Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A Separation

The other day a friend rented for me A Separation, the Iranian movie that recently won an Oscar for best foreign film and suggested that I watched it. So after my classes the other night, at about 10 pm, while my husband was away for work, I  took the opportunity to seat, relax and see what was this movie all about and form my own opinion of it.

It was an enjoyable watch and it kept me fully engaged and thinking for the whole duration, it touched upon many issues revolving around Iranian society including gender, class and religion.

But, although it was an interesting watch, and it was nice for a change to see a movie that allows for multiple interpretations and points of view without dictating a priori what is good or bad, right or wrong, I have to admit that it left me with mixed feelings – which I also embrace and appreciate too.

The movie tries, in my opinion, to provide a view of class - in particular - as well as gender, without making the one category better or worst, so the middle class’ point of view, for example, is as good and “truthful” as the working class/poor’s point of view. Yet to me, the movie still portrays a view of class which is stereotypical and fixed, and still privileges the upper/middle class over the working/under class.

So, for example, middle classness in this movie is portrayed with stereotypes such as education, reasonable amount of wealth, savings in the bank, a decent place for leaving, and even a "charming personality". On the other hand, working/under classness is associated with having to take public transport, doing lower paying jobs as well as less “dignified work” such as cleaning, and being religious.

And it is Termeh, the educated daughter, that in the last scene of the movie has to make the choice between her two parents, which is perhaps an allusion to the fact that there is hope for Iran if the bright, intelligent youth can make future choices and take over the country, yet this is a privilege which is only given to upper/middle class part of society, the working class/poor’s voice is still not worth listening to and suppressed - not to mention that the latter do not even get to choose weather to leave their country for better opportunities abroad.

The movie also deals with issue of gender and feminism - although I must admit that I do not really understand these in the context of Iran, inequalities between genders are also still perpetuated in western societies - although in a much less blunt and direct way. Feminism thus, in my opinion, is still as much relevant today as it was forty years ago, both in the east as well as in the west - even though apparently women now seem to “have it all”; but what does having it all means anyway? Obviously it means different things to different people, for me, having it all means being able to choose, making choices based on subjective preferences. But until the opportunity to choose is available to all women in society, not just the rich/ upper/ middle classes, feminism is still an important matter.

And what does it mean to be a feminist, to be an emancipated liberated woman? It seems to me that the general understanding is that in order to be a feminist today and assert your arrival in such category you need to have specific discriminatory qualities such education, a high paying job, working in business, being on the board of a company directors, professionally successful, powerful, assertive, strong – basically a woman needs to posses “manly” qualities – not that these are, but the structure of society more often associate these with masculinity rather than femininity, because of the way we are socialised into the world, so boys and girls, through education, are taught to act and perform their genders.

What I am trying to say, is not that having these qualities is not good for women, but we have to allow for all types of women, even those that prefer to associate themselves with more traditional feminine characteristics, such as those who perhaps enjoy being mothers – I think today, in our capitalist society, being a mother has become a dirty world more so than feminism, “what, you are just a mother? You have no other aim in life than reproduce and have children”?

Who says motherhood is not as equally engaging or dignified as being a professional working in the world. The only difference is that the latter gets paid for her job whereas the former doesn’t. So the government should perhaps introduce wages for mothers, as without mothers there would no society, workers, nor professionals to begin with. Another common view is “well if you really want to be a mother, then you have to do it all, juggle motherhood as well a successful career.

The problem however is not in women choosing to be mothers, as this entails as much hard work as any other professions. The problem is the fact that society does not recognise it – which is another tactic for perpetuating discrimination, as when a  woman chooses to work in her home and for her family, her place in society is lessened: often not financially independent she has to rely either on her husband or on government benefits.

Thus, just because we have achieved some levels of equality for certain social groups, this does not mean that there is no more work left to do. Until all women can gain from the achievements of feminism, I think the latter is still an important matter and should be used to benefit the whole of society not just a few. But on the other hand, this term should not be used to create further discrimination against women that perhaps don’t fit into the stereotypical “feminist” category. Regarding class, yes these differences do exists, but differences are not bad in themselves, yet they are not absolute. However, in my opinion, consciously or unconsciously, most people still prefer to take sides, and although I admire Mr Farhadi for trying to portray an impartial image of the different facets of his society and country, I feel he was ultimately unable to extricate himself from his own personal assumptions and prejudices related to his own specific position, gender and class.