Women Without Men: Exploring the Intersection between a Stifled Society and Domestic Abuse (Book Review)

In her book, Women Without Men, Shahrnush Parsipur emphasizes the proclivity for chaos to ensue behind closed doors in a society swept by a suppressing patriarchy. Chapters six and four stand out to me as the most effective articulations of this social epidemic that is rooted in the systematic dichotomization of public and private space and behavior, which is designed to bolster patriarchy. The intersection between this dichotomy and domestic violence is at the center of this article.

In chapter four, Munis, a woman so overwhelmed by the societal limitations that confine her to her home that she commits suicide, defies these restrictions once she is re-birthed. She ventures outside and remains in the public sphere for a month’s time, deliberately neglecting to first get her older brother Amir’s approval. When she returns, Amir feels overcome with humiliation and believes this dishonor justifies his decision to murder her. Mahdokht, a female friend of Munis’, supports Amir’s action, in an attempt to gain his approval. Here, we get a sense of just how unfairly the system has been designed: in order to survive societal codes of conduct with regard to both family and romantic relationships, women must remain submissive and transparent.

Chapter six gives a more detailed account of domesticity for women. The house, coupled with the presence of the husband, creates a “restricted and claustrophobic” (56) atmosphere for housewives, who take refuge in memories of life outside the cage-like home. This is the situation Farrokhlaqa finds herself in. Her “loathsome” (59) husband constantly gets in the way of her happiness, refusing to afford her any sense of freedom. When he finally comes to the realization that she is worthy of respect and admiration, it is too late. His sudden change in demeanor startles Farrokhlaqa, who throws a punch at him, inadvertently killing him. This bit is powerful: it makes time a relevant factor in the liberation of Iranian women. More importantly, however, it sheds light on just how difficult it is for men to separate themselves from the patriarchal beliefs that are often adopted subconsciously—how there needs to be free time, above all things, for critical thinking and self-reflection in order to identify why abusive behavior is exercised.

In short, Parsipur’s Women Without Men contains many instances of violence that can easily be attributed to Iran’s heavily regulated public sphere. Boundaries between public and private are, however, blurred when thinking about belief systems: did patriarchy form behind closed doors or out in the open? And are patriarchal ideals most effectively executed by government officials or fathers and brothers? What is interesting is that the stories Parsipur constructs involve both male and female proponents of violence, which raises certain points about women’s perpetuation of and/or resistance against the overarching patriarchy, depending on the interpretation of the reader.

 

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