Soapboxes and Stealth on Revolution Street

Revisiting the Question of ‘Freedom’ in Iran’s Hijab Protests

  • A. Marie Ranjbar Department of Geography, University of Colorado Boulder
Keywords: Iran, Hijab, women’s rights, freedom, social justice movements, online activism

Abstract

In this article, I examine how the concept of ‘freedom’ is articulated and deployed in narratives of anti-compulsory hijab protests in Iran. I posit that women’s rights movements in Iran become legible and, thereby, visible to US audiences when they conform to narrow frames of feminist activism and orientalist tropes. I begin this paper by analyzing the relationship between the “Girls of Revolution Street” (GRS) protests in Iran and the US-based “My Stealthy Freedom” (MSF) online movement to elucidate a politics of recognition that I argue reinforces orientalist representations of women’s rights in Iran. Through its circulation of GRS protest footage to its one million plus followers, MSF increased the visibility of resistance to mandatory hijab in Iran. Yet, through MSF’s selection of which GRS protests to publicize and commentary on why this movement is important, other critical aspects of the GRS protests were rendered invisible. I posit that the strategic framing of women’s rights through campaigns like MSF does more to attract international support than address the multi-faceted nature of gender injustice in Iran and, paradoxically, rests on Iranian women reproducing themselves as the vulnerable ‘unfree’ other.

References

Abu Lughod, Lila. 2015. Do Muslim Women Need Saving? Boston: Harvard University Press.

Ahmed, Leila. 1992. Women and Gender in Islam: Historical Roots of a Modern Debate. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Ahmed, Leila. 2011. A Quiet Revolution: The Veil's Resurgence, From the Middle East to America. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Alinejad, Masih. 2018. The Wind in My Hair: My Fight for Freedom in Modern Iran.  New York: Little, Brown and Company.

Bagheri, Nazgol. 2014. “What QGIS Tell and Don’t Tell: Insights from Mapping Women in Tehran’s Public Spaces.” Journal of Cultural Geography 31, no. 2: 166-178.

Bagheri, Nazgol. 2019. “Tehran’s Subway: Gender, Mobility, and the Adaption of the ‘Proper’ Muslim Woman.” Social & Cultural Geography 20, no. 3: 304-322.

Bashi, Golbarg. 2011. Feminist waves in the Iranian green tsunami? In The People Reloaded: The Green Movement and the Struggle for Iran’s Future, edited by Nader Hashemi and Danny Postel, 37-40. Brooklyn: Melville House.

BBC. 2014. “#BBCtrending: The women in Iran taking off the hijab.” https://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-27373368 (accessed November 10, 2019).

Center for Human Rights in Iran. 2019. “Arrests, Prison Sentences Fail to Stem Growing Public Opposition to Iran’s Mandatory Hijab Law.” https://www.iranhumanrights.org/2019/08/arrests-prison-sentences-fail-to-stem-growing-public-opposition-to-irans-mandatory-hijab-law/ (accessed October 15, 2019).

Center for Strategic Studies. 2014. “Strategic Summit Report - Hijab: The Pathology of Past Policies, Looking to the Future.” http://www.css.ir/Media/PDF/1396/11/14/636532375414083535.pdf (accessed April 30, 2019). 

Dabashi, Hamid. 2008. Iran: A People Interrupted. New York: The New Press.

Dabashi, Hamid. 2011. The Green Movement in Iran. Piscataway: Transaction Publishers.

Dehghan, Saeed Kamali. 2014. “Iranian Women Post Pictures of Themselves without Hijabs on Facebook.” The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/may/12/iran-women-hijab-facebook-pictures-alinejad (accessed on December 15, 2019).

Dehghan, Saeed Kamali. 2018. “Tehran Hijab Protest: Iranian Police Arrest 29 Women.” The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/feb/02/tehran-hijab-protest-iranian-police-arrest-29-women (accessed on December 15, 2019).

Esfandiari, Golnaz. 2018. “Uncovered ‘Girl from Revolution Street’ Picks up Steam in Iran.” Radio Free Europe.https://www.rferl.org/a/iran-hijab-islamic-dress-women-protests-girl-from-enghelab-street/29007848.html (accessed on December 11, 2019).

Fernandes, Leela. 2013. Transnational Feminism in the United States: Knowledge, Ethics, Power. New York: New York University Press.

Fluri, Jennifer. 2011. “Bodies, Bombs, and Barricades: Gendered Geographies of (In)Security.” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 36, no. 3: 280-296.

Fluri, Jennifer and Rachel Lehr. 2017 The Carpetbaggers of Kabul and Other American-Afghan Entanglements: Intimate Development, Geopolitics and the Currency of Gender and Grief. Athens: University of Georgia Press.

Gökarıksel, Banu. 2009. “Beyond the Officially Sacred: Religion, Secularism, and the Body in the Production of Subjectivity.” Social and Cultural Geography 10, no. 6: 657-674.

Gökarıksel, Banu. 2012. “The Intimate Politics of Secularism and the Headscarf: The Mall, the Neighborhood, and the Public Square in Istanbul.” Gender, Place, and Culture 19, no. 1: 1-20.

Gökarıksel, Banu. 2020. Reflection: City Space/Body Space: Veiling as an Embodied Spatial Practice. In In Space: A History, edited by Andrew Janiak, 52-62. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Gökarıksel, Banu and Anna Secor. 2009. “New Transnational Geographies of Islamism, Capitalism and Subjectivity: The Veiling‐fashion Industry in Turkey”. Area 41, no. 1: 6-18.

Gökarıksel, Banu and Anna Secor. 2014. “The Veil, Desire, and the Gaze: Turning the Inside Out.” Signs 40, no. 1: 177-200.

The Heritage Foundation. 2018. “After the Deal: A New Iran Strategy.” https://www.heritage.org/defense/event/after-the-deal-new-iran-strategy (accessed on July 3, 2020).

Jangravi, Azam. Twitter post, October 29, 2018, 7:40 am, https://twitter.com/azijangravi/status/1056903664252739586.

Javadi Yeganeh, Mohammad Reza. 2015. “Values and Attitudes of Iranians.” Research Institute of Culture, Arts and Communications: Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. https://www.ricac.ac.ir/plan/20/%D8%A7%D8%B1%D8%B2%D8%B4%E2%80%8C%D9%87%D8%A7-%D9%88-%D9%86%DA%AF%D8%B1%D8%B4%C2%AC%D9%87%D8%A7%DB%8C-%D8%A7%DB%8C%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%86%DB%8C%D8%A7%D9%86-%28%D9%85%D9%88%D8%AC-%D8%B3%D9%88%D9%85%29 (accessed July 3, 2020).

Kandiyoti, Deniz. 1991. Introduction. In Women, Islam, and the State, edited by Deniz Kandiyoti, 1-21. London: Macmillan,.

Khoja-Moolji, Shenila. 2015. “Becoming an ‘Intimate Publics’: Exploring the Affective Intensities of Hashtag Feminist.”Feminist Media Studies 15, no. 2: 347-350.

Mahmood, Saba. 2005.  Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 

Mahmood, Saba. 2008. Feminism, Democracy and Empire: Islam and the War on Terror. In Women’s Studies on the Edge, edited by Joan Scott, 81–114. Durham: Duke University Press.

Malm, Sara. 2018. “Iranian Women in Chador Supports Anti-hijab Protests. Daily Mail.” https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5334343/Iranian-women-chador-supports-anti-hijab-protests.html (accessed on December 15, 2019).

Mernissi, Fatima. 1987. Beyond the Veil: Male-Female Dynamics in Modern Muslim Society. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Moallem, Minoo. 2005. Between Warrior Brother and Veiled Sister: Islamic Fundamentalism and the Politics of Patriarchy in Iran. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Moallem, Minoo. 2009. “The Revolution Will Not Be Fabricated.” Radical History Review 105, 123-131.

Moallem, Minoo. 2015. “The Unintended Consequences of Equality within Difference.” The Brown Journal of World Affairs 22, no. 1: 335-349.

Moaveni, Azadeh. 2018. “How the Trump Administration is Exploiting Iran’s Burgeoning Feminist Movement.” The New Yorker. https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/how-the-trump-administration-is-exploiting-irans-burgeoning-feminist-movement (accessed May 5, 2019).

Moghadam, Valentine. 1994. Gender and National Identity: Women and Politics in Muslim Societies. London: Zed Books.

Moghadam, Valentine. 2002. “Islamic Feminism and Its Discontents: Toward a Resolution of the Debate.” Signs 27, no. 4: 1135-1171.

Mohanty, Chandra. 1988. Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses. Feminist Review 30, no. 1: 61-88.

Moorhead, Joanna. 2018. “The wind in my hair: one Iranian women’s courageous struggle against being forced to wear the hijab.” The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/global/2018/jun/03/the-wind-in-my-hair-one-womans-struggle-against-being-forced-to-wear-hijab (accessed November 10, 2019).

My Stealthy Freedom. 2014. Facebook, July 14, 2014, https://www.facebook.com/StealthyFreedom/photos/a.859102224103873/919585988055496/?type=3

My Stealthy Freedom. 2015. Facebook, January 7, 2015, https://www.facebook.com/StealthyFreedom/photos/please-see-the-english-translation-below%D8%AE%DB%8C%D9%84%DB%8C-%D8%AD%D8%B3-%D8%AE%D9%88%D8%A8%DB%8C%D9%87-%DA%A9-%D8%B2%DB%8C%D8%B1-%D8%A7%DB%8C%D9%86-%D8%A2%D8%B3%D9%85%D9%88%D9%86-%D8%A2%D8%A8%DB%8C-%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%AF-%D8%A8%D9%BE/1047724138575013/

My Stealthy Freedom. 2020. Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/StealthyFreedom/.

My Stealthy Freedom. 2020. “Mission.” My Stealthy Freedom. https://www.mystealthyfreedom.org/our-story/ (accessed on August 11, 2019).

My Stealthy Freedom. 2020. “The Photograph that Launched a Movement.” My Stealthy Freedom. https://www.mystealthyfreedom.org/our-story/ (accessed on August 11, 2019).

Naghibi, Nima. 1999. “Bad Feminist or Bad-Hejabi?” Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies 1, no. 4: 555-571.

Naghibi, Nima. 2007. Rethinking Global Sisterhood: Western Feminism and Iran. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Najmabadi, Afsaneh. 2005. Women with Mustaches and Men without Beards: Gender and Sexual Anxieties of Iranian Modernity. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Najmabadi, Afsaneh. 2008. Teaching and Research in Unavailable Intersections. In Women’s Studies on the Edge, edited by Joan Scott, 69–80. Durham: Duke University Press.

Radio Zamaneh. 2018. “Ali Motahari: There is No Obligation for Women to Wear Hijab.” Radio Zamaneh. https://www.radiozamaneh.com/379438 (accessed on December 11, 2019).

Ranjbar, A. Marie. 2017. “Silence, Silencing, and (In)Visibility: The Geopolitics of Tehran’s Silent Protests.” Hypatia 32, no. 2: 609-626.

Scott, Joan. 2010. The Politics of the Veil. Princeton University Press.

Secor, Anna. 2002. “The Veil and Urban Space in Istanbul: Women’s Dress, Mobility and Islamic Knowledge.” Gender, Place and Culture 9, no. 1: 5-22.

Spivak, Gayatri. 1988. Can the Subaltern Speak? In Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, edited by Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg, 271-313. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Steafel, Eleanor. 2018. “How Iran’s Brave Women are Fighting for the Right to Ditch their Hijabs.” The Telegraph. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/politics/irans-brave-women-fighting-right-ditch-hijabs/ (accessed on December 15, 2019).

Tahmasebi-Birgani, Victoria. 2010. “Green women of Iran: The role of the women's movement during and after Iran's presidential election of 2009.” Constellations 17, no. 1: 78-86.

Tahmasebi-Birgani, Victoria. 2017. Social Media as a Site of Transformative Politics: Iranian Women's Online Contestations. In Iran’s Struggles for Social Justice: Economics, Agency, Justice, Activism, edited by Peyman Vahabzadeh, 181-198. Palgrave Macmillan.

U.S. Virtual Embassy in Iran. 2019. “Secretary Pompeo’s Meeting with Iranian Women’s Rights Activist Masih Alinejad.” https://ir.usembassy.gov/secretary-pompeos-meeting-with-iranian-womens-rights-activist-masih-alinejad/ (accessed February 12, 2019).

Zahedi, Ashraf. 2007. “Contested Meaning of the Veil and Political Ideologies of Iranian Regimes.” Journal of Middle East Women's Studies 3, no. 3: 75-98.
Published
2021-08-10
How to Cite
Ranjbar, A. (2021). Soapboxes and Stealth on Revolution Street. ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies, 20(4), 346-365. Retrieved from https://www.acme-journal.org/index.php/acme/article/view/1903
Section
Themed Section - From the Margins Within (Guest Ed. Aparna Parikh)