If there were a list of things that really help Muslim women fight for their own bodies, white European women cutting off inches of hair on the internet would be pretty far down.
Since the tragic death of Mahsa Amini in police custody last month, after she was arrested for allegedly violating Iran’s strict dress code by wearing her hijab too loosely, there has been an outburst of anger from women across Iran – as well as lent their support and solidarity by those who have money further away.
Iran has now seen weeks of protests, with women taking to the streets – flouting the strict rules of modesty prescribed by the Iranian regime and often brutally enforced by so-called morality police – fighting for the right to determine their own way of dressing . We’ve seen hijabs being set on fire, political figures being harassed and even school girls joining the protests.
Understandably, this wave of outrage is also spreading around the world, and hashtags with the name Mahsa Amini have been trending for weeks.
Some Iranian expats living abroad cut their hair in solidarity or spoke bravely about their own experiences with the vice squad. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has called on the international community and the UK government to act quickly to curb the violence and oppression Iranian women face.
These women were true allies… others not so much.
Not surprisingly, this strong surge of defiant women’s voices from Iran has attracted the attention of feminists worldwide, including some very high-profile figures.
Angelina Jolie has spoken out about her respect for women in Iran, writing to her millions of followers: “Women don’t need moral police, their minds reeducated, or their bodies controlled. They need the freedom to live and breathe without violence or threats.”
Priyanka Chopra received nearly half a million likes for an Instagram post celebrating Iranian women who are opposing patriarchy and fighting for their rights. And a slew of actresses have also joined, including France’s Marion Cotillard and Britain’s Charlotte Rampling, who are sharing videos of themselves cutting off parts of their own hair in support of Iranian women under the hashtag HairForFreedom.
But here’s the problem.
Speaking up for the undeniably vital and noble plight of Iranian women, who can have full agency over their own bodies, is a good thing. Women in a country as tightly controlled as Iran need outside pressure on the state if they have any hope of improving their living conditions.
But this outrage, this solidarity shown to Iranian women, is misguided on several levels. And that makes it incredibly problematic.
First, it’s painfully selective. Where is the burning anger of French actresses when Muslim women fight for the right to cover in their own country? Where were the French actresses defiantly flouting anti-niqab rules out of solidarity with their own country – women banned from public spaces in their religious dress? Why haven’t the likes of Priyanka Chopra spoken out about women being banned from wearing the hijab in India, or the tide of state-produced Islamophobia sweeping their own country?
The problem is that (mostly white) feminists only embrace Muslim women who fit their own narrow expectations of what a feminist should be.
The struggle to get rid of a religious garment is seen as brave, patriarchal defiant and admirable. But the struggle for modest clothing is seen as the opposite. It is seen as succumbing to misogyny by allowing ourselves to be oppressed, even though it can be an act as dangerous and brave as taking off the hijab in a country like Iran.
Second, I fear that the protests in Iran are being misunderstood (and possibly even manipulated) by white feminists who do not place them in the context of Iran’s political and social landscape.
Under strict regimes like Iran, the state uses everything in its power to control, to enforce, to restrict. Women’s bodies are cheap currency and easily manipulated by a state obsessed with absolute control. We see this around the world – take for example the erosion of women’s physical rights in the US after the fall of Roe v Wade.
So when Iranian women burn the hijab, many of them set fire to the way the state distorts religion to exercise total power over them. Crucially, this differs from the religious, spiritual notion of “Hijab,” which is a whole etiquette of modesty much more encompassing than a black piece of cloth.
Many of the women in Iran are fighting for the right to choose whether or not to have mating, which many Muslim women like me take for granted. If the law were to change today, a significant proportion of them would still wear the hijab, but it would be their own compulsion rather than the regime’s orders.
That’s different from the idea that white feminists seem to be rallying around — this image of all Muslim women around the world tearing off our hijabs in an anti-patriarchal craze and admitting that we’re oppressed by our religion all the time and that true freedom lies in mini skirts and long, flowing hair.
The hijab is used in these Iranian protests as a symbol of the iron fist of the state – a metaphor for how every tiny part of Iranian life is severely restricted and how the beautiful, just notion of hijab in Islam is distorted into an arbitrary stick, to hit individual Iranian women with it.
So by all means express your solidarity with the Iranian women.
But if your feminism is intersectional, then it should also include Muslim women fighting for the right to dress how they want to dress around the world, even in places like Europe — which aren’t the cornucopia of progressive women’s rights, eh some might believe.
The fight for cover and the fight for detection are two sides of the same coin. If you support Muslim women on only one side of this coin, then your feminism is worthless to us.
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https://metro.co.uk/2022/10/12/white-actresses-cutting-their-hair-isnt-the-solidarity-irans-women-need-17535386/ White actresses cutting their hair is not the solidarity Iranian women need