The Cast-off Gaze

Part of the Edition Voldemeer book series (VOLDEMEER)


What strikes me: the chador is not actually a veil, but the opposite. Everything is concealed, except for the — sometimes skintight—jean legs of young women in the rich districts of Tehran. Meanwhile, soft pastel-colored chiffon scarves, which serve to aid the assessment and appraisal of the female face, do not hide the women’s heads, but surround and swirl about them like cascading water. So the face is, in fact, emphasized! As a form of control, concealment (for unconcealment can supposedly strip men of such control, which is why concealment is a law, much like blacking out was during the war) works by prohibiting all diversity of how a woman presents herself. It works exactly due to the plainness of her get-up and by equalizing what her get-up may not be: an attention-getter, the face as frontpage splash. Indeed, normally, showiness, pageantry, and pomp are part of power. On the other hand, (male) power requires woman’s meagerness at its side. Though it does not work out that, in the plainness demanded of women, the plain rules of power attain general validity. (They are damn obvious anyway, every child knows how to behave, the punishments are otherwise dreadful, in the Sharia they are so dreadful I do not even want to think about them.) Subversion and revolt always exist, even without insurgents’ being aware of it. Women’s faces are always blazing out from the soft cascades of silk and muslin and chiffon. Power strives to unfold in leveling out the Other, yet this is exactly where women’s faces also keep unfolding. And the more pitiably and miserably this power persists and proclaims its law, the more it expresses its own emptiness, its leaking and bleaching, while women’s faces, not to appear fuller but to set themselves off, peer out from the fabric framing them. Though they do not do so for the sake of displaying individuality, but for everything else that is the case. For by standing out, these faces want to be like all the other faces of the non-Islamic world, the rest of the world: there’s no doubt, Iranian cosmetic surgeons are excellent and have made nose jobs their specialty. Their ideal is the small Western nose. Since all you are allowed to see is the face, the nose has to fit the face by not actually doing so (for it did not grow there that way). This means it has to be made smaller so that no facial feature will stick out too much (perfectly conforming to the baby-facedness that is the Western ideal for beauty: large eyes, large mouth, small nose).

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© Springer 2009

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