Masih Alinejad talks about “My Stealthy Freedom”, “White Wednesdays”, and other travails of women in Iran

Reader J. J. sent me a link to a National Public Radio interview which, if you have a spare half-hour, will both make you angry (at the oppression of women in Iran and what happens to those who protest), but also happy (at the cheerful and optimistic personality of the subject). But let me just copy J. J.’s email, adding a few comments and links:

Perhaps other followers of WEIT have already sent you the link to today’s “Fresh Air”, but in case not, it’s here.

Terry Gross interviews the exiled Iranian journalist, Masih Alinejad, who started “My Stealthy Freedom” campaign on twitter, against compulsory hijab [JAC: She also started the White Wednesdays campaign in which Iranian women wear white one day a week to protest oppression], and who has just published her memoir, The Wind in My Hair: My Fight for Freedom in Modern Iran. Given the nature of her campaign, the import of the title is obvious.  I’m listening right now and must get back to it because I don’t want to miss a second, but I can listen again online. You absolutely must listen from the very beginning to the end (it’s just over 30 min).  She is is amazing.  What a rebuke to Sarsour and all those odious pseudo-feminists with their through-the-looking-glass morals and ethics and sense of freedom (not to mention fashion). She starts off with her experiences wearing the hijab, and goes on from there.

Yes, this is definitely worth a listen. Alinejad, though she’s suffered exile, the inability to see her beloved mother, and the disapprobation of her strict Islamic father (she now lives in the U.S.), not to mention arrest and death threats that continue, is relentlessly upbeat throughout. She’s also a wonderful singer, and gives us two examples of songs. (I didn’t realize that women aren’t allowed to sing in Iran.)

No doubt she’ll be written off as a “native informant” by over-the-top defenders of Islam like Khaled A. Beydoun (if you want to see an unhinged hit job on people like Maajid Nawaz, Asra Nomani, and other reformist Muslims, see Beydoun’s new Guardian article), but to me she’s a hero. As I said yesterday, some people just carp about oppression to flaunt their moral bona fides, but Alinejad has sacrificed her country, her family, and her safety by standing up for women’s rights.  Why aren’t people like Linda Sarsour using her as a role model instead of bigots like Louis Farrakhan? Well, you know the answer to that one.

Here’s Alinejad singing in her car.


  1. GBJames
    Posted May 31, 2018 at 11:08 am | Permalink


  2. Posted May 31, 2018 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    Oh my. I second the recommendation to listen to this fine young person. That was time well spent.

  3. Christopher
    Posted May 31, 2018 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    Surprised this was allowed on NPR, as it goes against their ultra-regressive leftist ideology. Of course, Terry Gross is a memeber of the old NPR, back when they were interested in being serious news broadcasters instead of the ideological echo chamber they are increasingly becoming.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted May 31, 2018 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

      For my money, Terry Gross is flat-out the best interviewer around. People can take issue with her style, maybe, but the woman does her homework, and she’s got a great knack for asking the unexpected question that prompts a revealing answer.

      • Christopher
        Posted May 31, 2018 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

        Same here. I was irritated with my local station when they changed the schedule and I couldn’t listen to her on my drive home. She has done some amazing interviews, including that cringe-worthy one with Uber-asshole Gene Simmons and a real tear-jerker when she interviewed Maurice Sendak near the end of his life. Hell, I well up just thinking about it now.

      • Keith
        Posted May 31, 2018 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

        Agreed. Terry Gross is the best in the business. Always asks relevant and thoughtful questions.

      • Posted June 1, 2018 at 7:32 am | Permalink

        I quit listening to NPR after the local stations axed most of their (excellent) music programming. But to me at least, Gross is still the gold standard of contemporary interviewers.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted June 1, 2018 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

          A while back, I sent my affiliate a letter threatening to cut off their checks if they dared to drop “Jazz at Lincoln Center” or “Jazz at Kennedy Center” or jazz at any other center named after an assassinated president.

          They did, so I did.

  4. Posted May 31, 2018 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    Terry Gross is the one and only reason for bothering to listen to NPR.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted May 31, 2018 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

      I dunno, I still get a kick outta “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me” most of the time, too.

      And there’s always the reruns of “Car Talk,” at least on my local. Those Magliozzi brothers can make me laugh to beat the band, even if I’ve heard the jokes a coupla times before.

      • Posted May 31, 2018 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

        A coupla times? They told the same jokes over and over. That was their schtick, but I love the Magliozzis. Back in the day I brought my old BSA 650 into their shop in Cambridge (MAH) as a joke to see if they could fix a problem with the electric (BSAs are English machines, so…. yeah). Tommy was there and about had a heart attack when he saw the Lucas (?) electronics.

  5. Liz
    Posted May 31, 2018 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    Yes. This was definitely worth listening to. It was heartbreaking to hear her sing and know that it’s illegal for a woman to sing alone in Iran. She has a beautiful voice. I can’t believe that she didn’t know ahead of time that if her period stopped that that would be an indication that she could be pregnant. It sounds like there is little to no education about any of that. Masih is an amazingly courageous woman. Why are they so incredibly harsh on restricting women there? Is that just based on the religion or are there other reasons?

    • Pikolo
      Posted May 31, 2018 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

      When Iranian’s overthrew the US supported Shah(King) a very conservative form of Shia Islam came into power, represented by the Ajatollahs who seem to be Shia Muslim equivalents of catholic bishops. Under the Shah, there was some secular law, but not under the Ajatollahs.

      I seem to remember photos of unveiled women sunbathing from the 50s and 60s in Teheran shown on WEIT before, so maybe someone can dig them up.

      • Liz
        Posted May 31, 2018 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

        That’s what I understood and heard again in this interview. It was around 1979 or so? I was wondering if there was a time before the 50s/60s/70s when there was this much control and restriction. I found the following but I’m still not sure.

        “Since the seventh century, Islam has grown to be one of the major world religions. As it spread through the Middle East to Saharan and sub-Saharan Africa, to Central Asia, and to many different societies around the Arabian Sea, it incorporated some local veiling customs and influenced others. But it is only recently that some Islamic states, such as Iran, have begun to require all women to wear the veil (in Iran it is called the chador, which covers the entire body).”

        It seems a little odd that there would be this much control and oppression introduced as late as 1979 when women, at least in the U.S., were becoming more liberated.

    • Christopher
      Posted May 31, 2018 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

      Is the restrictive nature of fundamentalist religion simply to control sexual access, seeking to control the group from within to protect it from the out groups? It seems plausible to me, the arbitrary choice of hair as a symbol of sexuality, along with controlling musical expression (music and dance do appear to be part of sexual selection, after all, musicians get a lot of “mates” and good dancers are seen as also being good in bed) that the purpose is something along these lines, but I’m no sociobiologist. I just finished Bernd Heinrich’s latest book “A Naturalist At Large”, which included an essay “ Birds, Bees, and Beauty”, and found myself zoned out for a good 30 minutes wondering if this is why religions waste so much energy policing clothing, music, poetry, art, dance, and anything remotely tied to sex and mate selection, specifically things that are of great interest around the prime mating ages, teens and twenties. I’m sure this has been hypothesized and studied by people far more intelligent than I, so perhaps other readers can weigh in.
      What I do know is that she is incredibly brave, as brave as I am cowardly.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted May 31, 2018 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

      @Liz The 1979 Iranian Islamic revolution changed everything in Iran. Immediately before there was around 2,000 women’s clinics scattered about in a country around three times the size of France [I haven’t checked that – just eyeballed off the map]. But, exactly like France or Ireland or anywhere with a mainly rural farming population there is a wide spectrum of attitudes regarding sex education, women’s education, the role of women, dress codes etc.

      Masih Alinejad was brought up post-revolution in a farming village of maybe 600 people in a farming region that stretches along the southern coast of the Caspian Sea – To her north is the sea, she’s standing on a very fertile strip of lush farming land where every inch is owned & farmed & cherished [think French vineyards, but flat & better soil!], behind her back is the mountains & beyond that is Tehran – the big city. She lived in a traditional, rural society where girls/women were a beloved chattel & where the whiff of scandal follows a family for generations.

      Immediately before the revolution any educated, middle-class woman in Tehran could be transported to Bond Street or to afternoon tea at Claridges [also in Mayfair] & she’d fit in – maybe a year or two behind the fashion, but no more. However that middle-class woman would have values similar to a 1950s western woman – a woman’s place is in the home, blah, blah

      The Shah banned the Hijab around 1935 – it became against the law in public, but it wasn’t his smartest move! In the more traditionalist parts of the country some women refused to leave the home altogether rather than being seen in public half naked [an exposed head of hair would feel that way to them]. The law was softened & then repealed so that women could do as they see fit.

      It does not surprise me that Masih didn’t know about the significance of missing her period in 1995 [approx when she became a young bride] – I compare this to my own sex education in a RC school in England in 1971 which was two periods [pun!] of ‘human biology’ including that weird diagram of a cross-section through a female body that looks like a map of a Mediterranean group of islands – the mechanics of sex wasn’t elucidated at all. The one question I wondered about was Masih’s mother – did she not instruct the daughter on certain matters? Well my mother was rural Irish Catholic & not one word passed her lips re sex to my sister. Neither me nor my Sis ever had “the talk”.

      I know many middle-class Persians who escaped Iran around the time of the revolution – around 5,000,000 of the smartest, brightest people decamped to USA, France etc. Wonderful people who strangely enough remind me of Jewish friends for their sense of humour & verbal ability – great talkers, singers & dancers.

      Here is her home town on Google maps [put it in satellite view if it isn’t already] – notice all the orchards:,+Mazandaran+Province,+Iran/@36.4380933,52.6063408,1014a,35y,39.14t/data=!3m1!1e3!4m5!3m4!1s0x3f8f8c7b31da27df:0xc8780b25f19a2f40!8m2!3d36.4457187!4d52.6052587

      • Liz
        Posted June 1, 2018 at 10:20 am | Permalink

        Thank you for this and thank you for sharing the map. It looks so lush. I thought it would be all desert. It’s hard to believe things went backwards so quickly and forcefully.

        • Jenny Haniver
          Posted June 1, 2018 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

          You can say something similar re women in Afthanistan, albeit to a lesser degree, at least in urban areas.

          • Liz
            Posted June 1, 2018 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

            Very interesting.

            “In 1978, under Nur Muhammad Taraki, the government gave equal rights to women. This gave them the ability to choose their husbands and careers. … It is claimed that in 1991 around seven thousand women were in the institution of higher education and around 230,000 girls studying in schools around Afghanistan. There were around 190 female professors and 22,000 female teachers. … In 1992, the government under Mohammad Najibullah transitioned to the Islamic State of Afghanistan. … The restrictions imposed when the Islamic State was established were “the ban of alcohol and the enforcement of a sometimes-purely-symbolic veil for women”. … Women began to be more restricted after Hekmatyar was integrated into the Islamic State as Afghan Prime Minister in 1996. He demanded for women who appeared on TV to be fired. During the violent four-year civil war a number of women had been kidnapped and some of them raped.”

  6. Jeannie Hess
    Posted May 31, 2018 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    She claimed she had to wear her hijab from the age of seven when inside the house, even at night while she slept.

    • Christopher
      Posted May 31, 2018 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

      I know of a young girl (9-10yr old) who was forced to wear one of those ridiculous fur-lined hunters hats with ear flaps pulled down because her hijab was dirty. Even inside, even later in the year in the spring. Temperature did not matter, only modesty mattered. Disgraceful.

  7. Heather Hastie
    Posted May 31, 2018 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    Wonderful woman! There’s nothing much I can do from my armchair, but I do make a point of retweeting most of the #WhiteWednesdays and #MyStealthyFreedom tweets. I retweeted another three yesterday. One was of four teenage girls walking home from school. They’d taken their hijabs off. They were only filmed from the back to make identification difficult. I also put some of them on my website from time to time.

    A few of days ago there was chanting at a soccer match in support of the last shah. In many ways he was a pretty nasty dude with his secret police torturing people etc, but he was also modernizing the country and women could dress how they choose. One of the problems of stadia in Iran these days is women can’t attend because they’re not allowed to sit mixed in with the men. One of the #MyStealthyFreedom videos I retweeted recently was of women attending a soccer match disguised as men. There are also tweets of men announcing they are boycotting matches until women can attend.

    In the streets of Iran there are men who drive around in vans. They try to make women put their hijabs (scarves) back on, and if they won’t, they’re bundled into the van and taken away. There are several videos of that in the early days of the campaign, though the government isn’t doing that so much in public now. They get the women later when the cameras are gone.

  8. Posted May 31, 2018 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    Although I hate the Muslim restriction on women’s dress and behaviors, there are still other cultures in the world that have similar
    (but, maybe, not quite so onerous) requirements on women’s dress and behavior.

    More traditional forms of Judaism still practice hair covering for married women. Once upon a time, orthodox Jewish married women cut their hair and wore wigs. I think some still do.

    The women of some Christian sects wear head coverings. For example, Amish and Mennonites.
    I had no idea until reading the following that Zoroastrians wear head coverings also.

    Some religions also have head coverings for males: the yarmulke for men and turbans for Sikhs because they do not cut their hair.

    Certain Christian denominations still require very conservative clothing for women. My Church of God Holiness grandmother wore dresses that were high necked, long sleeved and long skirted (mid to lower calf.) She wore opaque stockings and sensible shoes. She never cut her hair. Makeup was not worn. Women did not wear men’s clothing (no trousers, etc.)

    I know these examples are not in the same league with muslim restrictions, but am
    reminding us that control of women’s clothing and behavior is still promoted and/or condoned in many other religions and cultures. Freedom for all women!

    • Christopher
      Posted May 31, 2018 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

      As you note, there are restrictions for men as well, and restrictions in other religions and cultures. What I don’t know, what never really interested me while doing my anthropology minor and thus never considered, is the means by which those restrictions are enforced. I imagine that much of the time it is via shaming, both public and private. With Islam, as WEIT readers know, is with violence, more often than not. Anyone know if violence is as frequently used by those other groups as with Islamic fundamentalists? I recall my mother telling me about a time when as a child (early to mid-60’s) she went with a friend to a different church (no idea what denomination) and a young woman had the audacity to wear dress slacks rather than a dress! She was made to stand up and be publicly humiliated by the priest before the congregation. My mother refused to ever return to that church.

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted May 31, 2018 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

        Under Sikhism in the UK the tradition [& religious, spiritual observance] of males wearing a turban has relaxed somewhat – partly I believe because they don’t want to be mistaken for Muslims in our benighted society. The rule of males never ever cutting the hair is not so strongly observed among the young for similar pragmatic reasons. From my outside position I admire them for holding to their religious positions without obsessing so much about the symbols & other external appearances of their faith. THE FIVE Ks

      • Posted June 1, 2018 at 11:28 am | Permalink

        Technically speaking there are clothing restrictions for men in Islam as well.

      • Posted June 2, 2018 at 12:52 am | Permalink

        As a teenager I sang. I once competed in a talent show associated with my church. I wore a high necked dress that, unfortunately, sleeveless (and this, in California.) I was marked down for my sleeveless dress.

        In my one year at a religious college, I sang in the girl’s choir. We were to wear formals for one special performance. The one and only formal I owned was (again) covered up in front, but backless. I had to have a friend make a bolero for me to wear as I couldn’t afford to buy a new formal.

  9. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted June 2, 2018 at 7:01 am | Permalink

    allow me to share this insight (I think) to Islamic head/body coverings. I’ll try to be brief, but it’s hard.

    There’s something about walking around during the day, *in a free society*, encountering people with Islamic head/body covering, that is completely unlike the experience with any other piece of attire or jewelery, and this post here stimulated me to think about and discuss it. Couldn’t put a finger on it til now.

    I think what distinguishes Islamic head coverings from any other attire – examples being rabbits foot trinkets (there’s the Non-religious but still supernatural/superstitious example), rainbow-colored propeller hats, banana costumes, or religious habits ( like the things nuns wear, is this :

    Islamic head/body coverings are imported from theocracies.

    That means when you walk around in a theocracy (which I have not done – examples being : – perhaps Iran, or Pakistan, EVERYONE is in on the game – EVERYONE KNOWS WHY someone is wearing a head/body covering, including the person wearing it. There is no mystery. No one is going to say, when someone walks in the room with a full-length 100% black cloak and head covering, “oh wow, that is a wonderful dress!”

    When that gets transplanted to a free society – France, The United States, Britain – the premise of the theocracy is broken. Now, the head/body covering can be viewed merely as someone’s “choice”, as merely yet another piece of clothing, even a good-luck charm. We hear compliments on the attire – “Gee, I really think your head scarf is beautiful, how nice” – that you’d never hear if someone wore a rainbow-colored propeller hat, banana costume, or a rabbits foot. Worse, there’s the “anything goes” view of religions, where “hey, it’s all good.” I view this as something of a civil chaos, but this is unexplored territory as of yet.

    … I’ll stop there, with a recap : Islamic head/body coverings are the products of religion, and are imported to free societies from non-free theocracies. There is every reason to say so, instead of equating them with other meaningless pieces of clothing or jewelery.

    Thank you.

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