About Sharm and Charme

by Anna Haberkorn

May 16th, 2024

In the swirling currents of post-revolutionary Iran, a profound transformation has taken place within the realm of literature. Central to this literary renaissance is the concept of "sharm" or self erasure, deeply ingrained in Persian classical poetry. Traditionally, women were depicted as passive objects of desire, perpetuating a monologic narrative dominated by masculine voices. However, post-revolutionary women poets have been dismantling this paradigm, shifting the gaze from women as objects to subjects with agency and autonomy.

Iranian female poets, armed with pen and paper, are rewriting the narrative of gender identity and challenging entrenched patriarchal norms through their powerful verses. Through their poetry, these women are reclaiming agency, raising their voices, and resisting societal constraints. Their poetry serves as a potent tool for promoting ethical relations between human subjects, challenging historical traditions that have marginalized feminine voices. Existing research  about feminist culture and politics in women’s poetry after the revolution in Iran sheds light on this literary  revolution, illuminating the voices of Iranian women poets who dare to transgress sociocultural boundaries and redefine their identities.

Female poets, through their verses, explore themes of  sexual desire, visibility, and invisibility, while challenging traditional male mythologies from a distinctly female perspective. Despite state censorship, they find innovative ways to reach their audience, leveraging digital platforms to circumvent restrictive rules. Forough Farrokhzad (1934-1967), a pioneer in Iranian poetry, laid the foundation for subsequent generations of feminist poets with her exploration of the female body and eroticism. Building upon Farrokhzad's legacy, younger poets disrupt traditional narratives of pleasure and desire, embracing an associational eroticism that defies conventional logic and syntax. One example of those is Granaz Moussavi (*1974), who emerges as a poignant figure in the landscape of Iranian diasporic literature, representing the voice of a generation shaped by the tumultuous aftermath of the 1979 revolution and the Iran-Iraq war. Her journey, from the heart of Iran to the shores of Australia, embodies the struggle of Iranian women to reconcile tradition with modernity, oppression with liberation. As a member of the "children of the revolution," Granaz experienced the upheavals of war and revolution, grappling with unanswered questions and societal constraints imposed by male-oriented authorities. Through her poetry, she channels the repressed emotions of her upbringing, challenging societal norms and articulating a fearless critique of patriarchal structures. 

About Identity

Granaz’s poem  "Man (I)," featured in her "Sketching On Night" collection (1996), boldly exposes the subjective turmoil and identity crisis experienced by women:


Am not a human

neither a sparrow

I am a tiny occasion

Every time I fall

Split into two pieces

One half goes with the wind

The other half is taken by a


The poem reveals how female subjectivity is defined by a sense of lack within the patriarchal system and highlights the absence of a proper place for women in this societal structure, feeling neither fully human nor even as insignificant as a sparrow. The reference to the wind suggests societal norms that undermine women's identities. Moreover, it points accusatory fingers at "a man," highlighting the power dynamics at play within patriarchal societies. By challenging fixed definitions of women's subjectivity, the poem emphasizes the persona's lack of agency, reduced to being merely an "occasion" for mediation between men.

Challenging the Norms of Sharm

Further, in her exploration of feminine desire and identity, Granaz disrupts traditional narratives of love and sexuality, infusing her verses with metaphors and erotic imagery. Through her poetry, she challenges the dominance of masculine discourse, offering a nuanced portrayal of female jouissance—the multiplicity of female pleasure beyond conventional notions of sexuality and love.

In her poem, Aseman Ra Beband (‘Close the Sky’), she illustrates a bitter view about love:

Barbed wire was my

mother’s dowry

On the border of the road

that was reaching the bitter moon

I sleep with you without love

But I get up with more love

Here the bare footed whores

For one pair of shoes and

one set of floral china,

Run Mosaddegh to the end of

Vali-asr Avenue

Yes! The air is filled with

sick children

Our bed will be recognised

Close the sky

In this instance, Granaz casts off the traditional timidity and moral constraints imposed on women, opting instead to depict her loveless partnership with a male companion. She embodies the conventional sexual dynamic dictated by the marital agreement she must adhere to. The female persona boldly declares her liberation from societal norms, despite the consequences. Rather than suppress her desires and endure sexual repression, she vocalizes her fears through physical passion, unabashedly requesting the closure of their window to avoid prying eyes. The closing line of the poem defiantly acknowledges a societal taboo – engaging in extramarital relations and bearing children outside of wedlock, acts punishable by death according to both authorities and Islamic laws. The exclamation of 'yes!' challenges societal norms and sheds light on the plight  of prostitutes, revealing how women are commodified and subjected to exploitation in patriarchal systems.

Granaz Moussavi's poetry stands as a testament to the power of literature to subvert dominant narratives and amplify marginalized voices. Through her fearless expression and unwavering commitment to feminist ideals, she embodies the resilience and creativity of Iranian women in the pursuit of liberation and self-determination. Unlike poets within Iran, she faces no censorship, leveraging her exile to express her dissent freely.

Her poetry serves as a powerful testament to the resilience of Iranian women in the face of oppression and cultural norms. In essence, Iranian women poets are not only crafting verses; they are catalyzing a feminist literary revolution.  Through their poetry, they challenge societal norms, dismantle patriarchal constructs, and pave the way for a more inclusive and equitable future. As they navigate the complexities of gender identity and desire, Iranian women poets stand as beacons of resilience, creativity, and feminist solidarity in a  rapidly evolving cultural landscape.