The self-immolation of the “Blue Girl” in the wake of her learning of the possibility of having to endure a six-month prison sentence following her arrest for attempting to make her way into Tehran’s Azadi Stadium disguised as a man, has made headlines around the world as calls for ending the so-called “gender apartheid” grow more vociferous. While there have been attempts from within to lay the emphasis on the mental state of Sahar Khodayari (known as the “blue girl” in view of her support for the Esteghlal team associated with the colour blue), it is hard to deny that a concatenation of events (and not a single event) that followed in the wake of her arrest in March set the ball of self-annihilation into motion.
Within a totally different context, George Orwell has highlighted how an effect can further intensify the impacts of the root cause of a particular problem:
But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks.
That Sahar was suffering from a mental illness is not so much, perhaps, or not the only cause of her suicide as is her initial detention and the confiscation of her cell phone followed by the possibility of a six-month incarceration, all of which, exacerbated her already fragile mental state. Although Sahar’s mental state has had a role in her suicide, it should not be regarded as the sole cause as the effects that ensued from that cause, within a stifling atmosphere, turned into causes in their own right. Upon googling the case of Sahar’s self-immolation I became interested as to how her story had become aligned with that of Homa Darabi, a US-educated physician who set herself on fire in the middle the bustling Tajrish Square of Tehran allegedly (and not assuredly) in protest to the lack of freedom in 1994 as well as to a number to an international helpline aimed at suicide prevention. Such associations are somewhat problematic as they lay the emphasis squarely on the Blue Girl’s mental state more so in vacuo than view her narrative within a wider context that takes note of the social ills that are plaguing the territory at large.
In Emile Durkheim’s analysis of suicide, a broad social context is taken into account that goes beyond the psychological state of the individual in mind. Going through the tetrad that emerges out of Durkheim’s thorough study of this phenomenon—to which, it is important to note, no society is immune, what strikes me as being the closest to the dynamics that constitute Sahar’s suicide is, what he has termed as “fatalistic suicide,” which occurs “when a person is excessively regulated, when their futures are pitilessly blocked and passions violently choked by oppressive discipline.” What Durkheim stipulates is contiguous with a Foucauldian notion of corporal punishment, which, ultimately, comes to transcend the confines of the body to permeate the “intimate airways of the mind,” a space, where one seeks refuge from the outside world to experience a more exciting version of one’s self. One could say that although there are traces of “anomie” in this case, in that it manifests a lack of social standards and regulations which are at the heart of this phenomenon, which etymologically is defined as “lawlessness”, her case is more in line with a “fatalistic suicide,” given that Durkheim tends to place instances of suicide that take place as a result of sudden twists of Fortune (e.g. bankruptcy, or even, paradoxically, winning the lottery) under the category of “anomic suicides” which does not apply to this case.
Although Sahar’s mental state has had a role in her suicide, it should not be regarded as the sole cause…
Whatever the underlying causes (which, are multi-faceted) to the loss of an innocent life at its prime, it is essential that measures be taken to avoid any future instigation of untimely acts of self-annihilation. It is not expected that the case of the Blue Girl will lead to a revolution akin to that which ensued following the fruit vendor, Mohammad Bouazizi’s self-immolation in Tunisia. However, it is hoped that people and institutions around the world adopt concrete measures to push for the removal of the so-called “gender apartheid’ as far as attending major soccer matches is concerned. Notwithstanding the divide that exists within the ranks of those in power as to whether women’s attendance of such events runs counter to religious tenets or not, preventing women from going to football stadiums appears to be more detrimental to the social well-being of the community at large than not. Overall, women are much less visual (i.e. voyeuristic) and their primary, if not, one and only, incentive within such contexts is simply to watch a game and support their team than anything else.
Relatively recently, the US President highlighted the issue of mental illness over that of the possession of guns. The problem is that most of us earthlings are suffering from mental issues one way or another in different shadings and degrees and the only way towards the remedy of certain issues appears to be a change in the social atmosphere we live in rather than dealing with each and every person on an individual basis, which is arduous, if not, an impossible task. As noted by Durkheim, social matters can go a long way in determining the route we take, to the point of driving us to the brink of deadly despair or to the jouissance that permeates the very heart of communal conviviality.
The story of the Blue Girl is bound up with a call for gender equality in terms of athletic spectatorship. However, let us hope that the campaign for such gender equality will go beyond the colour coding that swept across Sudan in June and Iran in 2009 and that it will bring about fundamental social changes that will preempt any such recurrences.