Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Flow it, show it: paired posts on hair in Iran

I grew up in the 1960s, and though I didn't wear my hair very long, I took the contempt and coercion laid on those who did very seriously indeed.

The battleground of hair is now in Iran. one of the warriors in that battle is human rights activist Fariba Davoodi Mohajer. Here's the beginning of her story as told in Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty:

On a cold winter day, Iranian women's rights activist and journalist Fariba Davoodi Mohajer made an about-face: Having worn the hijab for 25 years, she decided to cast her head scarf into the sea.

That was in 2006. But she still remembers every detail of that day in Ireland: how she walked along the seaport in Dublin for several hours pondering the act; how she watched as her head scarf was pulled away by the waves.

Above all, she remembers how for the first time she felt the wind blowing in her hair, a feeling she had long dreamed about.

"For a moment, I felt that there was no greater pleasure in the world than the feeling of the wind in my hair," Davoodi Mohajer says.

The article goes on to give the background to her decision:

Davoodi Mohajer grew up in a liberal family, but says she decided to wear the hijab at the time of Iran's 1979 revolution because she believed it would make her a better person and Iranian society a better place.

"I thought due to the propaganda then, and also books I used to read, that my hijab gives immunity to the society," Davoodi Mohajer says. "They kept saying men shouldn't become aroused, men shouldn't sin, and I thought preventing that [from happening] was my responsibility."

Creeping Questions

Several years later Davoodi Mohajer, who had chosen to wear the strictest form of the hijab, the head-to-toe chador, began questioning it and other Islamic laws in which she had once firmly believed.

She says her studies and her human rights activities had a key role in her reassessment of reasons for wearing the hijab in the first place.

Davoodi Mohajer says she started asking herself whether the hijab was really giving her "immunity" as claimed by Iranian leaders -- whether it elevated women's status. And, if so, then why didn't women have the same rights as men in the Islamic republic? "Why do women not enjoy equal rights with men when it comes to divorce, inheritance, and other issues?" she says she kept asking herself.

She started writing about women's rights issues and human-rights abuses in reformist publications and giving speeches at universities and other places.

Her activities and her support for dissident Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri led in 2001 to her arrest, beatings, and 40 days' imprisonment at a security prison controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

There, she says, she realized that even the chador she'd been wearing throughout her adult life provided her no immunity.

"When I used to be a 'chadori' and religious, I was arrested and jailed in a men's prison," Davoodi Mohajer says. "They wouldn't let me shower without the door of the bathroom open. The guard would say, 'You can't close the door, I won't look.' I was being interrogated by a man for long hours."

It made her question the motives of those who advocated such strict dress for women.

"I realized then that the hijab doesn't mean anything to them either," Davoodi Mohajer says. "For those who say hijab must be respected, they don't respect you if you wear the hijab but don't share their political ideas."
At the moment, the Iranian government is also going after men with "inappropriate hairstyles." Also from RFE/RL:

Yes, coming to an Iranian barber shop near you… Ali Abedi, the secretary of the Hijab and Chastity conference held in Tehran, has said that the country's newly approved men’s hairstyles are to be named after Iranian cities and provinces.

“For example one hairstyle can be named, 'the Shiraz hairstyle,'” Abedi was quoted as saying by Iranian news websites. Apparently, naming the hairstyles will make it easier for customers to tell the barber which state-sanctioned haircut they want.

Iran’s Culture Ministry recently unveiled a number of approved hairstyles that are considered Islamic. Iranian officials have said that the move is aimed at fighting the spread of unconventional hairstyles and promoting Islamic and Iranian culture.

Women are next. The head of the conference, Zhale Khodayar, said that the Culture Ministry is also going to print pictures of approved hairstyles for women in a magazine.

But are they likely to catch on? A hairdresser in Tehran, Saeed Vedayi, is quoted by the “Jam-e Jam” website as saying that the new cuts won't be popular among Iranian youth "unless their taste changes.” As Vedayi reminded us, in recent years young people were more interested in getting “Western haircuts” with names such as “Typhus,” “Metal,” “Pineapple," and “Electric Shock."

(Although, confusingly, another barber, Moloud Emami, said that the approved haircuts are similar to those that are already popular among young people.)

We'll see. RFE/RL spoke to a 14-year-old boy in Tehran who confirmed what we might suspect: that he doesn’t think any of his friends would want a hairstyle that's named “Shiraz." ”It doesn’t sound cool and why would they want a haircut that's approved by the government," he said.

What does it say that so many of these battles are fought by teens?

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous4:05 pm

    A cynical answer to that last question might be that the average teen has had little enough contact with the state, compared to long-term tax-payers and voters and so forth who have participated in it and have something invested in that participation, that they haven't yet internalised the state as an invulnerable monolith. But I may be projecting my own political disaffection here.