By Anushay Babar
‘The Day I became a Woman’ is a film directed by Marzieh Meshkini. It revolves around the struggle of the women of Iran, shown from the lens of women of different ages. It emphasises the oppression that they experience on the most trivial matters and events. The movie elaborates on the lives of three females: Hawwa, Ahoo, and Hoora.
The story of Hawwa illustrates how sexism in the country does not discriminate against age. It is Hawwa’s 9th birthday, and it is expected as per her elders’ instructions that she can no longer play or spend time with her friend who is a boy. The movie is shot in a primitive region where the determination of when her time is up to spend with the boy ends when she places a stick in the ground and the shadow of the stick she places in the ground fully diminishes. What we must observe is that as the sun keeps changing positions, the shadow of the stick is sometimes nearly fully diminished, and other times has returned, which is symbolic of how the logic of prohibiting her from spending time with her friend is as absurd as the said logic of determining time.
The story of Ahoo is of a relatively older woman taking part in a sort of cycling competition. From the reaction of her family, it is visible to us how cycling is considered some sort of taboo in Iran where the practice of women having greater independence to transport alone is looked down upon. On various occasions do Ahoo’s relatives yell at her to stop cycling and return home, which is where her supposed place is. She refuses to stop when her husband comes; when a mullah comes to threaten, and subsequently announce her divorce- as she keeps going ahead. However, it is just when elders of the family and her brothers come and surround her, blocking her way, that she does stop as she is no longer left with a choice. Again, we see how difficult it is for women in such a time and place to express themselves as independent and not needing to rely on someone.
We see how Ahoo tried relentlessly to keep going ahead but eventually had to succumb to the repressive and backward values of the place where the women were essentially hidden from society except in domestic affairs because that is supposedly how the honour of the entire family is protected. This is a theme that prevails even in the life of Hawwa who is told that upon having become a woman, she must now start taking the chador.
The next story is that of an old woman named Hoora. Hoora has very recently come into a lot of wealth upon the death of her husband. She is seen as having tied multiple ribbons around her fingers to remind herself of all the material she wishes to buy for herself. She goes shopping with a young boy who helps and accompanies her in buying what she wants, after which, with the help of some other young boys at the beach, she ties all of the things she bought to some surface and sets sail in the sea, where the other two women, Hawwa and Ahoo, watch her from a distance.
What is interesting about the story of Hoora is that it does not follow the same essence of the aforementioned- seeing as she is not eventually giving up to the wishes of some other male in the family or even being seen as oppressed, but this is so perhaps because on having become a widow, where she is no longer obligated to follow others’ instructions on how to live- and so in the end, as she sails into the sea, it is symbolic of how the water takes her wherever- flowing freely and almost nonchalantly- as opposed to the other two girls watching Hoora, still under oppression, having to live up to society’s expectations of them, restricted by the patriarchy.
Even in the case of Hoora; however, we see how the concept of clothing and being fully covered is seen as necessary. This was shown through the scene of the kettle where Hoora insisted on exchanging the kettle she bought with the young boy because it was transparent- apparently being seen as naked. She wanted to return it to the store and buy one that was dark in colour and covered- again seeing as protecting honour- which we see is so ingrained in the minds of the people.