Shrouded in Contradiction

Shrouded in Contradiction
By Gelareh Asayesh
I grew up wearing the miniskirt to school, the veil to the
mosque. In the Tehran of my childhood, women in bright sundresses shared the
sidewalk with women swathed in black. The tension between the two ways of life
was palpable. As a schoolgirl, I often cringed when my bare legs got leering or
contemptuous glances. Yet, at times, I long for the days when I could walk the
streets of my country with the wind in my hair. When clothes were clothes.  In today’s Iran, whatever I wear sends a
message. If it’s a chador, it embarrasses my Westernized relatives. If it’s a
skimpy scarf, I risk being accused of stepping on the blood of the martyrs who
died in the war with Iraq. Each time I return to Tehran, I wait until the last
possible moment, when my plane lands on the tarmac, to don the scarf and long
jacket that many Iranian women wear in lieu of a veil. To wear hijab — Islamic
covering — is to invite contradiction. Sometimes I hate it. Sometimes I value
Most of the time, I don’t even notice it. It’s annoying, but
so is wearing pantyhose to work. It ruins my hair, but so does the humidity in
Florida, where I live. For many women, the veil is neither a symbol nor a
statement. It’s simply what they wear, as their mothers did before them.
Something to dry your face with after your ablutions before prayer.  A place for a toddler to hide when he’s
feeling shy. Even for a woman like me, who wears it with a hint of rebellion,
hijab is just not that big a deal.
Except when it is.
”Sister, what kind of get-up is this?” a woman in black,
one of a pair, asks me one summer day on the Caspian shore. I am standing in
line to ride a gondola up a mountain, where I’ll savor some ice cream along
with vistas of sea and forest. Women in chadors stand wilting in the heat,
faces gleaming with sweat. Women in makeup and clunky heels wear knee-length
jackets with pants, their hair daringly exposed beneath sheer scarves.
None have been more daring than I. I’ve wound my scarf into
a turban, leaving my neck bare to the breeze. The woman in black is a
government employee paid to police public morals. ”Fix your scarf at once!”
she snaps.
”But I’m hot,” I say.
”You’re hot?” she exclaims. ”Don’t you think we all
I start unwinding my makeshift turban. ”The men aren’t
hot,” I mutter.
Her companion looks at me in shocked reproach. ”Sister,
this isn’t about men and women,” she says, shaking her head. ”This is about
I want to argue. I feel like a child. Defiant, but
powerless. Burning with injustice, but also with a hint of shame. I do as I am
told, feeling acutely conscious of the bare skin I am covering. In policing my
sexuality, these women have made me more aware of it.
The veil masks erotic freedom, but its advocates believe
hijab transcends the erotic — or expands it. In the West, we think of passion
as a fever of the body, not the soul. In the East, Sufi poets used earthly
passion as a metaphor; the beloved they celebrated was God. Where I come from,
people are more likely to find delirious passion in the mosque than in the
There are times when I feel a hint of this passion. A few
years after my encounter on the Caspian, I go to the wake of a family friend.
Sitting in a mosque in Mashhad, I grip a slippery black veil with one hand and
a prayer book with the other. In the center of the hall, there’s a stack of
Koranic texts decorated with green-and-black calligraphy, a vase of white
gladioluses and a large photograph of the dearly departed. Along the walls,
women wait quietly.
From the men’s side of the mosque, the mullah’s voice rises
in lament. His voice is deep and plaintive, oddly compelling. I bow my head,
sequestered in my veil while at my side a community of women pray and weep with
increasing abandon. I remember from girlhood this sense of being exquisitely alone
in the company of others. Sometimes I have cried as well, free to weep without
having to offer an explanation. Perhaps they are right, those mystics who
believe that physical love is an obstacle to spiritual love; those architects
of mosques who abstained from images of earthly life, decorating their work
with geometric shapes that they believed freed the soul to slip from its
worldly moorings. I do not aspire to such lofty sentiments. All I know is that
such moments of passionate abandon, within the circle of invisibility created
by the veil, offer an emotional catharsis every bit as potent as any sexual
Outside, the rain pours from a sullen sky. I make my
farewells and walk toward the car, where my driver waits. My veil is wicking
muddy water from the sidewalk. I gather up the wet and grimy folds with
distaste, longing to be home, where I can cast off this curtain of cloth that
gives with one hand, takes away with the other.
Gelareh Asayesh is the author of ”Saffron Sky: A Life
Between Iran and America.” She lives in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Comparison and Contrast

A Brief Guide to Writing A Comparison/Contrast Essay


Writing a comparison/contrast paper involves comparing and contrasting two subjects. A comparison shows how two things are alike. A contrast shows how two things are different.

Choosing a Topic

When you choose a topic, be sure not to choose two totally unrelated subjects. You must start with subjects that have some basic similarities. For instance, you could choose to compare/contrast two movies, two authors, two modes of transportation, or two sports figures, but you would not want to try to compare train travel and Babe Ruth!


The first thing you want to do is brainstorm everything you know about each subject and then go back and look for connections that show similarities and differences, which might look something like this:





leaves change

flowers bloom

brilliant colors

trees bloom

precedes winter

precedes summer



Developing a Thesis

The thesis statement will evolve from the brainstorming. Look at your list and ask yourself some questions.

    “Is there something important, significant, or interesting in the similarities and differences on my list?
    “What have I discovered about autumn and spring?”

After looking at the list, a thesis statement might be:

    Although there is exquisite beauty in the seasons of autumn and spring, there are also distinctions which allow each season to stand on its own.

Organizing the Essay

The introduction of your essay should mention both subjects and end with a strong and clearly defined thesis statement.

There are two primary ways to organize the body of your paper, the divided pattern and the alternating pattern.

To follow the divided pattern, give all supporting details for one subject and then give all supporting details for the other subject:

Paragraphs 1-3 in Body
Discuss and give supporting details for subject 1 (Autumn)
Paragraphs 4-6 in Body
Discuss and give supporting details for subject 2 (Spring)

To follow the alternating pattern, alternate the details from one side of the comparison or contrast to the other:

Paragraph 1 in Body
Discuss and give supporting details for subject 1 (Autumn)
Paragraph 2 in Body
Discuss and give supporting details for subject 2 (Spring)
Paragraph 3 in Body
Discuss and give further supporting details for subject 1 (Autumn)
Paragraph 4 in Body
Discuss and give further supporting details for subject 2 (Spring)

The conclusion of your paper should include final correlations about the two subjects and a restatement of your thesis.

Be sure as you write the paper that you follow the organized structure of comparison and contrast and give details and examples to support the similarities and differences you have chosen.