On the Homefront? Women's Memoirs and the Iran-Iraq War

By Niki Akhavan
Submitted to Session P4998 (Disillusionment, Ambivalence, and Narrations of the Self, 2017 Annual Meeting
19th-21st Centuries;
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
A fairly robust body of both popular and scholarly literature has considered the role of women’s symbolic and physical bodies in the Iranian State’s attempts to narrate its post-revolutionary self into existence. This extends to the place of women in state sanctioned discourses about the war with Iraq. For the most part, women have been subjects, rather than active narrators, in the state’s stories about the eight year conflict. While women’s narration is far outnumbered by their male counterparts who have written both prose and poetry about their wartime experiences, the breakout success of a number of works by and about women has changed this longstanding dynamic. Written in support of--and indeed often praised by--the Iranian state and various individuals in leadership positions, these women centered accounts nonetheless contain surprising disruptions to the state’s closely guarded official version of the Iran-Iraq war. To show how this is the case, the paper draws from several such works including the immensely popular Da (the memoir of Zahra Hosseini as told to Azam Hosseini), Eenak Shokaran (a series about air force pilots and chemical war victims as remembered by their wives), Man Zende am (the first person account of a female social worker captured and held by Iraqis), and Neeme Penhan Mah (the memoirs of the wives of men killed in the war). These very different works all privilege women’s voices, even when those being honored and remembered through the narration are veterans and the war dead. This fact alone distinguishes them from the vast body of literature that has been written about the Iran-Iraq war, and as the paper will argue, is one of the factors contributing the the potential of these works to shift, complicate, and perhaps even challenge the state narrative they were ostensibly produced to promote.