(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)Now 35, Azadi has moved to a more genteel part of town but still lives by herself.More than 3 million educated Iranian women over 30 are unmarried, according to Mizan, the official news agency of Iran’s judiciary.It was a Thursday night in Istanbul and I was sitting on a patio at a going away party with three Persian cousins: two men living in Istanbul for graduate school and a woman living there who works as a journalist. So it’s forbidden by law, informal dating when you’re not married. The men explained that when a woman gets married she decides on an amount of money that the man owes them if they get divorced. Also they’re graduating a lot more from university, to the extent that if a girl and boy are both applying to the same department at university, they’ve lowered the standards for the boys to try to even it out.I didn’t want to turn playtime into work time but the opportunity seemed too ripe to relinquish. How often do we get to share a beer and actually try to understand each other? I told them that I was writing about dating cultures in different countries. But you know, everything forbidden is more interesting.” I asked how dating is different for them in Istanbul than it is back home and both men instantly replied that it was way easier to date back home in Iran. ” One said and laughed, but then added more seriously, “Maybe they feel more freely. But because they are so repressed, they go to extremes to compensate. They’re totally dressed up and made up and with the hair… They’ve got like three boyfriends, they’re always screwing around… They explained that the right of divorce is the man’s, but that most middle and upper class men sign a clause in their pre-nuptial agreement giving their wife the same right. The graduation rates are like 62 percent girls.” I walked away from this conversation a bit rattled and sad. “How do they do that, if there’s no bars —“ I started to ask. You can get anything you want.” The female cousin mused: “Iranians are very influenced by American culture. Most educated families allow their children to date.” Thinking of the next thing I took for granted about the country, I asked how Persian men treat their wives. ” he said, feigning spite, and then in a high-pitched voice said, “I love you. You’re the only man for me.” The other man laughed and nodded. In the capital city, in Tehran, it’s like drugs and orgies,” one of the men explained. “Yes well, if everyone drinks so much so much and there’s a lot of drugs…” He explained that since Tehran is so close to Afghanistan, which produces a huge amount of drugs, “Iran is the gateway of drugs to the West. “Well, it depends on the culture of the family;” one of the men explained, “I even know some families where the girls’ boyfriends used to live with them.Zoe Mendelson is traveling the world, talking to friends and strangers about the messy, wonderful business of love. They do anything for their ladies,” one of the men agreed. ” “But really,” she continued, “the boys are much softer and the girls are getting more powerful because they think their rights were underestimated through history. In our culture, which is ancient, the women have a lot of sway,” the woman explained.Our series Love in Far Off Lands tracks her journey, highlighting the best of her encounters. “Yep,” the woman began, “If you’re a girl, you get to decide how much you’re worth.” Now there’s a sentence that inverts the American conception of women in Iran. My grandmother walks around with a whip and my grandfather is basically not allowed to talk. Iranian culture is almost but not quite matriarchal. One of the men elaborated, explaining that modern Iranian women are the embodiment of a “hard core backlash.
They were starting to catch on to my astonishment and were all smiling. Instantly the woman’s finger was pointing in the air: “I have something to say about this! Like compared to Turkish guys, who are rough and they’re cheaters and they’re hard core—which is why I like them—[she winked] Persian men are like really nice and soft.They agreed to interviews but definitely, absolutely did not want me to use their names; they said it could end up preventing them from re-entering Iran at all. When you’re in a closed place and you’re under pressure, you want to experience something that is illegal.” The other chimed in, “Yes, I have had 15 girlfriends and I’m only 30! But here, it’s much harder to get girls.” I asked if girls in Iran have sex before marriage and one of the men speculated that 10 or 15 years ago only 10 percent of girls would, but that now the percentage is probably closer to 90. Not sad for the Persian women, but rather that in my mind and in the general American imagination, we paint them as such helpless victims.I was genuinely shocked, and tried to play it off like I wasn’t such an ignorant American thinking that Persian women were just bundled up virginal victims. While the laws in Iran are extremely stringent for woman, to think of them merely as victims of their government robs them of their agency.The requirement to enter into higher education is to have a High school diploma, and finally pass the national university entrance examination, Iranian University Entrance Exam (Konkur کنکور), which is the equivalent of the French baccalauréat exam.Universities, institutes of technology, medical schools and community colleges, provide the higher education.As of September 2015, 93% of the Iranian adult population are literate.