So, earlier I posted about my search for women featured prominently in musical cultures. I still have yet to find exactly what I was looking for, but in my ongoing research I came across some information about all-female music festivals in Iran. This struck my interest because when I (or probably most Americans because of our countries’ history) think of Iran, I don’t think music festivals and I DEFINITELY don’t think about all female music festivals. In fact, there is a ban on solo female performances in public in front of mixed gender audiences , which many women openly protest (which would also make an interesting post, but I digress). As I learned, however, the existence of these festivals is not necessarily a good thing.
The article which enlightened me about this cultural occurrence is called “Enveloping Music in Gender, Nation, and Islam: Women’s music festivals in post-revolutionary Iran,” and it was written by Wendy S. DeBano for Iranian Studies journal. DeBano points out that it is difficult for any Iranian, but especially women, to feel like they can escape the watchful eye of the government, even in a cultural setting: “Symbols of nation and images of Iranian leaders, contemporary and posthumous, greet musicians, audiences, and indeed, the entire Iranian citizenry every day, several times a day. With few exceptions, these images and symbols are male.” Even the concert halls in Tehran have portraits of former and current government officials looming over performers. DeBano specifically discusses the Fourth Jasmine Festival and how the states presence is always felt.
Another issue DeBano points out is the extreme gendering of these events—from programs to ticket designs. She explains this is a problem because it means a lot of the events are overlooked. She discusses in detail the emblem of the festival and how it is problematic: “the musical symbol that defines the concert materials for Fourth Jasmine Festival is, in effect, invisible … just as the musical content and performances are invisible and inaudible to those on the city streets.” She also notes that on these advertisements, women themselves aren’t pictured, but are instead replaced with feminine images.
I think, as evidenced here, that Iran represents a widespread example, albeit a pretty radical one, on how women are by and large erased from music. The idea of a women’s music festival seems pretty inclusive, but the practice of it proves that, in the case of Iran, it is only furthering the marginalization of women in society.