The Virtual Revolution of Iranian Women

— By: Alexandra Kinias —

In defiance to the rule of the Mullahs that hijacked their liberties and rights and has been keeping them hostage for the past 35 years, women in Iran have finally been given a global platform and an opportunity to share with the world their stolen moments of freedom. Thanks to the young exiled Iranian British journalist Masih Alinejad who created ‘My Stealthy Freedom’ [1], a Facebook page that became the voice for Iranian women to share their photos without their headscarves and to reveal their true sentiments about Hijab and how it has shaped their lives.

It all started when Alinejad shared her photograph on Facebook that was taken while she was running down a London street without a headscarf, and which she accompanied with the comment, “Every time that I run in London, feeling the wind in my hair, I remember that my hair is like a hostage in the hands of the Islamic Republic government.” [2]

Masih Alinejad running down a London street without a headscarf. Photo taken from Facebook

“I was sure that most Iranian women who don’t believe in the forced hijab have enjoyed freedom in secret,” she says [3]. She asked her friends and followers if they would too like to share their experiences of stealthy freedom from their headscarves. However, she had not anticipated that this invitation to share their stolen moments of freedom would create such a global buzz. With the scores of photos she received from Iranian women who responded to her call, the page attracted the attention of the world and exposed the realities of the conditions that these women are living in. And within less than a month, her post had ignited a movement that gained enormous momentum and sparked a virtual revolution that exceeded the expectations of Alinejad herself. The page was followed by more than a quarter of a million people from every corner of the globe, and counting. They joined to support these women who are fighting a battle to achieve their basic human right and to applaud their bravery and their act of rebellion against the status-quo, and a tyrannical regime. What was even more compelling was the encouragement that these women received from Iranian men who supported them in their battle. Many of the photos were taken with or by husbands, fathers, sons and often boyfriends. Yet with their hands tied there isn’t much they can do, for they too suffer under this theocratic rule.

On her Facebook page and in various interviews, Alinejad explained that she had not created ‘My Stealthy Freedom’ with a political intent and neither is she against the veil that her mother is still wearing back home in Iran, – but [rather to support] the right of Iranian women to choose either way. “I have no intention whatsoever to encourage people to defy the forced hijab or stand up against it,” she said. “I just want to give voice to thousands and thousands of Iranian women who think they have no platform to have their say.” [4]

And as agreed by many contributors to the page, their objection is not to the veil, but to its compulsion. On the contrary, many attributed their dismay with the veil is because of their lack of choice. Had they been given the free will to choose, some women confessed that they might have considered to be veiled.

The rigid dress code imposed on the women in Iran doesn’t allow them to choose what they wear in public. And walking the streets without the proper Islamic attire that consists of a chador and a headscarf subjects them to punishments that may vary from a fine to verbal warning, and often detention that can last for few hours, after which a male relative; a brother, father or a husband has to collect them in person from the police station.

The smiles of the women enjoying their stolen moments without the headscarves and their testimonials captured the hearts of people worldwide. ‘My Stealthy Freedom’ posted photos of women of all ages standing in green fields, on snow summits, on the beach, at work, on sand dunes, in the streets, driving their cars and wherever they got a chance to steal these moments away from the eyes of the morality police. With their headscarves held up high and billowing in the wind like colorful banners, some faces were concealed with dark glasses; some women gave their backs to the lens while others gazed daringly to the camera. But none-the-less they all had their hair flaunting on their shoulders, dancing in the wind, as many wrote.

In a photo, where three generations of women from the same family smiled to the camera, the grandmother who stood next to her daughter and granddaughter wrote, “We wish that the new generation tastes this most basic freedom before their hair goes gray. Is this too much to ask?”

Three generations in one frame at a corner of the street. Photo from Facebook

The heartwarming testimonials of those joyful moments are memorable, yet it is still painful to read what it feels like for these women to be denied a simple pleasure that is taken for granted elsewhere. All they want is the right to choose what to wear. Their stories reinforce the belief that theocratic regimes are out there to steal people’s rights of choice, and happiness. It is not just a head cover, but a sign of control enforced by the government. “[The] hijab is about control,” Alinjejad says. And the “Iranian regime would never want to lose control. [5]

In one photo a woman is standing on the beach with a wide grin on her face and holding the scarf in her hands above her head. “I’ll let the wind blow away the darkness of my scarf. I’ll let the blaze of hope of individual freedom shine in my heart and keep my soul bright and vivid.”

I’ll let the wind blow away the darkness of my scarf. Photo from Facebook

In another photo where the caption shows that it was shot in 2003, a woman in dark sunglasses stood on the beach with her 6 years old next to her in her bathing suit, her head tilted and her blond curly hair falling on her shoulder. “Despite the fact that there were many police officers there and my family did not think it was a good idea to take my scarf off, I did it; because I really felt like letting my hair feel the wind a little bit. I yearned to turn into a drop of water in the sea. I hope my 6-year old daughter will never have to enjoy her freedom stealthily.”

I did it because I really felt like letting my hair feel the wind a little bit. I hope my 6-year old daughter will never have to enjoy her freedom stealthily.” Photo from Facebook

A woman giving her back to the camera and looking at extended green meadows wrote, “This is Iran. The feeling of the wind blowing through every strand of hair, is a girl’s biggest dream.”

“ The feeling of the wind blowing through every strand of hair, is a girl’s biggest dream.”

Another woman wrote, “It felt like God was caressing our hair with his own hands.”

“It felt like God was caressing our hair with his own hands.” Photo copied from facebook

Alinejad came under attack from conservatives and fundamentals in Iran who accused her of working with foreign governments to promote promiscuous behaviors. She had also been exposed to smear campaigns and would be arrested if she returned to Iran for spreading immorality, “I’m a journalist, I’m doing my job,” she said. “I’m reporting about what exists in Iran, I’m not creating anything.” [6]

In response to her Facebook page, hardcore Islamists rallied the streets of Tehran to call on the government to enforce the country’s strict Islamic dress code for women and to take actions to stop the influence of Westernization that is invading the country. “The youth should be vigilant and be aware that the same enemy that has blocked our access to nuclear science is trying to drive us towards abandoning the hijab and towards corruption,” said one young protester, adding, “It is the same enemy. I ask all my good friends to do a little bit more thinking first, and then do whatever they want.” [7]

Ironically, it was the voice of women who joined this rally that demanded the government to take actions against other women who don’t want to comply with the enforced dress code and warned that they will start another revolution if the Hijab situation does change. And while women pro-hijab are given the right to demonstrate, those who are against it are denied such right.

Even though President Rohani has taken a less strict view of the dress code, allowing looser clothing to be worn in the hot summer months, saying the emphasis should be on virtue rather than fashion [8], yet, his voice is silenced by the conservative Iran’s Revolutionary Guards who have more power than the president when it comes to enforcing the country’s Islamic laws, including the enforcement of the dress code.

In Iran, where demonstrators are crushed and opposition in hunted down, ‘My Stealthy Freedom’ gave women an opportunity to rally against their oppressor from behind their computer screens and their voices echoed worldwide. It is too early to predict how this movement will unfold or what the fate of these courageous women who stood in the front lines exposing their lives to danger would be. No one is immune from the consequences of their actions when governed by tyrannical oppressive regimes, especially the ones that are concealed under the religious cloaks. What this movement had succeeded so far to accomplish is that it has exposed the lies and the fake image that the Islamic government has been projecting to the west. The news about women’s rights in Iran has always been portrayed from one side. Thanks to the cyber age and the social media for playing a viable role in making the voices of the oppressed women heard. ‘My Stealthy Freedom’ is a drop in the ocean for these women who put their lives in the crossfire to pave the road to the future generations to be able to enjoy their freedom.

“Hoping for the day when all my nation’s women can taste freedom with their whole bodies and souls.” Photo from Facebook

“Hoping for the day when all my nation’s women can taste freedom with their whole bodies and souls,” one woman wrote.

(All pictures are copied from the Facebook page, “My Stealthy Freedom” and its creator’s Masih Alinejad’s page. The property and copyright are of their respective owners)

1- My Stealthy Freedom
2 – Iranian women defy law, shed hijabs in public for ‘Stealthy Freedoms’ campaign
3- ibid
4- ibid
5. The Facebook page where Iran’s women are unveiling on line
6- Iranian women defy law, shed hijabs in public for ‘Stealthy Freedoms’ campaign
7- Iran women’s “stealthy freedom” dress code backlash


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