“Women Without Men”: Discourse on Female Repression under the Patriarchy

Women Without Men, directed by Shirin Neshat, a film adapted from a novel in 2009 follows the lives of four women living in Tehran, Iran suffering from some form of repression. They experience the burdens of the patriarchal society imposing on their autonomy, dreams, and identity to the point where they all grow tired of it and try to find a way to escape from it. All these women of course come from very different backgrounds but yet they are united as a result of the oppression and the need to liberate themselves from such adversity. Directors like Neshat are responsible for portraying struggles, and in this film especially shares her thoughts on how she sees Iranian women in terms of the expectations imposed by society.

Featured in the film is Munes, a middle-class woman often humiliated by her brother Amir for not being married and wanting to be part of political events. Also in the movie is Faezeh, a quiet young woman in her 20’s who is infatuated with Amir dealing with the idea of self-respect. Zarin, a prostitute who was both malnourished and traumatized as a result of the repetitive use and abuse of her body. And last but not least Fakri, a middle-aged woman who enjoyed performing arts and was married to a government official who did not respect her.

Although there are four women only them come together in a villa house away from the city where together they create for themselves a utopia and begin to experience change, independence, and democracy to work forth in escaping the hardships of living in an age of political conflict and patriarchal oppression. They find peace in being isolated from society and by immersing themselves in a forest-like garden which in My Sister, Guard Your Veil; My Brother, Guard Your Eyes Reshat says that, “Islamic and Persian traditions have been crucial in elaborating the idea of gardens as places of transcendence” (50). Although the process was quite difficult for them to endure, they worked hard to get away from patronizing comments and expectations put on them and their bodies partly through finding themselves in this life-giving garden.

Overall, this film serves a role of discussing gender identities, this symbolically shown in the establishing shot capturing a snippet of the Faezeh and Munis walking over on the dirt road going to Fakhri’s villa house. This moment is included in efforts of showing the struggles of the nation and women; all being encapsulated in an artistic piece of work so diverse in angle of framing and in close-ups displaying the struggles of these women. As the director, Neshat holds a lot of power in choosing to portray such adversity by filming these women in their most simplest, lonely, vulnerable moments of solitude and pain. She does this greatly with the long scenes of these women with their backs turned to the audience, walking distantly on the dirt road on the outskirts of Tehran. First Zerrin travels this road and then Faezeh with Munis, thus this serving as a path to finding refuge and transcendence. Interestingly this scene is repeated and seems to last longer than most other transitional scenes, furthermore showing how the most somber and silent scenes are those who say the most about pain and struggles faced by women like them.

It important to note that only to a certain extent have women in Iran been allowed to experience having full rights, liberty, and autonomy. While most women in the United States are allowed to do and be treated respectfully and equally as men, many women in other places around the world like Iran have struggled to attain this status for themselves. Sadly, female autonomy is not only reduced by men but also by religious beliefs and practices, as well as political events like the Islamic government in Iran. Important to point out is that the story of these women looking for autonomy and identity were living in Iran during the 1953 when there were a lot of political conflicts occurring in such as the CIA coup d’etat in opposition to the country’s nationalization of oil against Mohammad Mosaddeq who was the Prime Minister at that time (Acuna). This being a crucial point in Iranian-American relations. Altogether, this film like Reshat states in an interview for ABC News, is allegorical and a film which “really brings together this notion of the courage that both the women of Iran and the country have at that moment, [they] all were looking for change and transformation” (2010). All in all history, politics, and feminism in this film all intertwine in helping the viewer understand the difficulty women and the nation were faced in times like these.  



Acuna, Pedro. “Humanities Core: Week 7b.” Humanities Core Seminar, 18 May 2017, Humanities Hall 236. Lecture.

“The Conversation: ‘Women Without Men.’” YouTube, uploaded by ABC News, 11 May 2010, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCz54ET5HXM. Accessed 22 May 2017.

Faezeh and Munis Walking on the Dirt Road. 2009. Women Without Men Official Film Site, IndiePix Films, womenwithoutmen.blog.indiepixfilms.com/stills/. Accessed 22 May 2017.

Neshat, Shirin, director. Women Without Men. 2009.

Rahamieh, Nasrin. “Engendering A New National Imaginary.” Humanities Core Lecture, 18 May 2017, UC Irvine HIB 100. Speech.

“Women Without Men: A Conversation with Shirin Neshat.” My Sister, Guard Your Veil; My Brother, Guard Your Eyes, edited by Lila  Azam Zanganeh, Boston, Beacon Press, 2006, pp. 44-56.


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