This is Behnaz Amani, one of the political prisoners of Iran’s recent revolt, “Woman, Life, Freedom”. I’ve been in Gharchak prison for 46 days and have seen things which make me wonder and ponder upon the concept of the female body and capitalism and how the state can be considered as a tourist who is taking pleasure and exploiting our body and colonising us as its assets.
Jamaica Kincaid in her anticolonial article, “A Small Place”, notes “Secondary colonialism occurs when inhabitants of wealthy, highly developed Northern or Western countries convert poorer, formerly colonial, usually Southern and Eastern countries into sites or objects of useful pleasure. Tourism is the most obvious example of such colonization…” (1174). when I look at it from a different angle, from a woman’s angle who lives under a totalitarian regime, I cannot help myself not to see how the government applies this Second Colonialism on my body, on the female body. The power elites are those, not necessarily wealthy, inhabitants of totalitarian regimes that are ploughing, exploiting and controlling our bodies, just like the tourists that Ms Kincaid talks about who are not welcome at all.
During the 8 years of war between Iran and Iraq, women’s body was considered vessels/ Machines, soldier production machines that neither had feelings and passion for their children nor had any right to think as such. The praise of necrophilia, in the sense of praising death, was that much powerful that any mother whose child was killed at war was praised and promised paradise. As if there was some contract between the government and God, with the subject of women’s bodies as production machines to safeguard victory, in return for paradise. This was the accumulation of the labour force for the future. State capitalism turns women’s bodies into its asset. They become machines to produce surplus human resources that the government can easily let die. That’s the point where the government’s biopolitics, calculated management of these surplus population’s life, lives to be nurtured and lives to be killed. The homo sacers like children of labour, garbage collectors, or in my case rioters are the ones who can be killed with impunity or let die or left in prison to rot.
As a child I remember how the Committee brethren used to chase women for what they wore, and how they behave; needless to say, I grew up to the Morality Police doing the same crap, confronting us everywhere, anytime, to arrest us. One may not even believe that I myself was warned twice as a student at university for laughing out loud, let alone for my appearance. And while at school, I remember there were two students who were inspecting our bodies and our bags, right at the school entrance, to see if we had mirrors, pieces of jewellery, or a considerable amount of money to be punished. And let’s not forget, the whole world has seen their masterpiece of Mahsa Amini’s death. Thus, women have always been the objects of exploitation and the subjects of constant suspicion.
Wherever you go in this country, you will see billboards, huge ones, that say: Hijab is immunity, not restriction; along with paintings such as a rosebud, or a pearl in a shell (since to be closed is fundamental). But remaining closed for what? Is it just a cover for my body, for the female body, or is it also a cover for our eyes and minds? Shall we play dumb, because we are supposed to be good wives of this country? And good wives are obedient, and to be obedient one must learn not to see, not to hear, and not to think. Does it not feel like one of those beautiful islands that are under secondary colonisation? For the regime claims, they are here to protect us, to support us, to take care of us. Yet, taking care of us in it’s another meaning, which is getting rid of us, women. As they’ve proven clearly during these last six months by sending us to prison and deleting us from the surface of the streets, companies, universities, and even our homes. Since you are the government asset, you must be protected. The family foundation in such a totalitarian regime is based on the exploitation of the female body as its asset, therefore, it should be politically protected as well, and women like me, who do not fit into this category, are considered threats that must be eliminated.
Again, as we make up half of the population, our bodies are required in the economy. But only as half-humans, for still the higher-ranking jobs belong to men, and they are the ones who deserve the higher salary, not us, women. As an example, if you are a woman, and you want to officially be recruited by the university, you must stand in line because the priority goes with married men, then single men, then married women, and in my case, single women, which means almost never. Then when Ms Kincaid notes “West got nothing and then undervalued labour, for generations, of the people like me…” (1176) how can one not sympathise with those colonised people, as a colonised woman by a totalitarian regime? Capitalism is linked to Islam here, accordingly, those women who are definable in the Islamic discourse are valuable assets who are allowed to live. Women who are machines to produce a productive labour force; women who are not only available for their cheap labour forces in society, at different jobs, but also, they are available for free housework. Meanwhile, if required, considered a threat to men’s employment. This is the government’s discourse to provoke the antagonism between men and women and between women/ assets of the states and other women who are not definable by the state’s standards. This is how the state is taking away women’s agency.
Isn’t it ridiculous that the same women, (I mean the Ghochan girls’ case who were sold to Turkmens and Armenians in 1905 as slaves, and the captivation of Bashghanloo’s women in the same year, that became Iran’s daughters) who were used at the constitutional revolution to give the parliament and the government of the time its legitimacy as the country’s Namous, Honour, are now becoming its grand problem? They are continuously telling us that if it were not for us, such a powerful, patriarchal government, women in this country would have come to nought since we are imbeciles, and frailty is our name!
They held an International Congress for Women of Influence from around the world on January 20, 2023, to give the impression that they are pro-women in this government while at the exact moment, there were 80 thousand people, mostly women in prison. For protesting to gain our very basic human rights. We’ve been raped, tortured, and killed by the government and the husbands, fathers, and brothers who were only trying to keep us safe from ourselves! Or from their valuable asset? Who were honouring their pride, their Namous? On that account, women, like me, are surplus to the state’s assets and must be removed. In my cellmate’s case, since she is no longer considered a valuable asset yet considered still as capital, her husband told her: why would I bail you out of prison? Go back in there and let my house be freed. Instead of going out with your friends, come and think about your five years verdict and how can you make the best out of your time in prison. Go back in there and after five years, we will go abroad by your case and apply for asylum. So, she is not his asset, but his capital.
Is it not the time to stand together and shout “a tourist is an ugly human being, empty thing, stupid thing” (1179) unwelcomed person who is not allowed to take pleasure in our body, in the female body? Those who do not own it, therefore, must leave it as soon as possible and never come back again. No matter if we are their sacred assets or their anomalies, a glitch in their system. As a tourist, you cannot, and are not allowed, to take pleasure in us. Is it not the time to tell all the totalitarian regimes that “the physical sight of you does not please” (1179)?
I remember their voice when they told us you must leave this country and never come back for you do not deserve the care, protection and respect that we are giving you as women. But I want to tell them that we are not yours to be decided upon.
Kincaid, Jamaica. “A Small Place.” Ryan, Julie Rivkin and Michael. Literary Theory: An Anthology. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 2017. 1174-1180.