Don’t mess with Iranian women. Iranian cleric Hojatoleslam Ali Beheshti was just doing his regular religious duties, politely telling an Iranian women to cover herself up. She brashly responded with “You should just close your eyes.” What happened next was a quick escalation. The woman began to insult the cleric, and when he told her to stop, she started threatening him. The woman soon pushed him to the ground and started kicking him while shouting insults at him. Evidently, this cleric picked the wrong ass-kicking Iranian woman to oppress.
And after all that, to add insult to injury, she still didn’t cover up!
And, I guess, to add injury to the insults… the cleric was hospitalized for three days. Golnaz Esfandiari from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty said this about the incident:
I’m not a supporter of violence, but as a woman who grew up in Iran and was harassed many times for appearing in public in a way that was deemed un-Islamic, I understand the frustration that woman in Semnan must have felt and why she lashed out at the cleric. [. . .]
For the past 30 years, Iranian women have been harassed, detained, fined, and threatened by the morality police, security forces, and zealots over their appearance. Women have fought back in different ways, including by pushing the boundaries of acceptable dress and criticizing the rules, which apply only to women.
Officially, the hijab is promoted as “protection” for women against evil in society. For many women, however, the hijab feels like a burden, an insult, a limitation of their freedom and an attempt to keep them under control.
Young girls often cite the mandatory hijab as one of the main reasons they want to leave Iran and move to another country. Women being mistreated by the police because of their hijabs have become a common scene on the streets of the Iranian capital and other cities, especially during the hot summer months when the hijab crackdown intensifies.
There have also been cases of women clashing with the morality police, including a number of cases that have been documented by citizen journalists and posted on YouTube.
I fully agree with Esfandiari. I don’t condone violence, and the woman certainly wasn’t acting in self-defense… but it’s hard not to root for women in a culture that is so out-of-their-minds sexist. This is the country in which some people believe that not observing the mandatory dress code (i.e., not wearing a hijab) actually causes earthquakes.
Sure, there are lots of religious fools who say things like that. For example, UK’s Bishop of Carlisle said that God caused floods because of pro-gay legislation in 2007. Also, Japan’s Mayor of Tokyo said the Great Eastern Japan Disaster of 2011 was God punishing people for their materialism.
But better examples of the discrimination is in education. Women are banned from joining 77 majors in post-secondary education; or as Jezebel put it, “Iranian Women Banned From 77 College Majors Because They Were Getting Too Darn Educated.” Nevermind the fact that there are actually more women at Iranian post-secondary institutions than men; this just paints a tiny part of the large picture of oppression for women in Iran today.
Though three other clerics have also reported being attacked for telling women to cover up, there are many other Iranians who have done more quiet, non-violent protests. For example, a Facebook campaign called “No to Mandatory Hijab” was set up, where Muslims send in pictures of themselves wearing whatever they want. The slogan “Unveil women’s right to unveil” flows across the top of the page, preceding thousands of photos of regular men and women who want the freedom to wear the clothes they like.
It’s refreshing to see women stand up for their rights, and I’m hoping these actions cause what I’m sure will one day, at some point, end the gender equality that has existed in that culture since its beginning. Iran was ranked the 11th-lowest (#125) on the 2011 Global Gender Gap Index, which just goes to show how badly Iran needs to see such resistance (minus the violence).
Only after enough protests – and revolutions, probably – will things be able to change for good. However, considering how long gender inequality has been a part of the culture of Arab nations, I can’t make any real prediction of when these changes (which I expect are inevitable) will take place. Yet I remain hopeful that our Iranian friends (i.e., not just women) will soon get rights they have never been afforded before, because at no point in history has the Arab world had such a powerful weapon to fight against its oppressive regimes: the Internet.
Regardless, Iranian men for now continue to discriminate against women – from what women put on their heads to what they learn in school. It just makes you wonder: Just what are Iranian men scared of?
Maybe that their women will learn to push back.