You have to be a woman
to know how this whole hejab mess
August 23, 2004
As I reviewed a photo essay in the Iranian [Maylee
nah Melli], it
turned into a flash-back. These were indeed visions of my last
Iran. I was also taken back in time to decades ago when I lived
there. I remembered how it used to be, both good and bad and realized
that my 'bad' wasn't so bad after all.
Looking at the beautiful photpgraphs of young women who have
to break the law in order to display a small portion of their beauty,
I realized how effortlessly beautiful they are. A good example
is a shot of two girls with the background of a shop (Photocopy
Rangi). These girls are wearing the absolute Islamic outfit of
plain black robes and traditional scarves, with the exception of
a little hair that has escaped the veil. Their hair is dark and
their expressions natural and yet, they have the prettiest faces
in the entire collection. It made me smile to see that even the
veil can not rob the real pretty ones of their natural beauty!
It is so easy to observe from outside and judge these young women
and call it "Maylee, not Melli!" You have to be a woman
to know how "Not maylee" this whole mess is. You have
to wear layers of dark clothes in the summer heat of Tehran, in
taxis without an air conditionner, to know how it feels. You have
to arrive the house and untangle sweaty mounds of hair to know
how much you hate it. And, above all, you have to have tasted freedom
to feel the depth of pain when it is taken away.
I've heard the visitors who come back telling tales of how women
show their bleached hair and long toe nails. People seem to not
notice how the rest of their body is still covered against their
will. How soon we forget. How quick we are in our judgement. We
choose to see what we want while overlooking the more important
issues. " I saw with my own eyes how boys and girls hold hands
in public!" I heard a woman report. This is from someone who
has lived in the western world most of her life. I wonder how those
others judge these girls. "Tsk tsk! You don't say!
How dare they?!" But in fact we all knowI how they dare.
When you have been pushed to the limit, you tend to take chances.
A scream is not always in a voice. The Iranian woman's actions,
public demonstrations, poems, paintings and the look in their eyes
is just as loud and clear. The beautiful eyes of these women speak
volumes. Some appear quite unaware of our Mr. Schahram's camera,
but then again, in a society where men have all the power, and
where a woman's consent means nothing, a man may assume the right
to take pictures without their permission. As for women, they don't
care. They have seen far worse!
I look at these photographs and
the writer in me wants to know what goes on in their heads.
Why are their eyes so sad? Of all the collection, only two smile.
What kind of a life would make these women so angry at such a
age? When they take a chance to show a lock of hair, wear colorful
uniforms, or paint their nails, what level of frustration prompts
them to take such a dangerous step? They all know that at any
moment, a low-life man/woman can stop them on their tracks,
arrest them, and make sure they receive their unfair punishment.
that these days it doesn't happen as frequently as before isn't
an indication of a newfound freedom. It is merely a strategy
to let them vent a little so there will be less protests.
What a sad day it must have been for Mr. Schahram! He would have
loved to see more, he would have been there with his camera to
expose any one of these innocent girls in the forbidden act of
shedding their scarves, or better yet, removing their uniforms.
He would have been there to document a gentle kiss between those
who held hands. Oh what fame it would have brought him if only
he could publish such a photpgraph.
Alas! All he found was a man
stealing a look at some innocent woman who had just bought bread
and the closest he got to a scandal was when a pretty girl adjusted
her hejab. Oh, he did follow her, but nothing more happened.
Our little poparazzi wasted too many films only to document that
the Iranian woman, despite the unfair new laws, life goes on.
These women are so suppressed that they now consider showing a
hair as their freedom. Freedom, indeed.
I wonder if we will ever begin to understand the depth of the
Iranian woman's pain. While men enjoy their legal prostitutes with
a temorary marriage, sneak drinks at home, beat their wives --
not to mention bigamy -- women resemble the beautiful butterflies
doomed to suffocate in their cocoon.
During my last visit to Iran, I tried to figure out what the
word 'hope' meant to a young girl who lived in such a society.
I spoke to a few and realized most did not bother to think about
it. Like birds in a cage, most young women no longer dream of a
flight, they are simply content to know that, with proper behavior,
they may have a chance to keep their wings. Some of the best career
women, scientists, artists with unbelievable talents live day-by-day
without much of a dream, without using their wings or their voices.
They all know there is a life out there, but they have given up
the hope of ever being a part of it.
As someone who is lucky enough to live outside that vicious circle,
I feel for every one of these women. A certain level of vanity
is a natural part of a woman. I feel for the beautiful ones who
cannot show their God given gift and for the homely ones who are
not allowed to camouflage their plainness with ornamental accessories.
I feel for the elderly who suffer the heat while wrapped in layers
of cloth. I feel for all those who have a voice but the world will
never hear them sing and those who have a dream but have lost all
As it happens throughout history, when it comes to crimes
within a nation, the world is once again looking the other way.
Outsiders fail to grasp the magnitude of what is happenning to
our women, while insiders make light of the situation. But, the
Iranian woman holds the strong character of Shirin in her blood.
A quarter of a century of oppression has neither taken her beauty
away nor her strength. Dress codes come and dress codes go, but
in the end, as Forough Farrokhzad said, "Only the voice remains."
Zohreh Khazai Ghahremani is a freelance
poet and artist. She lives in San Diego, California.