“We believe in hijab, but we hate compulsory hijab.”
“Iran is for all Iranians – you can’t just hide one side of Iran and show the other side of Iran, and say this is Iran. This is a lie. Iran is me and my mother. My mother wants to wear a scarf. I don’t want to wear a scarf. Iran should be for both of us.”
Masih Alinejad’s Facebook project is My Stealthy Freedom.
I used to think that the hijab is tantamount to the repression of Iranian women. When traveling to Iran and having to cover, it was suffocating for me. After asking many women there about their experiences with hijab, I received feedback from those that despised it.
One comment, however, resonated with me – a friend mentioned that she thought the hijab and Islamic covering was liberating. I couldn’t even comprehend what she was saying. My friend was not very religious either, but bought into this tradition for other – seemingly rational- reasons. In justifying it, she didn’t invoke any religious doctrine.
She said it took away distractions and permitted men to take her words seriously, instead of focusing on her curves. She told me that with a hijab, no man is sizing her up and sexualizing her; her hijab and mantu (loose clothing, often like a jacket often worn with hijab) saved her from cat calls. While my own experience demonstrated that men will cat call and follow you for almost any reason in a bazaar, her words stayed with me.
From my own experience with Iranian and Iranian-American cultures, women are often regarded as a object, something beautiful to be looked at, cherished, and protected. This is pervasive in my family, but is dichotomous with intelligence; so there is an added pressure of being both beautiful and brilliant. For a second, I thought about the words of my friend – how nice would it be to don an invisibility cloak that took away the beauty and instead focused on my brains? While that may be the case in Iran, here, the effect is virtually opposite. Wearing the traditional Islamic garments here will often bring you more attention than not.
Aside from this anecdote, Alinejad’s work compels us to think about the compulsory nature of the hijab in Iran and urges viewers to consider it should be a choice.