BIOGRAPHIES

Female Heroes of Asia: Iran


Forugh Farrokhzad

(1935-1967)

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womeninworldhistory.com

Farrokhzad is a major voice whose work and life have influenced films, art exhibits, songs, and styles in twentieth century Persian literature. She came of age during the autocratic Shah Pahlavi regime. Educated in girls schools, she never received a high school diploma but at age thirteen or fourteen began composing poetry. In those years many Iranians were challenging traditional roles for women, who were expected to be modest in public, obedient, and, above all, not draw attention to themselves. In spite of more modern views, most women continued to be controlled by rules set by Iran’s traditional patriarchal society. Forugh herself suffered an arranged marriage at age sixteen, was divorced after three years, and then lost custody of her only child. According to Iranian law. she was never allowed to see her son again.

By living by herself, and in 1958 forming an on-going relationship with Ibrahim Gulistan, a married man, she gained a reputation as being “scandalous” and “immoral.” During her years with Gulistan, Forugh studied film production and filmed documentaries, sometimes acting, sometimes producing, sometimes editing. As a result of one made about a leper colony in Tabriz, she adopted a boy from his leper parents. She also made trips to Europe, learning to speak and read Italian, German and English.

Considered equally scandalous were Forughs’ secular views and promotion of the concept of female independence and right of women to assert their individuality. She rejected traditional Islamic dress in favor of tight western styles, and wrote often deeply personal poetry expressing female needs and sexuality. Some were clear protestations against Islamic law and Iranian social attitudes.

“God smiles on us,
However many paths to the shore of his favor
We haven’t taken.
Because, unlike the evil-doing, robe-wearing fanatics,
We haven’t drunk wine hidden from the eyes of God....”
- from “Pasokh” (Answer)

Forugh spoke out against the destruction of individuality when communal roles led one to cling without question to tradition, even though at the same time she opposed the wholesale westernization of Iran. Some poems criticize women who sacrifice their individual potential and self awareness by taking refuge in the security that men offer, and who refuse to actively engage in the world around them. To Forugh, their inability to see past their immediate comfort makes them indifferent to the truly needy in Iranian society.

“...And my sister...
In her artificial home,
with her artificial goldfish,
and in the security of her artificial husband’s love,
and under the branches of artificial apple trees,
she sings artificial songs and produces real babies....”
- from “I Feel Sorry for the Garden”

As she became well-known in literary circles, Forugh’s unorthodox life fascinated some and repelled others. Some of her poems reveal her loneliness and doubts about doing the right thing.

“....and a girl who rouged
her cheeks with geranium leaves...
ah! now she is a lonely woman
now she is a lonely woman.”
- from “Those Days,” translated by David Martin

Certainly it took enormous courage for Forugh Farrokhzad to continue to write and live a life that suited her, not society. For this she is an inspiration today for women who follow her path. Forugh died, tragically, in an automobile accident at the age of 32.

“Poetry for me is like a friend to whom I can freely
unburden my heart. It’s a mate who completes me,
satisfies me

...I don’t search for anything in my poems; rather
in my own poems I discover myself.”
- in “Middle Eastern Muslim Women Speak”


Sources
  • A Lonely Woman: Forugh Farrokhzad and Her Poetry, by Michael C. Hillman.
  • “And This is I:” The Power of the Individual in the Poetry of Forugh Farrokhzad, dissertation by Dylan Livia Oehlet-Stricklin. Available on Internet.
  • Middle Eastern Muslim Women Speak, Elizabeth Warnock Fernea & Basima Quattan Bezirgan, editors.

Shirin Ebadi:  Iran. Nobel Peace Prize, 2003


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Women in World History Curriculum