Educating Young Women: Culture, Conflict, and New Identities in an Iranian Village

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Taylor & Francis Group


Anthropological participant observation during two different periods (1978–79 and 2003–08) documents dramatic change in gender identity and expectations in an Iranian village. While patriarchal definitions of females and their places and on-the-ground social conditions restricted female agency and kept women and girls under the authority of male supervisors 30 years ago, recent years have witnessed growing opportunities for females. Now most girls complete high school before marriage, and may even travel to other cities for higher education. In “Aliabad,” however, for the great majority, more education for females has not led to participation in the labor market. Ethnographic research focuses on how young females negotiate between the more traditional expectations and cultural constraints and the new opportunities to serve their own interests as best as possible. Although work outside of the home presents too many difficulties for the great majority of Aliabad females, who must marry in order to obtain financial support, females have used their education and the increased self-confidence, experience, status, and literacy to develop more influential positions within the marriage relationship, among kin and in-laws, and in the community. Young village women have been involved in constructing their evolving identities in an environment of social change and modernization.