This gripping historical photo caught my eye yesterday of thousands of Iranian women taking to the streets in 1979 to protest an edict from the country’s Islamic leaders legally requiring women to cover their hair and bodies in public.
The women failed. As would women in America (and men) if anything resembling a theocracy — the goal of evangelical Christians — were to take root.
The grimaces of imploring angst and anger on the Iranian women’s faces in this photo is compelling, but the protest was impotent, as today most Iranian women voluntarily comply with the edict — though often as minimally as possible — and thus cover themselves modestly when in public as religious leaders demand.
When the Iranian Revolution (a.k.a., the Islamic Revolution) steamrolled the country in 1978-79, women were not in the forefront of revolutionary ideology as radicals aimed to dethrone their American-backed monarch of Iran, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, and supplant it with an Islamic republic.
But women’s rights were still flattened in the ensuing chaos and authoritarianism.
Through the first six decades of the 20th century, Iranian women enjoyed unprecedented freedom under Pahlavi’s corrupt if modernizing policies. They enthusiastically adopted the cosmopolitan fashions of Europe and America, and enjoyed freedom of movement in their homeland.
With the revolution, that all changed in very short order. Female chastity is of paramount concern in Islamist ideology, as it is in fundamentalist Christianity, so Islamic leaders in the new Iran — to loudly broadcast their religious boni fides to other in the Islamic world — quickly implemented hijab restrictions. The term refers variously in Islam to any head, face or body covering worn by Muslim women that reflects local Islamic standards of modesty.
In Afghanistan, it is a full, dense burka garment that completely enshrouds the head and body, rendering the wearer’s identity invisible. In Saudi Arabia today, many women still fully enshroud, including their faces, in opaque, black, veiled abayas, although some reveal their faces. In Iran, heads are generally still covered and long coats replace chadors, while each year it seems women are gradually showing more and more of their hair.
Still, the governments of these Islamic states call the tune and set the parameters of fashion with their oppressive edicts.The heartening news is that women are still fighting back in various, often subtle, ways. Here’s two charming videos relative to that. One shows young Iranian woman dancing with joy and abandon in the streets of Tehran, and the other gives you a cheeky look at 100 years of Iranian women’s fashion. Enjoy.
I am showing these videos and this photograph not to just entertain or to educate people about Iranian society under religious rule but to warn of what might likewise afflict the United States should Christian zealots ever grab hold of government power.
One of the first things to go, if fundamentalists had their druthers — as in Iran — would be women’s rights to their own sexuality, bodies and personal behavior.
Trust me. I’ve seen it in the Middle East when I lived there, and we could totally see it here one day in one form or another, Constitution or no Constitution.
After all, before its Revolution Iran had a constitution, too. The radicals simply changed it — to an Islamic theocratic-republican constitution.