Since the country’s theocratic revolution in 1979, Iranian women have been forced to undergo massive lifestyle transformations—especially those based on how they look and what they do in public. Within the first decade after the revolution, women surely began to realize that they had no freedom of choice when it came to clothing. Whereas before the revolution, traditionally religious women wore the hijab as a testament to their personal beliefs, the shift in societal law saw that the garment became mandatory, even for girls as young as those in elementary school. This first decade saw dark clothes, mandated uniforms, and hijabs (as well as other even more complete coverings) become more and more common, and many women didn’t realize just how fast these oppressive rules were imposed upon them. While the majority of religiously-inclined Iranian women continued to voluntarily and happily wear these coverings, many women born after the revolution found that they had no desire to do so—but, instead, were being forced to.
The burqa, a garment common in other Middle Eastern countries, is not found as often in Iran as one might think. The common hijab of Iran includes a black chador, which covers a woman from head to toe, but leaves her face open. This garment is most common with older-generation Iranian women, those who are more traditional and religious, and a small portion of women who must wear it for their job. For example, women in the Iranian military are mandated to wear a chador.
Seen especially more frequently in today’s generation of Iranian women, those who do not necessarily wish to wear the hijab have become more creative in their outfitting of the head covering. They have made the hijab more comfortable and more fashionable.
Although a looser hijab that has brighter colors and shows more of a woman’s hair is becoming more popular, there are still many arrests made by “morality police,” who fine women they feel are not wearing hijabs modest enough.
During the first years of new covering laws, Iranian women began to obsess over their faces, as that was the only part of their body they could show. Nasal surgeries, namely nose jobs, became the most popular control these women had over their bodies, and they were often followed by different facial surgeries as well. Today, Iran has the highest rate of performed nose jobs in the world. Makeup is also a very popular form of personal expression for Iranian women, as it allows them (although not all women in all areas of Iran) to control and get creative with something that helps many of them to feel beautiful, and also to follow the rules at the same time.
An impressive uprising made especially powerful by Iranian women was the Green Movement of June 2009. The movement’s convictions were spread widely throughout social media, and some main stars and popular faces of the movement came to be the Iranian women resisting against their political and social oppressions.
And it’s not just the right to wear what they want that Iranian women are fighting for, either: women have began to find their voice by way of sport; parkour is just one of the many sports that women have begun participating in against their imposed limitations within their theocratic society. Many of the activities they are participating in are not legal for women to be a part of, so they have to find more creative ways to get involved. Some activities they participate in outside of sport and fashion remain underground for now, but are slowly becoming more and more public. If these women were to be caught participating in their “underground” parties or societies, they could be prosecuted; this persecution brings insight into the closed societies like Iran in which women are among the most oppressed group, but also gives a taste as to just how these women are combating and dealing with it.
Also becoming popular among Iranian women: female rappers. Iran’s first (well known) female rapper, Salome MC, says that this new movement is “a powerful scene and very popular with youth.”
After 37 years of living under Iran’s theocratic regime, women continue to be the biggest targets of oppression and hatred by their own government. Reformists continue to urge Iran’s “modest” President, Hassan Rouhani, to change the circumstances for women in Iran, but truthfully, not much has changed. Iranian women are taking the situation into their own hands, and will continue to persevere in their quest for freedom no matter what the cost may be.
Written and translated by Mansoureh Nasserchian; edited by Olivia Caparelli
Mansoureh Nasserchian is an Iranian political activist. She had her own radio show for almost five years, and has won several awards from the National Campus and Community Radio Association (NCRA) for her involvement. She is further active in various NGOs and supporting asylum seekers in Turkey and Greece. She is currently living in Canada