In my hometown, wearing the wrong dress can kill you

In Iran, wearing the wrong clothes can kill youCourtesy of Behnaz Sarafpour

On September 16, Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman, died after being detained by the so-called Iranian morality police. Her death ignited long-boiling anger in the Iranian people and sparked a revolution, largely led by young women, calling for an end to the Islamic regime. For the past six weeks they have faced brutal government repression, but remain undeterred, adopting the Kurdish battle cry: “Woman. Life. Freedom”.

Harper’s BAZAAR asked renowned Iranian writers, artists, journalists and more to help make sense of this moment when there is so much at stake. Their stories are collected here, with more to come.

I was born in Iran before the Islamic revolution and in 1977 I started first grade in an American Iranian private school. I vividly remember one day after my family and I had just returned from vacation in Europe and the US when I was so excited to show off my new New York City flared denim dress to school. Although the school had a mandatory uniform (a dark blue sweater worn over a blue and white checkered shirt), I managed to get my mother to let me wear my fashionable dress. Of course, this led to me being escorted to the principal’s office as soon as I set foot in the schoolyard.

But those were the easy days.

By the time I reached the third grade, the secular monarchy of Iran was out and the new Islamic Republic run by the all-male clergy had taken over. I was told I had to move to a girls-only school and start wearing the hijab. No more bell-bottom suits, no more short sweaters with knee socks, no more freedom. The new uniform was shabby, but the most surprising thing was that in the playground there was only a sea of ​​dark figures, like a flock of black crows. Even my fashionable aunt, who until then would be going to work in Diane von Furstenberg’s wrap dresses, had to start dressing like a black crow. Any display of individuality was now out of the question and the act of dressing became not only political but dangerous.

When my parents moved us to the United States in the early 1980s, I first enrolled in a public school and took great pleasure in the fact that once again I had the freedom to wear whatever I wanted. I have since grown up here as an American woman, designer and New Yorker. I see my ability to dress how I want and design what I want as an extension of my constitutional right to free speech – it’s such a fundamental freedom here that it’s hard to explain what it feels like to be forced to live without it.

Today, women around Iran burn their hijabs and cut their hair in protest against the country’s oppressive government, partly in response to the death of Mahsa Amini (a 22-year-old who died three days after being arrested). by the Iranian Morality Police for not following the strict dress code), and partly because it has been a long time.

These brave women haven’t started a revolution just because they don’t like wearing the veil. The hijab is the clearest symbol of the extreme gender inequality that women suffer under the Islamic Republic.

Under the law, women who appear in public without a proper hijab can be jailed for 10 days to two months or pay a fine of 50,000 to 500,000 ryals. But in recent years, the country’s moral police have taken the responsibility of punishing women for breaking the rules. And during the recent protests, police reportedly killed a number of women in an attempt to silence the movement.

The hijab is also part of a long list of Islamic laws applied over the past 43 years designed to take away a woman’s individuality, voice and role in society. Today, women are unable to participate in competitive sports on the world stage or in many performing arts, such as singing and dancing. They cannot join the army (before the revolution, Persian women fought alongside men) and female judges cannot preside over the high court and in cases of divorce, child custody and inheritance laws. The law constantly favors men and women don’t even have a say in their own reproductive rights.

It is also important to note that Iran is and has long been home to a population that is not only Muslim, but also Christian, Jewish, Zoroastrian (the original religion of the Iranian people), Buddhist, agnostic and composed of a variety of different ethnic groups; but under the current government, everyone must adhere to Islamic law, even if its mandates are not in line with their individual beliefs. This has pushed millions of people, forced to pursue their individual freedoms elsewhere, outside their homeland, causing a huge Iranian diaspora.

Due to these restrictions, the context behind the fashion in Iran is complicated. For us Westerners, the act of dressing is often a fun and creative way of expressing ourselves; Even if clothing doesn’t matter to you, choosing what to wear in the morning is rarely a life-or-death decision. We talk about opposing patriarchy, but when patriarchy is also a theocracy that won’t hesitate to use military force to impose its values ​​on you, you realize that expressing your opinion could very well kill you.

I have never worked in Iran; I can’t imagine living with that level of oppression on a daily basis. But my culture inspires everything I do. It’s ironic, really, that a country that doesn’t allow me to dress myself is the backbone of my first women’s fashion brand, but before the revolution, art had always been an integral part of Persian culture. Many things that we consider classic in fashion today were invented by the Persians: the paisley pattern, the seersucker fabric and the pajamas, just to name a few.

Seeing what happened to my hometown has changed the way I see my profession and my femininity in so many ways. Fashion is more than just clothes. It is a visual language; tell the world where you come from and what your interests and values ​​are. You use it to show people you meet who you are and who you want to be and how you want them to view you. In the West, I know that fashion can often be seen as superficial, but for Iranian women it has the potential to be a step towards gender equality and a path to freedom.

You may also like

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *