The Exile of the Female Nightingale from the "Land of the Rose and the Nightingale"

Iran Possesses 490 different species of birds. Out of this rich and diverse bird fauna, it is only the male nightingale that has become a powerful metaphor not only for Persian poets but also for the country itself. Iran is known as the “Land of the Rose and the Nightingale.”

What is amazing, however, is the fate of the female nightingale. Where is she in all of these poetic accounts: By having the male nightingale sing the beauty of roses have we, in effect, exiled the female nightingale out of the garden? Why do we think the male nightingale sings the love of the Rose and not that of the female nightingale? Are nightingales a species without females?

It is the object of this paper to study the gendered allocation of space in Iran and the intricate interconnectedness between mobility and modernity. Indeed, in the political history of modern Iran, doubts about modernity, about change, about relations with the West have been projected upon woman’s body and the space it occupies. Not only the religious fanatics but also the revolutionaries, the royalists, the rightists, and leftists have considered women’s “public display,” as a flag, at times a badge of national pride, at other times an emblem of shame.

The “Islamization” of the already Muslim Iran, soon after the 1979 Revolution, began with a massive campaign to "purify” the public space of women. Thousands upon thousands of women were coerced into early retirement; many lost their jobs, many were forced into exile. Some twenty years after the Revolution, however, and in spite of legal restrictions, substantial transformations are affecting women’s lives. Women, seeking educational, political, and cultural options outside the traditional domestic sphere, are invading previously all-male territories. Perhaps the male nightingale, this age-old metaphor for the male poet and the loyal lover of the Rose, after well over a thousand years of segregation, is finally reunited with the female nightingale.

Farzaneh Milani
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