Writers fight oppression

Rebecca Dominguez, Staff Writer

The pen is definitely mightier than the sword, especially for some Iranian-American women fighting oppression through literature.

Dr. Persis Karim’s lecture “Women and the Emergence of Iranian-American Literary Landscapes” on March 2 in Newman Auditorium was the first of a number of events celebrating Women’s History Month as part of the ongoing Arts and Lectures series. Karim’s lecture was a gripping look at women’s voices in an oppressive society.

Karim focused on Iranian-American women’s writing. She spoke about Iran and America’s strained history and the struggle for women’s rights in Iran. “It’s really important that we not take for granted the lives of women and the struggles that they have to gain equality,” Karim said.

The lecture talked about the function of literature for women in Iran and in America. She said writers use literature as a way to question male privilege and patriarchy, especially in a place where the rights of women are restricted.

“My cousin was 16-years-old during the revolution and she was in the streets demonstrating shortly after the establishment of the Islamic republic. She, like many activists, was arrested and put in jail. She was in jail for four years for resisting the call to veil,” Karim said.

According to Karim, exploring other cultures help battle the stereotypes people have about the Middle East.

“Literature has kind of been one of the most important vehicles by which we’ve humanized Iran,” she said.

The subject of women in Iran is paradoxical. Women have been restricted in their professions, clothing and education since the establishment of the Islamic republic. Despite this, Iran currently has the highest literacy rate among women since 1980.

“People have this idea of people riding camels and wearing veils, very sort of stereotypical images, but women in Iran are among the highest educated in the Middle East, and at the same time they don’t have the same rights and privileges as men,” Karim said.

Through technology, the youth have become more involved with literature, according to Karim. Youth are more vocal about their freedoms, and writers reflect that. “More writers are registering in their writing the desire to be free personally, to have personal freedom and to express certain things that may be not aligned with sort of Islamic values,” Karim said.

One of the most important functions of literature is giving a voice to the voiceless. If people are willing to listen it can change the way they understand things.

“I think that if we could turn off the rhetoric and really climb inside the hearts and minds of artists and writers from places like Iran we might actually learn a lot more about what people are thinking and doing rather than just the loud shouts of government officials,” Karim said.

There will be more events on the Santa Rosa and Petaluma Junior College campuses celebrating Women’s History Month throughout March.