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Bibi Khanoom Astarabadi: The Gender Defender

Bibi Khanoom Astarabadi

The Gender Defender

(1858/9–1921, Iran)

Bibi was a pioneering feminist during the Qajar Dynasty.

Around 1886/7, an anonymous dude published a horrible tract about how women should behave toward their husbands, titled “The Education of Women.”

It was not so different from the rage-filled writings you might find everywhere on the Internet today!

The author suggested that women should:

Do whatever their husbands say, no matter what

Keep their fat mouths shut

Never complain about their husbands, even if they have good reason

Never sulk, even when life is shitty

Never chatter at the table

Sit in a specific way

(Oh yes, there’s more!)

Walk in a specific way

Wear certain clothes

Forget all this primness and propriety as soon as they get into bed so they can be sex goddesses

And most important: leave the bedroom first thing in the morning.

Bibi was having none of it. Her girlfriends urged her to write a response, and respond she did, with a sarcastic, satirical point-by-point rebuttal, which she did. It was called “The Vices of Men.”

Bibi was all:

“The author has said that if a man takes the hand of his wife and wants to put it into the fire, that wife should obey him, be quiet and silent, and show no resistance. Oh my God, Mowlana [ironic use of a male title of respect], if you had not composed this book, what would have happened?”


“You should be all smiles to your husband, and even if you die of hunger, you should not ask anything from him.”


She also says a lot of this guy’s complaints are symptoms of bigger issues, like, I don’t know, gender inequality and poverty?!


And Bibi says that his suggestion to leave your husband’s bedroom first thing in the morning is just an excuse for him to fool around with the male and female servants.

“May God give him some sense,” Bibi writes.


Bibi then writes several chapters describing all of the vices of men, from drinking to drugs to debauchery to violence against women.

She includes this fun little anecdote she recounts from one of her women friends, which is my personal favorite part of the essay:

It seems there was a horny philandering husband who went in search of a teenage boy to screw [not uncommon for the time].

There were no boys available, so he was tricked into having sex with a woman instead.

When he discovered that she didn’t have a dick, he was so disappointed that he ranted and raved and fell and SLICED HIS OWN DICK OPEN on a loose nail on the bed, and somehow his asshole got ripped open, too?!

(Did this really happen? Sounds like an urban legend to me, but you never know.)

But Bibi is basically like, serves you right, you are an all-around jerk.



She wraps everything up with the story of her own marriage, which starts out a starry-eyed love story before turning sour.

She says: “Every day and night I was wrestling with despair and picking the fruit of disappointment from the branch of disillusion.”


And she sums up the point of her essay beautifully:

“Perhaps they [men] will now refrain from educating women and devote themselves to their own education.”





It was an epic defense of women written by an epic woman. It has been described as “a pungent satire.”


I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Bibi’s most famous accomplishment: opening a school for girls in Tehran in 1907. It was not a comedy school, but she could have taught an entire PhD on satire.

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