Afsaneh Najmabadi, distinguished scholar and leading feminist historian of Iran in the U.S., addressed the UCD community Tuesday night.
“Sex-in-Change: Configurations of Sexuality and Gender in Contemporary Iran,” marked the launch of the three-part Suad Joseph Lecture Series in Iranian Studies, which is sponsored by the Middle East/South Asia Studies (ME/SA) department and will span the entire academic year with a guest lecture every quarter.
Born in Iran and originally enrolled in Tehran University, Najmabadi came to the U.S. and earned her bachelor’s degree in Physics from Radcliffe College, her master’s in physics from Harvard University and later her Ph.D. in sociology at the University of Manchester in the U.K. Najmabadi is currently a professor of history and studies of women, gender and sexuality at Harvard University, and is the author of the book, Women with Mustaches and Men without Beards: Gender and Sexual Anxieties of Iranian Modernity.
Najmabadi’s lecture spanned a number of issues, most focused on the oppressed presence of the transsexual and gay communities in contemporary Iran and how they are affected by the Iranian government and society.
“The pressures on lesbians and gays is not decreased by fear of criminality [in Iran] … many acts have been made illegal [like sodomy] yet prohibition does not stop the behavior,” she said.
Furthermore, Najmabadi aimed to compare and contrast the injustices of modern-day Iran to those that occurred in the country’s history.
“[People] are living transgendered lives; living as women in the bodies of men … the Islamic Revolution of 1979 made this impossible … [there were] campaigns for moral purification of society,” she said.
In the question and answer section that followed her lecture, an audience member asked Najmabadi what she felt about the government’s – and especially Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s – stance on the gay and transsexual communities.
“The good part is that [the government] doesn’t decide how these people will get to live their lives,” Najmabadi replied.
ME/SA officials hoped to attract a large number of undergraduates to the lecture in order to spread awareness about international issues.
“People need to know what’s going on in other regions of the world … [the lecture will] help build bridges by being intellectually informative,” said Tayabba Javaid, a senior psychology and women’s studies double major and ME/SA minor.
“This is a big deal considering events occurring in Iran right now,” said Shruti Banerjee, a senior international relations and ME/SA double major. “It’s a chance for students to be enlightened through an in-depth experience.”
Suad Joesph, namesake of the lecture series and founding director of ME/SA, said that the reason why she chose Najmabadi was because of her prominence within the Iranian-American community.
“We asked the community, families and students, and hers was the first name suggested,” said Joseph, who stepped down from her position as director in June.
Created in the Spring of 2004, ME/SA was the first of its kind at UCD, which had neither a Middle East nor a South Asia Studies program prior, according to Joseph. Joseph noted that although there were only two faculty members and five courses related to ME/SA in 2001, there are now 19 faculty and 80 courses offered through the program. ME/SA offers instruction in history and literature of the two regions, as well as language courses in Arabic and Hindi/Urdu.
ME/SA’s next steps include raising funds for modern Iranian studies, strengthening their major and eventually developing a graduate program. This year was the first year that ME/SA graduated a class in their major, according to Joseph.
“The story of ME/SA is unusual in the academic history here at Davis in that the students, faculty and administration have been working together for over a decade to achieve this,” she said.
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