Early in Passionate Uprisings: Iran's Sexual Revolution, an Iranian woman tells Iranian-American anthropologist Pardis Mahdavi that growing up in Iran isn't really any different from the U.S.: "When you go to your parents' house you speak Persian and wear proper clothes, and when you go out with your friends, there you speak English and wear sexy clothes, right? Well, for us it's the same; it's like drinking water." Mahdavi's book underlines how life in one of the most repressive Islamic republics in the world marks its residents, particularly the urban Tehrani women who allowed her incredible access into their private lives.
In spite of Iran's public face, its young population (70 percent of which is under 30) is frustrated over the government's emphasis in cracking down on their behavior through the komite, or morality police. The underemployed, financially stable children of the middle and upper classes flout sharia-influenced laws in choices as subtle as unbuttoning their coats or wearing open-toed shoes in the street, and as brazen as having casual sex in their cars while listening to Western pop music and illegal DJ tracks. What they can't do outdoors, young people do at house parties where imported booze and local opiates mix as freely as the men and women who aren't allowed to encounter each other in public. The thrill of being caught is part of their social reality, as women apply extra layers of makeup so the komite's commands won't completely destroy their look, and partygoers munch on cucumbers to cleanse their breath in case of a raid. Conservative morals and youthful rebellion are constantly colliding, as in the double standard that exists between single and married women, since it's expected that husbands rather than the police will punish wives.
Mahdavi herself finds it necessary to claim an absent husband to avoid a traffic-related arrest, one of many near misses she describes in the seven years she spent visiting Iran to research Passionate Uprisings. While she points out that not every Iranian woman who dons a translucent headscarf means to disavow her beliefs, Mahdavi's observations are so keen that her portrait of a subculture, desperate for change but viewing political activity as completely worthless, is balanced by the fascinating counter-narrative of her by turns horrific, hopeful, and revelatory experiences as a woman in Iran.