A Woman Without Hijab is Like a Chair with Three Legs

If you still haven’t figured out that wearing black chadors will save your worldly soul and that wearing lipstick and heels will get you sent to the hellfire, Iran’s “Cyber Group for Promoting Chastity and the Veil [Ifaf]” is here to clear that up for you.  They are sponsored by the Iranian government and have a sleek website where you can view their posters, buy t-shirts, and brush up on hijab laws in Iran!

They have a new ad campaign for “good hijab” (because, you know, chastity really only has to do with women) that includes its centerpiece, “A woman without hijab is like a chair with three legs” (poster pictured on right). The ad campaign has several posters, which range from the strange and incomprehensible to the skeevy, yet well done.  But their message is clear: women without hijab aren’t real, practicing Muslim women and are intellectually and spiritually incapable of measuring the dangers presented by their clothing choices.

“A woman without hijab is like a chair with three legs” is the most incomprehensible of the posters for me, both visually and textually. Why three legs?  Because we as women are somehow incomplete without hijab? Lacking in a solid foundation? Because we can’t be used to sit on? Clothes can do all that? Really?

A second poster (pictured below left) shows a red stiletto on a platform that is being sawed through. Once the sawing is complete, the stiletto will undoubtedly plunge, along with its wearer, straight into the hellfire.  By way of explanation, this poster simply says “Feminism” in two languages, most likely implying that the road to hell is paved with feminists! Also, are red stilettos feminist, then?

Another jewel in the collection is “Eyes are a trap of the devil. Imam Ali (A.S.)”  Does it really refer to the hadith refers to the evil in impure glances, or that wearing colored aqua-colored contacts while looking at people is bad?  As a big fan of lipstick, I was also pleased to find out that 22 lipsticks are sold in the world every second. But what I didn’t know is that lipsticks are also bombs that contribute to the fall of civilization with every little explosion. Interesting…that has never happened to any of my lipsticks.

The masterpiece of politico-religious symbolism, however, falls to two posters using the same texts:

Each chadori [chador-clad] woman is as a flag of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

We are uncountable [many].”

These posters outline what the Islamic Republic wants: all women looking and dressing identically in the chador, as a uniform. As Sarah Khorshid Doost points out (in personal correspondence), these posters hijack the Green Movement slogan “we are uncountable,” which became popular after the election protests of last year. As the slogan is used in reference to unity, its use for such an exclusive and divisive means in this ad campaign is really disturbing. However, there is a history to this and many of the Green movement symbols being hijacked before (as with Ahmadinejad himself wearing a green shawl at his “victory speech” two days after the elections).

So the takeaway for women is: not only is wearing what we are supposed to wear good for our eternal salvation and morals, it is also good because it is what everyone else who is normal, patriotic, and right are wearing.  Go with the crowd!

Going through the posters, I started to wonder what the takeaway message is from this ad campaign for the brothers (other than avoiding loose women in lipstick). Luckily, the campaign has a message for men, too! with two posters showing the same text (one pictured on right):

Muslim Brother! Your inattention and guarding of your glance will result in our sisters observing their hijab.”

Because we all know that men are less likely to harass a sister in hijab. Yeah, right. Remind me of that next time I get a drive-by marriage proposal in Paris or Philly. And, hey, I think I see some of the brother’s awrah in those tight jeans. Oh, wait, isn’t looking a trap?

Muslim women have always had their Islam judged by their clothing and appearance. True, we live in scary times. However, the lot of Muslim women has hit a new low when people find it necessary to launch an expensive ad campaign to make sure we know exactly what we are supposed to wear.  To drive the point home and blur the lines even more: “Having little or no haya (shyness/modesty), is a sign of dark-mindedness, not intellectualism, is a sign of ignorance not civilization” So don’t forget, sisters, being a blushing Muslimah is critical to being smart and civilized.  And you can’t have haya in heels and lipstick!

The author and MMW would like to thank Sara Khorshid Doost for her invaluable assistance in this post, namely in translation and in contextual information.

  • http://born-confuzed.blogspot.com Jasmine/BornConfuzed

    Hmm I’m sorry if I’ve posted this comment many times, when I first entered my comment I forgot to fill out my name and email then when I went back to enter them it said ‘duplicate post detected’.

    When I first saw the title of this post I thought it was a Muslimah Media Watch quote.. I was thinking that doesn’t sound like them!

    Thankfully it wasn’t and it is ‘just’ another demeaning hijab ad. Sometimes we bloggers laugh at them, other times we get mad, other times some bloggers support them. I remember how many people adored the ‘cover your lollipop’ ad. I think it’s great that MMW is drawing attention to this in a serious light – it really does affect the pysch of not only women but also men. This is not good for us at all.

  • Dawud

    I’m simultaneously a supporter of women’s rights to choose what they want to wear, and a muslim who thinks that the hijab is a beautiful expression of a muslim woman’s desire to please her Creator through modest dress. Those aren’t exclusive categories, I would like to emphasize.

    But these ads are ridiculous, facile and dumb. How is a woman like a chair, or whatever? Skills with graphical editing programs don’t disguise an ignorant message – but then Fox should have already shown us that.

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  • Maria P.

    Argh! Cyber Group for Promoting Chastity and the Veil was going to be my new band name! Scoundrels.

    But why is the Venus sign upside down? And why is there a little men’s room-type tag on the feminist stiletto?

    Here’s a new one for the equality campaign: A man without appropriately roomy trousers is like a chair w– Aw, nevermind.

  • http://burdenedmary.blogspot.com Khadeja

    I especially like the poster which is of a guy walking by a poster.

    This is ridiculous, but expensive, which makes it all the more disturbing.

  • http://burdenedmary.blogspot.com Khadeja

    I am especially intrigued by the poster of…a guy walking by a poster.


  • http://www.stop-stoning.org Rochelle

    There’s one that says “Beautiful hijab: my right, my choice, my life.”

    Except when you choose not to wear it, or wear it differently, in which case you have no choice.

    Makes me so angry I want to puke.

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  • Person

    @ Maria P. :lol

    Also, shouldn’t we be concerned about the person sawing a hole in the floor? I mean…they have a saw. Is it like one of those fall away traps? Is there a symbol for man (unless it means something else in context) because the shoes are like a lure for men who if they try to grab them will fall through? Are thay not aware that feminists only wear brown Doc Martins and Burkenstocks?

    Also, I’m not sure if it is a “lost in translation” thing, but it makes it seem that they are telling men that ignoring women will get them to observe hijab. Which implies that women dress for men and that if men ignor them they’ll feel no need to “vamp it up” and will adhere to that particular definition of modesty, but if men were inattentive of women, wouldn’t the way women dressed be inconsequential by that “logic”?

    And once again I am left wondering how women, who are so in need of guidance and are the less logical of the sexes, are capable of carrying the burden of everyone’s actions and upholding social morality.

    Also, the guy in that poster should check the looseness of his pants given the purpose of the campaign….just saying.

  • ayeshter

    I’m cofused by the inverted venus sign to. Maybe it just caries with it the assumption that “good” Muslim women are by definition anti feminist and by not making a public statement of this by whearing hijab, she’s doing herself a diservice…?

    That or it’s just a really, really bad poster.

    If these people are so consered about Muslim women, why don’t they put the money spent on these silly posters to a worthwile cause…flood in Pakistan anyone….??

  • Kel


    I have a related question (I hope). I grew up as a conservative Christian, where a woman wasn’t a woman unless she wore the appropriate attire: no makeup, no jewelry, don’t cut your hair, no pants, long-sleeved shirts, no open-toed shoes. I moved away from that because I rejected the idea that I was less chaste because I decided to wear a certain item of clothing. When I go home sometimes, people tut-tut me and tell me that I am on the way to hell because God doesn’t want women to do certain things and I am certainly going against His will. It’s made it very hard for me to go to church (any church, or mosque, or synagogue) because there are elements in the Bible (and Torah and Quran) that men use to subjugate women even outside their dress code. So here is my question: How do people separate the two? For example, I’ve had a priest tell me that women must cover up and not draw attention to themselves because it distracts men and makes them more likely to sin, using references from the Bible. Another example: In the Bible, a woman is told to cover her head out of respect to God, because God made man before her. How do you cover in respect to God, when it means accepting a system that tells you that you as a woman are less than?

    I hope this question is not offensive, it’s just that I am honestly beginning to have negative thoughts when I see a covered woman, because I don’t understand and the reasons I’ve been given are offensive and make me want to stay away from religion period.

  • http://arablit.wordpress.com M. Lynx Qualey

    Ditto on Maria’s comment: What’s with the men’s-room tag on the shoe?

    I’ve got it! A man wearing tight pants is like a chair without a bicycle.

  • farwin

    It’s disgusting to find a woman’s faith being zeroed down to what she is/is not wearing. When will these guys realize that there’s a lot more to one’s deen than the hijab?

  • Sara

    @Person: Nope, nothing lost in translation here, you’ve got it right about the “inattention” thing. I also thought it was so much of an argument for NOT wearing hijab.

  • http://ajnabieh.dreamwidth.org Emily

    Can I point something out? There are a lot of three-legged chairs, actually. They’re quite pretty looking, in many cases. Functional. Nice to sit on.

    I should probably stop while I’m ahead, here.

  • http://www.truthmuslim.blogspot.com Truth Muslimah

    I agree that many times, a Muslim woman’s faith is reduced to the object of hijab. It’s important to remember that there are several dimensions and criteria to being good Muslims in general.

    However, I expected the end of this article to re-assure the correct vision of modesty in Islam, in that it’s an obligation merely because of it’s benefit to Muslim women as well as men, of course.

    I found that this article somewhat ridiculed the concept of hijab and modesty, and advocated for a Westernized interpretation of what females ought to be.

    Islam is 100% compatible with the 21st century, but the core concept of this article refutes this fact.

    There are several policies in Iran that fail on logic and human rights. I think it would have been more accurate to start the topic of this article from that perspective.

    • Fatemeh

      @ Truth Muslimah: Our objective is to critique media images concerning Muslim women, not to reassure people’s faith.

  • Manal

    As a hijab-wearer, I’m so offended by this campaign. If I visit Iran, I’ll make sure to take off my hijab or wear it incorrectly just piss off their sexist, chauvinst police (they won’t have women on the force, right? Kinda hard to run in the mandatory chador). Sadly, this is just most masjid politics written down where if you aren’t wearing a full on jilbab for taraweeh, then there is something wrong with you.

    With Iran in the throes of the 6th century with a photo-shopped twist, I fear for the state of Islam in the future.

    @Kel — I never thought I was covering up for men. Honestly, the reason why I wore the hijab had more to do with me suddenly taking an interest in God and trying to see how to get closer to Him by any means possible. It wasn’t because I was created as inferior to man (don’t know what the conservative scholars say but this is thew way I was raised), it’s because I placed a level of…respect on myself — actually, the verse in the Quran that most people use to justify hijab says something along the lines of “Draw your cloth over your bosom so that you won’t be bothered when outside.” so it’s more for the women rather then the men, or at least it’s supposed to be.

    I think that parents of boys have a responsibility to raise their boys up with principles that don’t send them into uncontrolled spasms of lust at the site of a…red stiletto or something.

    I’ve also thought about whether the hijab makes an unequal playing ground but honestly, I can’t see it. There’s kind of a freedom because I automatically get the respect from most guys that they would give a nun. That’s basically what I thought that it was to be as per goes for sending a message like, “Don’t flirt with me.” and that’s all I wanted because I don’t really do that. It doesn’t change my personality or my activities any. However with the abaya (the black cloak-thing) and the veil, I kind of feel like it’s a form of subjugation because you can’t move and do anything while wearing that. However, others may beg to differ and I’ll accept that.

    Hope that was a different perspective :) Or were you talking about the full covering?

  • http://www.stop-stoning.org Rochelle


    I don’t recommend you take off your hijab when/if you go Iran as you will be reprimanded.I almost got arrest in Iran for sitting in the back seat of a car in between two boys (my cousins.)

    I think this campaign demonstrates what I’ve been trying to articulate for a long time: that compulsory hijab IS a big deal in Iran. I think a lot of us get so fed up with the obsession over hijab in the west that we assume that Iranian women don’t care about it or it’s not as big of a deal on the ground in Iran as in western perceptions of Iran. But to that argument I respond by saying this: if the hijab isn’t a ‘big deal’, then why does the Iranian government spend a ridiculous amount of of money, energy, and human resources on enforcing mandatory hijab? Clearly there is something big at stake here.

    I would also like to point out that this campaign demonstrates that the West does not have a monopoly on its obsession with hijab. One has to wonder whether the Western media’s focus on hijab is in fact reflective of the severity of the issue in non-Western – e.g. Iran – contexts.

    Of course its difficult to parse out the direction of its correlation: does Iran’s obsession with hijab come before or after the Western obsession with hijab?

  • Melinda

    Great post!

    And @ Emily, your comment made me lol.

    As for the men’s bathroom-like sign on the red (and plastic?) stiletto, it could be a weird combination of the messages feminism = wearing “scandalous” clothes (i.e., red stilettos) and feminism = being a MAN. It would be, however, a bit of a strange sell for a conservative, literally gender-policing organization to tell women they will be manly if they wear red stilettos. Another possibility is that they’re warning women that if they wear red stilettos (perhaps with a chador, or maybe with other red, plastic clothes — it’s not clear), men will attach themselves to their feet. And then both of them will fall through the hole the saw-wielding murderer is cutting. Do you want men to die?? Don’t wear red stilettos unless you do!!

    The equation on the chair poster is also odd. It’s not a very good graphical representation of the message “women – chador = three-legged chair,” if that’s what it’s meant to be. Instead, it shows the upside Venus symbol, a minus sign, a woman (not just her chador: you can see her face and feet and, from what I can tell, a bit of her hand), an equals sign, and the same broken, upside-down Venus symbol-labeled chair. Clearly, you must simply remove chador-clad women from the class of upside-down women, and you’ll have their broken chairs left. Er… what?

    The man in the last poster appears to be looking at the sign he’s walking past. He’s obviously not doing a very job of ignoring the hijab, since he’s turning back to read a poster labeled with huge letters “HIJAB,” even though he’s already walked past it. Now where’s HIS saw to hellfire? By the way, what’s the current position of the modesty police on men in short sleeves? Wasn’t that also banned at some point, rather than displayed in the chastity department’s ad campaign (without a chastisement)?

  • Sara

    “(they won’t have women on the force, right? Kinda hard to run in the mandatory chador).”

    Sure they do:

  • Sara

    I very much agree with you about hijab in Iran. It’s one of the government’s most important facets for exercising social pressure and power. They become more or less strict depending on the political climate, for example less strict right before the elections and then they go crazy a bit afterwards. It’s very crucial for them.

    Also, I think the Muslim world just as responsible for the obsession with hijab (maybe it was before the West’s obsession even), Iran and it’s policies about hijab after the revolution being one of the origins.

    @Melinda: and in general about the upside down Venus symbol and men’s room sign:
    I think it’s pretty clear that the people who designed these posters were very confused about the message they want to convey. I also think that they had no idea that the symbol has a right side, they just put some arbitrary rotation of it in the poster. Funny that there was so much wrong with these posters that I didn’t even notice it’s upside down until you guys brought it up.
    Also, I think that they may have even not noticed that that is a men’s room sign and just put a red sign there, thinking it’s a symbol for women or something. This is much closer to how these people work I think.

  • Antonia

    The red stiletto with the man on the price tag confused me, but I think it might be a nod to conservative arguments that western women under the guise of feminism have been commodified and objectified for men’s pleasure. The symbols here, as in the three-legged chair one, are a little off, but that’s the best I could come up with…

  • http://blog.hichamaged.net/ Hicham Maged

    Nothing new under the sun of how societies percive Muslim women in the 21st century but I am confused by the meaning behind 2nd poster. What does it mean to place a label on the shoes like that? Does it refer that feminism cause women to have a ‘price’ for example?
    - weird

  • Maria P.

    Because, goodness knows, women never had a price before feminism!

    I’m going to the big shopping mall across the border in Malaysia this weekend. It’s in the super-conservative state of Kelantan where posters like these would be well received. I will be sorely tempted to harass the loitering youths and tell them that as boys without a kain samping (short sarong worn over trousers) they’re a bunch of three-legged chairs. This will either start an awesome trend or get me thrown out of the mall. Wish me luck.

  • mariam

    It is so sad that woman right activists , portray all Iranian women, poor, oppressed and prisoners of Iranian goverment.when your audiences, read this post and see posters ,say , oh , in what a misery Iranian women live!!!.I should say, yes headscarf is mandatory but Iranian women are clever enough to escape this law.and sure they escape.and again Iranian women are clever enough to dont waste their time visiting that dumb site and its dumber posters.honestly I didnot know this site exicted at all, Iranian goverment should thank you for advertising his website.

  • Neaera

    But… but a chair with 3 legs is a stool! A stool is just as stable as a chair!

    I have no idea what these people were thinking of when making the posters…

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