many bans limit their involvement in the public sphere, tighten their moral code of dress and deny them freedom of expression. For example, it is illegal for a woman to ride a bicycle in public. Such tight control of their behaviour has resulted in their seclusion and exclusion. Some citizens are challenging the government through acts of civil resistance (knowingly breaking the law) because the restrictions are much more authoritarian and than what many Iranians desire and believe is true to Islam.
Mixing of males and females only really occurs within families or closely knit circles of friends. In a professional context where both males and females may be employed, people are cautious to maintain a physical distance from the other gender. Almost all Iranian schools are segregated.
Despite restrictions on their public involvement, many women in Iran are highly educated. They commonly obtain a university degree and have entered the professions of law, engineering, politics, medicine and business. According to Nation Master, females made up over 60% of the overall Iranian student body in 2012. However, as men dominate the public sphere and hold more decision-making power, women’s authority is mostly limited to the domestic space. Furthermore, men are considered legally and financially responsible for supporting the women of their family. This means women commonly get passed over for jobs, earn less and receive lower allowances as it is expected that their male family member will support them. Those who are employed usually do desktop-based office work and also rarely get the same management opportunities.
Ultimately, a woman’s independence and freedom to make choices for herself (i.e. to work, get an education, marry, divorce, bear children or not) varies significantly depending on the attitude of her husband or closest male relative. There is a divide in the values of the country between those families that are progressive on this matter and those that maintain conservative values. Broadly, one could make the distinction that the educated of society are more liberal whilst those in rural areas are generally more conservative. Most Iranian living in Australia are likely to have a more progressive understanding of women’s rights as many arrive fleeing the harsh policies of the Iranian government.
Dating and Marriage
The dynamics of relationships are significantly shaped by the reality of which activities Iranians feel safe doing in public. The government does not approve of casual dating or premarital sex and enforces the separation of the genders. Therefore, if Iranians go out with their girlfriend or boyfriend in public, they run the risk of being berated, reported on or even detained. While this is statistically unlikely to happen, it is a consideration that affects behaviour. Even Iranians that leave the house as husband and wife can draw negative attention. From this is can be appreciated that, while people do date ‘casually’, most casual relationships are approached particularly earnestly as there is a certain risk involved.
Love is the ultimate imperative for Iranians, reflected in the rich language of Persian poems and literature in which hopeless romantics search for the ‘true’ and ‘pure’ love. Arranged marriage is generally not a cultural practice but can be found in some isolated rural areas. Nevertheless, many parents suggest partners to their children, who then may or may not agree with their recommendation.
Dating practices vary significantly between regions, and are impacted by attitudes and education. Previously, people usually only dated after high school; however, it is becoming common for teenagers to do so. Generally, young adults hide the existence of their girlfriend or boyfriend from their parents (especially the father) until they have ascertained that their relationship will lead to marriage. This is usually to protect conservative parents from worrying. Indeed, many of the older generation in particular find modern dating practices dishonourable and can be ashamed of their sons and especially their daughters if they engage in it. There remains a great deal of protection around girls in this regard. If a father or brother knows of a girl’s boyfriend, they may pretend that they are oblivious to that knowledge.
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