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Iranian Men Wear the Hijab in Protest

December 29, 2009

Hey, remember that whole Iranian revolution thing? U.S media had a field day with it for awhile over the summer but just because they stopped covering it doesn’t mean it’s not still going on.

Unfortunately, most of the news hasn’t been good. For one, the tombstone of Neda, the symbol of the revolution, was destroyed by supporters of the regime in November. Arrests of protesters have been intensifying. And while the protests during the elections were fighting for more democracy, the country continues to turn more and more into a military state with Ahmadinejad consolidating his power and going to violent extremes to suppress the opposition.

Yet watching the protesters still provides a glimmer of hope. As with the beginning, these protesters are inspiring, especially when viewing this through Western feminist eyes. Even though it has failed thus far in creating any legal equality between the sexes (the state TV recently announced that any female broadcasters wearing makeup on air would be fired), the protests can be viewed in a positive light for the state of women in Iran. They have often been reported as being a women’s movement, and the fact that women are protesting as equals to men (including being just as violent as men) is a twisted step forward in and of itself.

The latest bit of news I’ve read that gives me even the slightest optimism is that there is a new wave of protests where men are starting to wear the hijab to demonstrate their frustration with the poor reception of the revolution that has so far been represented as a women’s movement. The idea originated through support of a student protester, Majid Tavakoli, who was arrested after giving a speech opposing the regime during an antigovernment protest. Pictures leaked of Tavakoli disguising himself as a woman in order to try and escape. Since then, a trend of male protesters posting pictures of themselves wearing hijabs has risen, mostly through social networking sites like Facebook.

Now, in an ideal situation, I would like to see any of these protesters speaking out about the lack of equality between the sexes as another reason for wearing the hijab, but it is still a pretty incredible site to see. The hijab is a symbol of what the opposition considers to be the oppression of Iran and, as always, to take a symbol of  subjugation and turn it on its head to make it your own is a powerful demonstration of resistance. While it may not be direct, in a way these men are voicing their understanding of the oppression women face. It’s nice to see. Think about it, in the Great Equal West would you ever expect to see a comparable demonstration where men would dare take on a symbol of womanhood? Seeing men at a protest for women’s rights is rare and the few who do participate tend to be emasculated in the public eye. And yet in one of the most unequal societies men are sympathizing with women in such a brave and shocking way. The political climate in Iran just continues to fascinate.

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