Passionate Uprisings: Iran's Sexual Revolution

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There is perhaps no place in the world today where the stakes of partying and having sex are higher than in present-day Iran. Drinking and dancing can lead to arrest by the morality police and a punishment of up to 70 lashes. Consequences for sex outside of marriage can be even more severe—up to 84 lashes, or even public execution.

But even under the threat of such harsh punishment, a sexual revolution is taking place. Iranian youth continually risk personal safety to meet friends, date, and, ultimately, to have sex. In the absence of any option for overt political dissent, young people have become part of a self-proclaimed revolution in which they are using their bodies to make social and political statements. Sex has become both a source of freedom and an act of political rebellion.

With unprecedented access inside turn-of-the century Iran, Pardis Mahdavi offers a firsthand look at the daily lives of Iranian youth. They are given a voice as she tells the stories of their intertwined quests for sexual freedom, political reform, and a better future – but not a future without risk. The sexual revolution is also leading to increased levels of abortion, HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases, and ongoing emotional troubles and mental illnesses, with worrying implications for Iranian youth and Iranian society at large.

Passionate Uprisings is a fascinating, ground-breaking, and personal look into a society that is poorly understood—if it is understood at all—by the majority of Westerners today. Mahdavi's narrative provides not only an invaluable insight into the real lives of much of Iran's population, but shows how sexual politics and the youth culture could even destabilize the current regime and change the course of Iranian politics.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Mahdavi's Tehran orgy signals a profound shift in post-revolutionary Iran, as young adults in a young world (two-thirds of the Iranian population consists of urbanites under 30) challenge the regime, although not by anything so political as street rebellion or samizdat pamphleteering. Their preferred methods of protest are sexual adventurism — the orgy or drug and booze-fuelled party — and sexual self-expression of a more subtle kind: skimpy underwear, worn beneath the hijab, sends a f..k-you message to the morality police and plants a sly inward smile on the face of the wearer. Passionate Uprisings will...dispel the ignorance in the West about Iran, its people and their tragedy. It should also check any residual sympathy anti-American Westerners may hold for the regime simply on account of its belligerence towards President George W. Bush. This is a cruel regime, loathed by its young citizenry, but it will not prove easy to dislodge." —The Australian

"The book is in essence an academic work but it will attract the general reader with its occasionally titillating subject matter (she does not shy away from describing sexual encounters and orgies). For Mahdavi's thesis is that the changes in sexual practices and in the sartorial choices of Iran's youth indicate a 'revolution' of conscious resistance to the regime." —Financial Times

"Part academic treatise, part titillation, Mahdavi's work argues that the social and sexual practices of the urban young adults 'who comprise two-thirds of Iran's population' constitute a form of political dissent and rebellion. While the punishments for premarital sex, drinking and dancing are severe, the author, a journalist and assistant professor of anthropology at Pomona College, captures a hedonistic, postadolescent and pure pop culture spirit, reflecting the interests and activities of the 'highly mobile, highly educated... underemployed' and secular young Tehranis she followed over a seven-year period." —Publishers Weekly

"Passionate Uprisings offers a unique and amazing look into the ongoing Iranian sexual revolution. That's right—hot sex in the Islamic Republic! Mahdavi documents the secret parties, trysts, and even orgies of rebellious Iranian youth, constantly asking whether a sexual revolution can evolve into a political one. As a close friend of her informants and often a participant in their high-jinks, she's the perfect companion on this unlikely journey—sympathetic, knowledgeable and super-smart!" —Barbara Ehrenreich, best-selling author of Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream (2005)

"Passionate Uprisings carves a clear trail through the jungle of ideology about life in modern-day Iran, and breaks new ground to show how sex is used by young people in a Muslim country to resist political oppression. A fascinating book unlike any other." —Sally Guttmacher, New York University

Publishers Weekly

Part academic treatise, part titillation ("there were forty or so young people present, all naked or in their undergarments... some having oral, anal, [or]vaginal sex"), Mahdavi's work argues that the social and sexual practices of the urban young adults "who comprise two-thirds of Iran's population" constitute a form of political dissent and rebellion. While the punishments for premarital sex, drinking and dancing are severe, the author, a journalist and assistant professor of anthropology at Pomona College, captures a hedonistic, postadolescent and pure pop culture spirit, reflecting the interests and activities of the "highly mobile, highly educated... underemployed" and secular young Tehranis she followed over a seven-year period. Specialists in gender studies will find Mahdavi's work of interest; unfortunately, her book is suffused with a sense of outsider voyeurism (the author's parents are Iranian; she made her first trip there in 2000)-apparent in such her discomfiting statements as "Tell me, the stranger who can keep your secrets, about your sex life." And while, inarguably, "changes in fashion," as Mahdavi says, "have deep social and political significance," readers will likely feel that these shifting sartorial trends indicate gradual social change rather than the revolution at which the author hints. (Oct.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780804758567
  • Publisher: Stanford University Press
  • Publication date: 10/6/2008
  • Series: Meridian: Crossing Aesthetics Series
  • Pages: 344
  • Sales rank: 1,466,758
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Pardis Mahdavi is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Pomona College and a consultant for the International Women's Health Coalition. She previously was editor-in-chief for Slant Magazine, as well as a consultant for the United Nations Population Fund, and has written for the Los Angeles Times Magazine. As part of her research for this book, Mahdavi visited Iran over a period of seven years, starting in 2000.

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Table of Contents

Prologue 1

1 Welcome to Tehran 11

2 Life in the Islamic Republic of Iran 39

3 Tehran Chic 104

4 Meeting, Mating, ... and Cheating in the Islamic Republic 135

5 Caught! 184

6 High Risk 216

7 The Adults 268

8 Growing Up in the Islamic Republic? 298

Acknowledgments 311

Notes 313

Works Cited 323

Index 327

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