When the Iranian revolution happened in 1979, one of the things that changed for women was that they were forced to wear a head covering. Until then, Iran had been a progressive country, where women worked and did things alongside men. With the revolution came a strict restriction of women’s freedoms, represented clearly by the compulsory hijab.
It is easy for Westerners to dismiss the hijab as strictly an oppressive garment. I remember (many moons ago) when my Women in Religion professor in college invited a young Muslim woman who chose to cover to speak to our class. She was educated, articulate, committed to her own freedom, but she wore the hijab because to her it meant something positive about her culture and her role as a woman. She liked the modesty of it. She felt that she was taking back her attractiveness as a woman for herself, not putting herself out there for men to evaluate and objectify. For me, it was eye-opening. Whether or not to cover shouldn’t be imposed on women, but chosen by women themselves.
Which is what I love so much about the My Stealthy Freedom campaign. The trouble with head-covering in Iran is that it’s mandatory, taking the choice out of it for women. Given the choice, perhaps many women might still choose this venerated old tradition. But they don’t have a choice. The modesty police harasses them, beats them, arrests them and severely restricts their movement if they don’t meet some arbitrary measure of purity.
My Stealthy Freedom began organically, with journalist Masih Alinejad posting a pictures of herself on Facebook without her head covering, showing a gorgeous head of massive curls. This is strictly forbidden by Iranian law. Within 10 days, the page had more than 130,000 followers, with women posting pictures of themselves from all over Iran. The movement is still going strong today, with more than a million followers.
Here’s the thing: when there’s one woman who can’t do what she wants just because she’s a woman, anywhere in the world, that affects all of us. Any society that doesn’t give half its population the same rights, the same freedom from harassment, the same opportunities as the other half is operating with one hand tied behind its back. We’d like to think we’re so above it, but we still have a ways to go as well. Still, we can acknowledge that we are lucky by many counts. And then we can reach out a hand to our sisters who have it worse than we do and say, “We are with you.” And, together, we will rise.
Click here to learn more about My Stealthy Freedom.