Even before Neda Soltan was gunned down and became the face of the Iranian protests, you had to have noticed the women taking part in the demonstrations. They were there in their headscarves and burkas, their exquisite faces showing in defiance of the religious police (just as Middle Eastern men have cornered the market on physical beauty, so have the women). An NPR reporter said that they were in many cases braver than the men. Young and old, from the country and the cities, they came to protest the stolen election.
Women often don’t appear in coverage of Middle East events. Men demonstrate, men fight, men posture, men protest. Men drive, men go to markets, men have jobs. Women have been erased from public life and discourse. Except for Iran. There they are, so beautiful and brave and smart and so effing pissed off that their votes were stolen. I am in awe of these women, because they are mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore, despite the huge danger and despite the fact that the protesters are going it alone. (By the way, Obama’s position is way the hell better than when George Bush the First encouraged the Kurds in Iraq to rise up in 1990 and then ran off like a coward when it wasn’t politically expedient to back them.) Anyway, this is Iran’s fight and Iran’s moment of truth.
In Iran, you can tell that many of these women, if given the chance, would take off the damn headscarf and go free. And yet, in other countries, women wear the headscarf to show their solidarity with their Muslim faith. Faith is a powerful thing, but women have a tendency to support their oppressors as a sort of perverse statement (I throw up my hands in disgust sometimes, at the way we can be our own worst enemies), and choosing the headscarf is that kind of support. How can Muslim women make that choice when their fellow female Muslims in so many oppressive regimes want to get out from under the suffocating chador or burka?
You know, women aren’t equal in the US or most of the Western world. We don’t make the same money as men, our contributions are devalued, and we are bombarded with messages that our only worth is our faces and bodies, and woe betide anyone who doesn’t measure up. But the difference is, we take part in public life and when the news comes on, there we are. We are visible. We still have a long way to go, but at least the way is clear.
I can tell you I wouldn’t have half the courage being shown by the women of Iran. But I recognize bravery when I see it, even when it’s under wraps. I hope the women of Iran continue to show their faces. We could all use a lesson, and maybe they will convince some of their scarved sisters to do the same.