“What is your best childhood memory?” I ask my wife. “What do you like to remember?” My wife smiles meaningfully, turns away from the salad she is preparing and says: “One summer evening, I saw my parents, who were in love, kissing passionately on our balcony.” “Did you watch them do it again another time?” I want detail. And my wife answers without hesitation: “Two or three times I saw them like that afterwards. But the first time leftthe deepest impression.”
My sister, visiting us, shakes her head in astonishment and admiration. “Our parents never kissed in front of us. First they didn't think it was proper, and secondly, it was considered taboo.” And she says: “Mina will be ten in a few months but I haven't said a word to her about her period. That makes me think.” Education for girls is not part of Iran's curriculum. Such topics are taboo.
“Until my first period I was completely clueless.”
My wife asks my sister: “And you? Were you told about menstruation?” My sister shakes her head regretfully. “Until my first period I was completely clueless.” “My mother explained everything to me, early on,” my wife said. “Once, when she got her period, she even showed me where the blood came from, and she also told me that in the not too distant future I too would menstruate once a month. Two or three years later, I remember that a classmate of mine got her period in the middle of class. The poor thing. When she saw the blood, she fainted. I explained to all the girls what it was all about.”
My sister is visibly impressed. My wife still says: “The next day, my classmates’ admiration continued. They had discussed what I had told them with their mothers at home, and they had obviously confirmed everything was true. From that day on, the girls turned to me with their questions. On that topic they seemed to think I was as well informed as the adults.”
“The older a nation is, the more taboos it has.”
It is also considered taboo in our society for parents to talk to their children about puberty. The most terrible of all taboos, however, concerns homosexuality. When I and my wife came home late one night from visiting a friend's house, our son, who was 15 at the time, was still awake. Troubled, he told us that he had seen two men kissing intimately because the light was on in a flat on the opposite block.Then he remained expectantly silent, waiting for us to explain his observation. My wife, who is more adept at this sort of thing than I, explained: “Love does not only happen between a man and a woman.”
The look on our son's face revealed that after he was none the wiser after this answer. I added: “Two men can also be lovers...or two women.” My wife hurried to warn our son: “Please don't get the idea of talking about this to other people. It could cost the people involved their lives.” To relieve my son of at least some of his uncertainty, I promised further talks on the matter.
In general, the problem lies in the fact that we live in a centuries-old country. The older a nation is, the more taboos it has. My sister remembers: “When I was a child, my mum banned me from riding a bike on the grounds that it is not good for a girl. My brother was allowed to ride his bike as much as he wanted, without any restrictions. That hit me hard at the time. I wasn't allowed to go to ballet classes either and wasn’t offered any good reason why I shouldn’t do ballet. Only when I was older did I realise what was really behind the prohibitions.”
“Why, when it comes to the ethical and moral views of women, does virginity even play a role at all?”
My wife says: “Because a society places a - supposed - value on the female body, the taboos have lasted so long. Why, when it comes to the ethical and moral views of women, does virginity even play a role at all?” My sister nods in agreement and continues to think about it. “Back then there was no talk of hymen reconstruction surgery.” “Women, and society as a whole, are always finding ways around taboos,” my wife explains. “In the short term, it's a pseudo-solution, a form of collective self-delusion. In reality, one anomaly leads to another.” The surgical intervention may conceal the violation of a taboo. In the long run, it doesn't change the fact that a society judges a woman by whether or not she is a virgin before marriage. “For ages they've been telling us, 'Stay virgins until you get married,'” my sister says. “No wonder we think the loss of our virginity is a disaster that could never be repaired.”
Today, to be sure, this taboo still persists. The willingness to rebel against it is growing every day but female virginity is one of the strongest taboos of all. And it is a taboo which even lingers in Western cultures. I recently read in a newspaper that a house in Seattle, USA, had burned down. The couple who owned the house had difficulty coping with the loss. Their 20-year-old daughter could no longer bear to see her parents' suffering and, to raise funds for a new home, she auctioned off her hymen to the highest bidder. Beforehand the young woman had been determined only to lose her virginity in a romantic relationship.
When I describe the case to my sister and my wife, my sister interjects: “In our society it is quite different. The young American woman has the courage to auction off her hymen in public. In this country, you risk your life if you are no longer a virgin. Anyone who as much as hurts a man's feelings is as good as dead.”
She was referring to the recent honour killings in this country. Three murders were recently committed within a month. Such crimes do not happen as often as this coincidence might suggest, even if the head of the criminal investigation department stated years ago that breaking marital vows played a role in 19 percent of murders in the country. The victim of the first of the three recent murders was a girl of only 13, a child. She was killed by her father with a sickle in a town in northern Iran. The daughter had left home with a young man who had fallen in love with her.The second case involved a 25-year-old girl in Kerman, a town on the edge of the edge of the Lut desert. One evening, the young woman came home later than usual. This infuriated the father so much that he beat the daughter to death with an axe. Kerman's chief of police told journalists the next day: “The enraged father threw an iron bar at his daughter, who succumbed to her injuries after being hit on the head.” Instead of taking his daughter to the hospital, the father, blinded by rage, abandoned her at the edge of the desert. The victim's mother confirmed that the father had already told his daughter several times that he would kill her one day. In Abadan, southern Iran, a husband slit the throat of his 19-year-old wife.
“A father considers his daughter his property, which he can destroy.”
What is astonishing about the case of the 13-year-old girl is that the father, was among the mourners at the citywide funeral service, even though he had murdered his child. According to Sharia law, a father considers his daughter his property, which he can destroy as he sees fit without fear of the law. A father who who kills his child faces a maximum of ten years in prison. The government is vehemently opposed to changing this rule.
I turn back to the lively conversation between my wife and my sister. My sister asks my wife to recount the scene of our parents on the balcony in a little more detail. My wife seems to relive the incident and says: “When my mother went back from the balcony to the room, I saw her eyes shine. Amazingly, she had become much more beautiful.That showed me how love between two people can be.”
Translated by Jutta Himmelreich and Jess Smee