Writer’s Wednesday: Lipstick Jihad by Azadeh Moaveni
Lipstick Jihad: A Memoir of Growing up Iranian in America and American in Iran is the story of a young woman’s struggle for her identity and to find a place, where she belongs. Moaveni powerfully gives us a glimpse of what it is like, to grow up in one place thinking you belong somewhere else, but to go there and realize you do not fit in there either.
This feeling, of not quite belonging anywhere is definitely not unique to Moaveni. It is something often described by other young people, the children of immigrants, who grow up in one places, but whose families’ hearts have often been left behind in the home country. Just because it has been done before, doesn’t mean her story isn’t worth telling, and she does offer a unique glimpse into the life of an – admittedly upper-middle class – Iranian woman, both in America and in Iran.
What I wanted, though I chose not to admit it to myself, was to figure out my relationship to this other country, to Iran. Originating from a troubled country, but growing up outside it, came with many complications. Worst of all, at least on a personal level, was that you grew up assuming everything about you was related to that place, but you never got to test that out, since the place was unstable and sort of dangerous, and you never actually went there. You spent a lot of time watching movies about the place, crying in dark theaters, and feeling sad for your poor country. Most of that time, you were actually feeling sorry for yourself, but since your country was legitimately in serious trouble,, you didn’t realize it. And since it was so much easier and romantic to lament a distant place than the day-to-day crappy messes of your own life, it could take a very long time to figure it all out.
If you’re interested in Iran, in women, in the life of a -American Lipstick Jihad is well worth reading.
But for me the tiniest misstep to the left or right of propriety was swiftly catalogued as “Westernized” misbehavior. Even Khanoum Shabazy, whom he either ignored, laughed at, or bullied, adored him, yet considered me – the one who actually listened to her woes – a misfit, uninterested in anything that mattered (cooking, china, dinner parties . I realized that in Ian, just as in California with my mother, “Westernized” was a convenient label for any female behavior that defied oppressive tradition. It could and it was attached as easily to an Iranian woman who had never left Iran, as it was to me, raised outside. But men were like Teflon; the Westernized label did not stick. The other names for their conduct – hypocritical, womanizing, temperamental, fickle, bossy, headstrong – were still organically Iranian. The culture made room for their transgressions.
“Baba, are they beating these people because they’re not husband and wife?” asked the little boy in the car, as he gazed out the car window, transfixed.
“No, baba jaan, it’s because the police are afraid of them,” replied his father. He did not explain, and the little boy went quiet.