In Iran, "Pretty" Is Sometimes The Protest

The various images coming out of Iran this past week (and appearing on this website) have elicited interesting responses...many focusing on how the women featured are both young and attractive. Perhaps some don't realize that's part of the point?

For one thing — as I wrote last week — women were expected to play a major role in this election, potentially deciding the candidate. And like many reform movements throughout the world, candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi's supporters including strong representation among university students, of which sixty percent are women. As with another, long-ago mass protest in Tiananmen Square, those students have poured out of the universities en masse to protest for the democracy they thought they had. In the case of Iran, they were likely driven by mass arrests on campuses throughout the country.

So, suffice it to say that many of the protesters are young. Women — especially young women — are participating in large numbers because the Ahmadenijad regime has been particularly hard on them. Since he took office, the Iranian government has been cracking down on women's rights and — in particular — women's dress. According to Der Spiegel:

When Ahmadinejad was elected president four years ago, the controls by the moral police got noticeably tighter. Vibrantly colored fingernails, French manicures, false acrylic nails — there was a catalogue of fines for the various looks. "

So, when you see this woman with red fingernails, she's not just risking arrest for holding that sign, she's risking it for the shade of her nail polish.

Women have been routinely imprisoned for violations of Iran's strict dress code, which includes a head scarf and can be randomly interpreted to mean that their hair has to be fully covered.

Women have to watch carefully what they wear: a headdscarf and loose-fitting garments that reach at least half-way down their upper thighs are mandatory. Farzan, who specializes in oriental depilation with hot wax, has been arrested twice: the long coat over her trousers was too tight.

"Spending two nights in a hall with 50 or 60 girls, that's enough," she says and presents her new coat which reaches well below her knees. "I had to sign twice that I will dress decently in future. If they catch me again I'll have to pay a $200 fine. After that I may even be whipped, I don't want to risk that." It's possible to buy oneself out of physical punishment, but it's difficult, says Farzan

Women whose veils are deemed insufficiently modest or tunics deemed insufficiently long can be jailed, fined and beaten for daring to defy the dress code.

During the election, the hijab requirement was a political issue — while Moussavi didn't, apparently, advocate lifting the ban, his wife, Zahra Rahnavard told reporters:

The Koran rules that women and men should cover themselves, she replied. "However, one does not have to impose the headscarf rule as brutally as now," she added.

The bloggers at threadbared note that requirement to remain uncovered spurred women (like Rahnavard, who was part of the Revolution) to cover themselves up in protest; either way, the requirement that women conform their dress to the whims of the state is an imposition on the free will of women.

In addition to imposing sartorial requirements and cracking down on university students, Ahmadenijad's regime attempted to pass a series of laws that would have made it easier for men to become polygamists and taxed womens' dowries, angering many. He proposed a new form of marriage called "semi-independent marriage" that would have sanctioned sexual relations between married couples but allowed them to each live with their parents, as a way to get around current standards that require married couples to live together in their own place — a proposition Ahmadenijad's failed economic plans have made more difficult. Women were horrified at the thought that they might be pressed to accept a form of marriage that offered them even less legal protections and could leave them shamed in a divorce.

As you peruse the images coming out of Iran from all over, remember this: when you see a woman with a tunic above her knees, red fingernails, an extremely loose headscarf and a protest sign, try to look beyond the "pretty". Those things are also a symbol of what an Ahmadenijad regime would deny (and, in some cases, has denied) her the right to be.

Iranian Presidential Contenders Court Women Voters [Wall Street Journal]
Iran's president hails new era of hope despite beatings and arrests [The Guardian]
The Woman Ahmadinejad Should Fear [Der Spiegel]
You Say You Want A Revolution (In a Loose Headscarf) [threadbared]
Will Iran's 'Marriage Crisis' Bring Down Ahmadinejad? [Time]

Earlier: 10 Reasons Why You Should Be Following The Iranian Elections
V Is For Vote
Her Finger Does The Talking
A Face In The Crowd