The girls and women of Iran are just bitchin’ brave, flipping the bird at its Supreme Leader in a challenge to one of the most significant revolutions in modern history. Day after dangerous day, on open streets and in gated schools, in a flood of tweets and brazen videos, they have ridiculed a theocracy that deems itself the government of God. The average age of the protesters who have been arrested is just fifteen, the Revolutionary Guard’s deputy commander claimed last week. In the process, they have captured the world’s imagination; sympathy rallies have been held from London to Los Angeles, Sydney to Seoul, and Tokyo to Tunis.
Iran’s protests may well be the first time in history that women have been both the spark and engine for an attempted counter-revolution. “The role played by Iranian women right now seems very unprecedented,” Daniel Edelstein, a political scientist at Stanford and an expert on revolutions, told me. One of the few possible parallels was the role of Parisian female poissonières, or market workers, who stormed Versailles to prevent the king from turning against the National Assembly and crushing the nascent French Revolution, he said. In that case, however, “the women were seeking to prevent counter-revolution, not contributing to it.” During the Russian Revolution, bread riots led by women in Petrograd played a pivotal role in the tsarist empire’s collapse, Anne O’Donnell, a Russia historian at New York University, told me. But Iran’s protests have been unique because, she said, “this is not just an upheaval involving women, it is an upheaval about women and women’s freedom, and that makes it very special.”
Despite the dangers of arrest and death, Iranian women of disparate ethnicities have united in imaginative ways. The spark was the abrupt death of Mahsa Amini, a twenty-two-year-old Kurd, after she was sent to a reëducation center for “inappropriate attire”—too much hair protruding from a head scarf—in Tehran. She ended up in a coma on a ventilator and died three days later, on September 16th. Protest chants about her death quickly evolved into calls to oust the regime: “Death to the Dictator,” and “Our disgrace is our incompetent leader,” and “We don’t want the Islamic Republic.” The slogan—and hashtag—of the protests became #WomanLifeFreedom. [Continue reading…]
At the heart of the protests is the Islamic head covering, or hijab, which has been mandatory for Iranian women since 1983, four years after the Islamic Revolution that brought the Islamic clerics to power.
“This moment is significant because it has unleashed the potential for longer-lasting civil disobedience,” said Narges Bajoghli, a Johns Hopkins University anthropologist who studies Iran. “Given that half the population must veil, this issue cuts across class, ethnicity and social position.”
Mass protests in the streets of big cities—dispersed by the authorities with force—have given way to sporadic but frequent and widespread demonstrations involving women removing their headscarves. It is a type of everyday resistance that is difficult for authorities to stop.
The spontaneous, unpredictable nature of the movement creates a form of whack-a-mole for security forces who are already stretched thin in Tehran and beyond, while images of pro-government toughs using force against unveiled schoolgirls is amplifying public anger. [Continue reading…]