Fault-Lines and Hem-Lines

Recently, an Iranian cleric, Kazem Sedighi, stated that it is women’s immodest clothing which leads to promiscuity and is responsible for earthquakes and other natural disasters. The news quickly spread around the world and once again the Islamic Republic of Iran became the butt of many jokes. Sedighi, by no means a seismologist, was taken to task and his assertion put to the test by a Purdue State university student who created an event on Facebook called Boobquake. Jennifer McCreight wanted to test Sedighi’s theory and so asked women to bare as much of their cleavage as possible on April 26th, 2010, in order to see if volcanic eruptions and tsunami’s would ensue as a result of the women’s immodest dress.

A week after the call to action of Boobquake came the creation of another event, which billed itself as Brainquake. The project of two Iranian women, Negar Mottahedeh and Golbarg Bashi, who claimed that, “Everyday women and young girls are forced to show off cleavage and more in order simply to be heard, to be seen, or to advance professionally.” And so, Brainquake was formed for women to post what they are most proud of, including their CV’s and personal accomplishments, on-line as a rebuttal to Boobquake’s supposed further objectification of women. Although their intentions may have been to advertise that women are more than their boobs, Brainquake’s platform and written mandate speaks to something else; something that continues to create divisions and impede the global women’s movement.

Unlike Boobquake, which rightly raised awareness and exposed the absurdities of the ideological underpinnings of the Islamic Republic in Iran, and which was steeped in satire, Brainquake did not come about as an organic call to action against the comments of Mr. Sedighi, it was formed as a response to Boobquake, nothing more and nothing less. In fact, their statement of intent makes an unnecessary and illogical comparison between the words of Mr. Sedighi and the words of evangelical preacher and 700 Club leader, Pat Robertson. It reads:

“When Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi made his stupid comment that immodestly dressed women cause earthquakes, he of course joined fellow fundamentalist religious preachers such as Pat Robertson who have made similar claims about marginalized groups, women, the poor, third world nations, etc being responsible for natural disasters.”

What point could Brainquake have had in making such a comparison? Was it the old – “Hey we might have our moronic clerics but you have your own lunatic preachers” – or is it that tired ailment that some of us Iranians are afflicted with which does not enable us to speak of our country without mentioning the proverbial United States of America in the same breath? It is a childish tit for tat, or in this case tit for Pat, which relegates the Islamic Republic to a non-state entity; an intellectually odious and dangerous position to take.

What Brainquake conveniently fails to acknowledge is that preacher Pat and the 700 Club, do not run the United States government. However, Mr. Sedighi’s comments are the hallmark of the regime in Iran, a system of governance that has mandated that all girls, both Muslim and non-Muslim alike must cover their hair and dress in a modest manner from the age of nine on! Let’s talk about that! Let’s talk about the sexualization of pre-pubescent girls! These are not social constructs in Iran, this is the law for the past thirty-one years. Women’s bodies in Iran are legally not their own: women have no freedom of mobility, nor freedom to clothe themselves as they see fit. Brainquake’s churlish comparison between a woman’s CHOICE to show her cleavage and FORCED hijab is irresponsible and a further slap in the face to all those women being subjugated under such misogynistic and patriarchal laws. It is as reprehensible a comparison as breast augmentation would be to female genital mutilation.

Ms. Bashi and Ms. Mottahedeh’s further promulgations include: “Mr. Sedighi and the Islamic Republic of Iran are afraid of women’s abilities to push for change, to thrive despite gender apartheid (Did you know that over 64% of students studying at universities in Iran are women?).” Do Mottahedeh and Bashi care to know that the same regime that they assert is afraid of their accomplishments repeats this same statistic ad nauseum to show how advanced it is! Mr.Sedighi never lamented women’s brains and academic activity as being disturbing to Iranian society. He referred to immodest clothing and promiscuous behaviour on the part of women; to our strands of hair, that for the past thirty one years has been branded as potent potential threats to its national security.

The Islamic Republic occupying Iran does not care how educated, ‘nobled’, statured, or employed, we become. In fact, the more educated and accomplished, the more they will claim it as a victory of the revolution and will proudly proclaim: Look what OUR women have achieved! It only cares that women in Iran continue to be coerced and violently punished into remaining the only signifying marker of this regime; the living, breathing, walking, billboard signs of its Islamization process. Mandatory veiling of women was the first imposition on Iranian society after the revolution and so it shall remain the last.

Boobquake was rightly making a mockery of a comment made by a moronic cleric in the Islamic Republic. Brainquake’s – HEY EVERYBODY WE HAVE BRAINS! – project is further unpalatable because of its pandering to a challenge that women should not even be engaged in; we should not have to sell ourselves and our accomplishments, we should not have to sell our boobs or our brains; if after more than a century of struggle for our inalienable rights we are still shouting these banal and insipid statements as women – perhaps it is us and our movement that needs a shaking at the core, and not mother earth. You see, I am not interested in being invited to join the Islamic Republic at its table; I want to cut its legs off.

In the title of this editorial I have used the word censorship, in reference to my comments having been barred from Brainquake’s event site. The comments that were erased were no different than the one’s outlined above. In fact, it was Ms. Bashi, who referred to me as a “brain dead lunatic who has too much time on her hands.” For some reason, the creators of Brainquake found it necessary to silence voices of critical engagement with their project. We no longer have to worry about governments censoring us, it is our peers who have, as Ms. Bashi put it – “reserved the right to do so” – a sentence the Islamic Republic has frequently uttered when being rebuked for its censoring of dissidents. Congratulations Ms. Bashi and Ms. Mottahedeh for becoming that which you claim to abhor.

Since the creators of Brainquake denied this Iranian woman the opportunity to say what she is most proud of on-line, I will tell you now:

I am most proud of growing up and living in a society that did not try and shame my body, and that did not fascistically attempt to shape my mind. I am proud that I do not need the written permission of the male guardian in my family to board a train to Montreal. I am proud of my Masters in Women and Gender studies from the University of Toronto. I am proud that I am allowed to ride my bicycle throughout this beautiful city and I am proud that the country of Canada, for the past fifteen years has recognized my inalienable right to go topless, should I so choose to do so. But what I am most proud of is my ability to distinguish between something that is chosen by me and something that is physically forced upon me.

I was just informed that the Brainquake site has now changed drastically and that no one is able to post on their wall at all and that the creators have removed their names from being the administrators of the site.

* The Star: Women strut their stuff for Boobquake
* The Atlantic Wire: ‘Boobquake’ Spurs Feminist Infighting

The writer, Samira Mohyeddin is an Iranian-Canadian feminist and activist. You can catch more of her at bnamus.blogspot.com

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