Let’s first review the various types of clothing worn by Muslim women, often under state edict. What we’re talking about today is the hijab, the covering of the head and chest (upper left in picture below) that is a mandatory garment in Iran
Now defenders of these kinds of garments often say that they’re worn voluntarily by Muslim women—and sometimes they are. But it’s hard to disentangle “truly voluntary” from “I’m used to wearing them because I was forced to since childhood” or “voluntary because I’ll be arrested/vilified if I don’t wear them.” When I was in Turkey, in a university that banned headscarves, many Muslim women told me they favored the ban, for it it were legal, some Muslim students would wear them and shame the others for “not being good Muslims.” They didn’t want that kind of pressure to dress in a certain way. A woman from the BBC link cited below says likewise:
“My problem is not having to wear the headscarf. My problem is not having a choice,” writes one woman on the Facebook page. “Stealthy freedom means, just for a few seconds, I will be what I want to be,” writes another.
But the true sign that these garments are worn under coercion is what happens when the national and social bans are lifted. Do women then doff them?
In Iran, they’re doffing hijabs illegally, a real sign of how women are chafing at having to be covered, presumably because the sight of their naked heads and necks might incite uncontrollable lust in Muslim men. As reported by both the BBC and the Guardian, there’s now a Facebook page where Iranian women can post pictures of themselves unveiled. What these women are doing is illegal, but heartening. As the Guardian reports:
Thousands of Iranian women are taking off their veils and publishing pictures of themselves online, igniting a debate about the freedom to wear or not wear the hijab.
A Facebook page set up by London-based Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad 10 days ago has attracted more than 130,000 likes, with women across Iran sending unveiled pictures taken in parks, at the seaside and in the streets.
Go have a look at the page called “Stealthy Freedoms of Iranian Women”. Most of the captions written by the women are in the local language, Farsi, but a few are translated into English by the Guardian. Here are some (indented captions from the Guardian).
“My stealthy freedom while driving in the streets of Tehran,” wrote Maryam alongside an image showing her behind the wheel. “I like to feel the wind blowing on my face.”
Another post showed a mother with her daughter. “The beautiful seaside in Kish [Island],” the younger woman wrote. “We strolled on the rocks and experienced the cool breeze flowing through our hair. Is this a big request?”
A young woman from the city of Fuman, in the northern province of Gilan, sent a picture of her in the woods. “I took this picture stealthily in the spring,” she wrote. “It makes me feel happy.”
This is what freedom looks like:
A few others I’ve selected, with captions in both Arabic and English:
There are hundreds of these photos on the Facebook page—they’re pouring in from Iran as if from an uncorked bottle. Go look at them! And the bravery of these women, and their plaintive and simple desire to dress as they please, makes me tear up. But it also makes me feel great to see them defying the misogyny and repression of Islam.