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Globalization and Iranian Womens Identity

DOI: 10.12737/article_5a129ee44a8ae0.17590488 : 05 2017 . / : 20 2017 . / : 15 2017 .

Leila Khadem Makhsus Hosseiny

(), Ph.D. Student (Iran),

, Moscow State Institute of International Relations

, 119454, . , (University),

, 76, . 3068, 76, Prospect Vernadskogo, Moscow, 119454, Russia,

e-mail: e-mail -. , Java-Script e-mail: e-mail -. , Java-Script

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The paper investigates the effects of cultural globalization and interaction on Iranian womens identity construction. It aims to illuminate the possible sustaining of traditions in the construction of modern identities. The views are grounded on Giddens definition of the concept of reflexivity as the agents capacity in making revisions on their practices to construct new identities in light of new information. Iranian women within the global network are subject to new information and therefore are able to reflexively construct new identities. Amid various influential factors on identity construction, here, the function of religion and gender roles are examined to see the place of these traditionally significant elements in the identity of modern women. The items of hijab and consumerism are considered to address the issue of religion. Moreover, the concept of motherhood is traced in identity of modern women to reveal the probability of representation of traditional gender roles in their modern identities. It is found that Iranian women are not passive users of globalized culture, rather they make a balance between their traditional and modern identity.

Keywords: globalization, interaction, identity, tradition, modernity, Iranian women, gender roles.


Want it or not we are all within the global network. Just with a click, we are in a remotest place where we even could not imagine before. Are we burying our traditions and acquiring everything that the flow of globalization carries to us? This work studies Iranian womens response to globalization in making their identities. The impact of globalization and interaction on Iranian women has been the case of many studies. Here based on Giddens definitions of identity and reflexivity, the research seeks to bring to light the challenge of traditions and modernity and the way Iranian women reflexively construct their identities in the globalization. A modern identity sustaining some traditions is a prevalent matter in contemporary Iranian society and the subject of this research.

Globalization is a phenomenon that modern societies are inevitably within it. Giddens writes, We are the first generation to live in global society... It is shaking up our existing ways of life, no matter where we happen to be [9, p. 10]. He identifies three influential dynamisms that make modern world a definite context of globalization. Time-space distanciation, the first feature, is the stretching of social systems across time and space [10, p. 377]. Globally expanded multinational MacDonald and unified cooperation of these parts in distant places reveals to be an evident example. Disembeding, the second source, is the lifting out of social relations from local contexts of interaction and their restructuring across indefinite spans of time-space [11, p. 21]. Immediate interaction with present people is extended globally in a vast unlimited span with absent people whom we might not ever meet. Reflexivity is the third faced of modernity where we are no longer defined by traditions. As we receive information, we constantly evaluate and re-evaluate our ideas and actions. This monitoring and examination of behaviors permeate to our everyday routine life and may potentially lead to change our past practices except those practices that according to Giddens can be defended in a rational way in the light of incoming knowledge [9, p. 306].

As technology, mainly internet, removes geographical borders, the societies, according to Giddens are drawn into interconnection with one another, [and] waves of social transformation crash across virtually the whole of the earths surface [11, p. 6]. Though globalization is mostly invoked in matters of business and economics, according to Giddens, it is fundamentally social, cultural, and not just economic [7].

Cultural globalization propelled by international travels, electronic commerce, and especially by wireless communication, seeks to homogenize a single, unified culture.

As Giddens defines, globalization is the intensification of worldwide social relations which link distant localities in such a way that local happenings are shaped by events occurring many miles away and vice-versa [11, p. 64]. However, Giddens perspective toward globalization, as a transformational perspective, can be challenged by those who equate globalization to cultural imperialism or hegemony of westernization. Responding to this idea, Giddens argues, globalization is more than a diffusion of western institutions across the world, in which other cultures are crushed. is a process of uneven development that fragments as it coordinates introduces new forms of world independence, in which there are no others.

Islamic State of Iran while welcoming political and economic globalization displays week tendency to cultural globalization finding it a threat to national religion culture of Iran. Identifying the open exchange of information as a risk, the state takes measures to control it. Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei frequently warns against the enemys plot of a cultural invasion, soft war, soft threat and cultural plunder. He display[s] profound anxiety whenever he spoke about western cultural incursion [16, p. 181]. According to a research at Pennsylvania University, Center for Global Communication, Internet as one of the biggest purveyors of US primary currencies-... [and] Farsi media targeted at Iranians by Western governments and Iranians in the diaspora, mainly via satellite Television ...make US sources of soft power easier for Iranian audiences to absorb and threatens to divert them from regime programming [26, p.17]. Facing growing pro-western generation, Iranian authority finds American soft power as a soft war. To resist it, the country closes the gates to Hollywood, Disney cartoon and images, MacDonald and any other western cultural products that are in conflict to Iranian religion culture. Low speed internet, filtered sites such as Twitter and Facebook or illegality of satellite dishes are some of Iranian strategies to meet cultural globalization.

Western culture, despite being officially banned is gradually seeping into bones of Iranian society [26], showing that globalization is the hegemony of western culture rather than a homogenization of culture. This paper studies the impacts of meeting of globalization and Iranian traditional culture. It is examined how Iranian women with resources of global communication and new information and considering the rules of the country reconstruct their identities.

Identity, as Giddens in contrast to essentialists believes, is not pre-given by traditions, rather in modern societies it has to be constructed. Identity is a fluid and transformable case to be constructed even out of limited choices [8, p. 248]. Even the small choices we make in our daily lives-what we wear, how we spend our leisure time and how we take care of our health- are part of ongoing process of creating and recreating our self-identity [12, p. 68]. In contrast, in pre-modern contexts tradition has a key role in articulating action and ontological frameworks. Where tradition creates a sense of firmness of things there remains no anxiety over various choices or unknown future because the world is as it as. With retreat of traditions, self-identity has to be routinely created and sustained in reflexive activities of the individual [13, p. 53]. That is, appealing to new information, the individuals routinely decide and coin their identities.

The prevalent electronic communication, media such as satellite TVs, along with academic education especially language learning as well as studying abroad provide Iranian women with information about global cultures and place them within the global network. Considering the limited number of Iranian womens participation in political and financial arenas, it can be claimed that cultural globalization noticeably comprises them more.

Here the construction of Iranian womens cultural identity through their global involvement is discussed. The cultural dimensions of identity fall under the broad umbrella of general terms such as ethnicity, nationality, religion, values, beliefs and gender as well as every other characteristics that make a culture different from others. The paper examines how through globalization the two dimensions of religion and gender stereotypes violate from their traditional bases and lead to construction of new identities. It examines if Iranian womens modern identity is conforming to the homogenized global identity detached from traditions including gender stereotypes and religion, or it still sustains the basics of traditions.

The Factor of Religion in Identity Construction

of Iranian Women

Religion, as it is evident in the Islamic title of the country, has traditionally been the ideological base of Iranians, and the noticeable core of their identity. Globalization as a modern phenomenon attempts to erode traditional and local beliefs and customs. It undermine the previous centrality of religion, carrying with itself materialistic lifestyle that is at odds with ways of life that religion encourages. Here the issues of hijab and consumerism as two categories in relation to religion are discussed to show the representation of religion in identity construction.

Veiling, a sign of Muslim womans identity has been a major challenging clash of Islamic religion and globalization. Iranian mandatory hijab consists of a dress called manto and a headscarf. Hijab with no defined place in global culture can isolate Iranian women from globalization as it separates Muslim women from the others in non-Muslim countries. Iranian women reflex- ively considering the rules of society obligatory hijab and using the available resources of global information analyze their current condition. keep balance between their traditional and religious culture as well as tendency toward cultural globalization they choose fashion hijab. The bad hijabi style is widespread in Iran despite great efforts by the police to eliminate it... This clothing revolution is an epitome of the contemporary form of resistance in Iran [4]. Such modern kind of hijab is the inescapable consequence of globalization. While attracted to western womens fashion and dressing style, Iranian women are observing the rules of the country in relation to mandatory hijab. Their globalized culture enjoys the fashion of its own kind that reveals reflexivity of Iranian women.

Consuming the worldwide fashion, Iranian women identify themselves as a member of modern globalized women society. Increasing availability of pervasive commercial products, markets and global brands, spiced up by charming TV/Internet advertisements are forces that drive people toward ardent tendency for consumption. It is displayed that generally women have considerable passion about shopping and are more subject to the global culture of consumerism [19, p. 3435].

The consumption that is not exclusively satisfying the essential physical needs is not advised by religious teachings that encourage simple life [25]. Consumerism as a totally material behavior not only promises a better material life, but also compels spending in shopping malls for a relief of inner life anxieties therefore marginalizing the role of religion as soul remedy.

The expanding substitution of big western style shopping malls for traditional Bazar is embraced both by traditional Iranian women who in appearance are featured by black chadors as well as by moderns, who being against traditional chador are featured by loosely attached headscarf.

A professor of Mashhad University, Akbari, warns, The society has recently faced an increasing tendency of religious families toward consumerism and luxury life [3]. The traditional group, who consciously attempt to avoid global media to withstand the penetration of western culture, though absorbed to the powerful attraction of western lifestyle malls, still sustain their religious perception of otherworldliness. The evident adherence to traditions and religious observance, such as wearing chador, combined with consumerism is an obvious manifestation of challenge between tradition and modernity. The seemingly weird presence of a religious Iranian woman in the middle of a western style mall demonstrates the overwhelming flow of western lifestyle. At the same time that she neglect the religious advice for simple life, she sustains her basic religious perspective and against her luxury life, identifies herself in agreement with religion and tradition. As Giddens holds, globalization will not sweep aside traditional cultures...rather new cultural values are compatible with traditional cultural values [12, p. 65]. To prove it, Giddens continues to analyze the Middle East country of Kuwait. The country has a traditional Islamic culture that has recently experienced strong American and European influences[12, p. 65]. He concludes that the culture that eventually emerges as a result of the new technologies will not be the same as American culture; it is uniquely Kuwaiti [12, p. 67]. Iran, another Middle East traditional and religious country, while with nuances of differences with Kuwait, is generally in line with this society. Therefore, findings of Giddens can be true in Iranian society.

Traditional culture struggles against the new information and global culture. Blocking the gates of cultural invasion and restricting the media use, traditional women continue to sustain the established traditional pattern. Resistance to new information means resistance to reflexivity. Reflexivity, which is a feature of modernity, in definition of Giddens refers to the fact that modern social practices are constantly examined and reformed in light of incoming information about those very practices, thus constitutively altering their character [12, p. 38]. Traditional women show less tendency to modify their way either as a result of standing against new information or even in presence of information they choose their traditional ways that can be defended in a rational way in the light of incoming knowledge [12, p. 306].

According to Giddens when societies are more geared to customs and traditions, people ...follow established ways of doing things in more unreflective fashion[12, p. 123] keeping distance from the current issue of cultural globalization, the traditional Iranian womens identity, as Giddens states about traditional structures, is formed in the context of the community into which they were born. The values, lifestyles and ethics prevailing in that community provided relatively fixed guidelines according to which people lived their lives [12, pp. 6768].

Women who gratefully receive modernity and use global media are also inspired by this new attitude of consumerism not only for using the brands and modern fashion textiles. It places them in tune with global culture and western womens fashion and life style and shapes an identity different from traditional women. The available virtual resources, such as internet or satellite TV advertisements or TV shows, as well as real resources such as markets, though restricted, introduce a lifestyle in tune with globalization. While observing the rules of the country, Iranian women reflexively make revisions on their ways of life and pursuing new manners construct their identities as modern women. In a quantitative research, Safari, has confirmed the significant role of globalization in womens materialistic tendencies and consequently their detachment from traditional identity [27]. Another quantitative research among Iranian women finds that their modern identity which is constructed as a result of globalization, carries considerable impact of western culture. They reveal to be more materialistic while their religious affiliation is weakened as they use globalized media more [20].

Nevertheless, faded religious belief does not mean abandoning religion. A research among University students shows that while students under the impact of globalization might neglect religious ritual, they still believe themselves within the religious structure. Religion gives them identity and meaning to their life [5].

The outstanding decline of religion in confrontation with globalization is an obvious finding of many researches. However, here it is proved that religion, as a belief not a practice is still a prominent force in determining Iranian womens identity, whether in its fundamental way or a balanced way. In the age of globalizing, Iranian women using global media receive information and reflexively modifying their identities.

Gender Roles as Factors of Identity


Gender refers to the attitudes, feelings and behaviors that a given culture associates with a persons biological sex [24, p. 223]. Gender role is the pattern of behavior and activity which society expects from individuals of either sex [6, p. 78].

Traditionally Iranian women, as in almost other cultures, are featured as emotional, devoted mothers and submissive wives, who in genuine faith to their naturally settled place and duties in home, passively dedicate their whole life to family care taking. Nazemzadeh referring to Iranian TV series of Patriarchal Father writes traditional Iranian women have no activity beyond the household realm of child giving and care taking of family [22]. Pursuing religious teachings, they hold a reverence for their motherhood and womanhood roles deeply appreciated in Islam [18]. They stay at home to fulfill their mission.

In the wake of technology and access to boundless information, Iranian women reflexively monitor their own actions and the environment. The result is construction of identities that are no longer bound to the stable traditions, rather they are subject to change.

Contemporary Iranian women enjoy their natural freedom to have education. Today women occupy more than 57 percent of university seats in any field that they desire [15]. High academic education gives them opportunity to take jobs. Considering the increasing number of employed women [21], it is revealed that financial independence is one of the factors of detachment from traditionally dependent identity. They shape an identity that is no longer defined in dependence to their fathers or husbands. The ability of controlling life is a source of self-reliance for women who taking the roles traditionally attributed to men undermine gender stereotypes. Participation in matters beyond their household involvements gives them confidence to decide the family affairs and not leave them in the realm of men. A quantitative research has demonstrated the direct relationship pf womens high education, occupation and personal income to the power of decision-making [23]. Shaking the role of men as breadwinners and the only determinant force of family, they define a strong confident identity released from dependency to men.

While modern Iranian women leave houses for education or occupation or social, economic and even political activities, they do not leave their gender roles of motherhood. They are still challenging to carry the doubled burden both inside and outside the house. A research on employed Iranian women found that they immediately after accomplishing their outside responsibilities enterprise their motherhood and womanhood duties to fulfill various expectations of family members. The researcher has named some cases where women even endangering their physical or mental health continued performing their multiple roles to pleasing the desires of family members [1]. Another statistical research showed no remarkable difference in breastfeeding rate between employed and unemployed women during the first 6 months [14].

Though the role of Iranian women is confined to care taking affairs such as breastfeeding, today they go beyond their limited roles while at the same time adhering to some of their traditionally attributed roles. This fusion satisfies womens desire to be in line both with the identity appreciated socially and culturally and with globalized culture, that invites women out of their confined walls of houses.

Iranian culture values traditional gender roles. Recently an analysis of two most viewed Iranian TV series showed that most female characters of these series are passive women tangled to their roles inside the house, except one character in each series that attempts to shape a modern identity while retaining their traditional identity. They take roles, such as a lawyer, that traditionally belongs to masculine sphere. Yet, bypassing the traditions is doomed to stalemate in these series [2]. Iranian media in congruence with the countrys dominant religious discourse generally welcomes the conventionally accepted norms, which are in conflict to westernized identities of women. A woman who totally devotes her life to family has no definite place in modern western culture. A novel by Ira Levin depicts submissive women serving the family as objectified robots. Thats what they all were, all the Stepford wives: actresses in commercials, pleased with detergents and floor wax, with cleansers, shampoos, and deodorants. Pretty actresses, big in the bosom but small in the talent, playing housewives unconvincingly, too nicey-nice to be real [17].

Reflexive modern Iranian woman under the influence of globalization and aspiring the modern lifestyle of western women modifies her way of life out of the barriers of kitchen and seeks a passage to find an opportunity for her own perfection or pleasure or happiness. Meanwhile they enterprise social affairs, they have not abandoned the dense tangle of motherhood roles ascribed to them by traditions.


The inexorable presence of globalization in peoples life is an evident issue. The media with its capability of constructing peoples attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors is turned to be global, reinforcing a homogenized culture. Iranian authorities find this global culture a kind of westernization and a soft war threatening their traditional culture. Despite the countrys resistance against this cultural invasion, Iranian women with great relish for being modern, attempt to construct their identities as a


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Traditionally religion and gender roles had significant function in the way women shaped and expressed their identities. Nevertheless, they have no definite place in globalized culture. As it was shown, according to quantitative researches, Iranian women considering their traditions and the rules of the country, represent a combination of tradition and modernity in their identity construction.

Hijab, as a religious teaching is modified as a fashion hijab. Meanwhile traditional women with hijab are driven to consumerism and materialistic life. Iranian women while breaking the traditional confining walls of household, still believe in their motherhood duties ascribed to them traditionally. It is concluded that while they attempt to follow globalized pattern of womens identity, they sustain some aspects of their traditions.

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