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Author ORCID Identifier


Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Comparative Literature

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Moira Inghilleri

Second Advisor

James Hicks

Third Advisor

Claudia Yaghoobi

Fourth Advisor

Mehammed Mack

Subject Categories

Comparative Literature | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Modern Literature | Near and Middle Eastern Studies


This dissertation titled “Prostitutes, Temporary Wives, and Motrebs: A Comparative Study of Sex Work in Iranian Film and Fiction from Constitutional Revolution (1906-1911) to the Islamic Revolution (1979)” brings together the web of images and narratives in sociocultural and historical texts and films that create and maintain the identity of sex workers as articles of mass consumption and sustain dominant practices and policies. By studying how these women, their body, and their sexuality are perceived, shown, and regulated in art and literature—which are ciphers of the society at large—my research exposes the tightly knit relationship between patriarchy, capitalism, and morality, sheds light on the ideological formations of gender and sexuality, problematizes the facile demarcations of illegitimate and legitimate avenues of sexual gratification, and destabilizes the official Islamic discourse on the issue. The first chapter discusses liberal and radical feminist discourses on sex work and creates the broader framework for my arguments regarding Iran. Chapter two focuses on the birth of the prostitute as a prominent literary trope in Iranian fiction and explains the sociocultural and political factors contributing to it. Drawing on works such as The Sexual Contract (1988) by Carole Pateman and The Industrial Vagina: The Political Economy of the Global Sex Trade (2008) by Sheila Jeffreys which blur the boundaries between servile marriage and prostitution, my third chapter contends that temporary marriage is a form of sex work endemic to Iran as it embodies the patriarchal ideal of the unchecked recourse of men to women’s sexuality sanctioned by law and religion. Chapter four examines sex workers’ self-perception as expressed in non-fiction and documentary works from the second Pahlavi Era (1941-1979). Finally, chapter five analyzes the voyeuristic representations of female sex workers and Motrebs (entertainers) in Iranian commercial cinema which reenact the worn-out Madonna/whore dichotomy that seeks to polarize women as either asexual and chaste or sexually active and monstrous.


Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.