The XX Factor

Iran’s Michelle Obama

Iranian voters go to the polls today in an election being discussed in apocalyptic terms , as Iran’s next great awakening. Much of the popular excitement centers around Zahra Rahnavard, wife of reformist candidate Mir Hussein Moussavi, also known as Iran’s Michelle Obama. The 1979 revolution has brought conflicting results for women. It’s created sexual hypocrisy and fear of liberated women, as Janet Afary describes in her new book Sexual Politics in Modern Iran . But it’s also raised the average age of marriage and opened up opportunities for women. Rahnavard represents a slow awakening of the latter strain. In her dramatic unveiling, she recently went onstage holding her husband’s hand-the first time any woman has done that since the revolution. In college, she studied art and wore a miniskirt, but reluctantly. She ” abhorred” sexual freedoms flaunted by her fellow students, writes Afary . After the revolution, she started a feminist magazine but always wore a chador. In her writings and speeches she popularized the term “second sex” and fought for laws against sexual abuse of women by relatives. If her husband wins, she may end up the most visible advocate for women the Muslim world has ever had.