On my right, Saba has her eyes focused on her phone as she walks down the street. Wearing a loose cotton overcoat, it reaches to just above her knee. In tan pants, a dainty headscarf adorned with flowers, and open-toed sandals, my cousin could easily be transported to a street in LA. Somewhat of a “hipster,” Saba spends her time editing photos in Adobe Photoshop and studying to become an architect. Dressed quite modernly, as Saba struts through the Tehran Bazaar, she bows to no one.
To my left, Fatima is talking to me about her aspirations for medical school. Competition to enter medical school in Iran is high (especially for women), but Fatima plans to defeat the system, one way or the other. Dressed from head to toe in black, even though my cousin is completely covered by her chador (a long black cloak that covers the body from head to toe, leaving only the face exposed) it does not cloak her personality, her strong will, her determination. Fatima bows to no one.
In the middle, as an Iranian-American, I stand slightly awkwardly. I am vacationing in the lives of everyday Iranian women who live in a country that is falling behind the curve of women’s rights every day. Through an amalgam of an east meets west lens, I hold a different view about the fashion forward women on Iran’s streets. Growing up in the United States, I have the privilege of living in a country that actively acknowledges the rights of women, and works to improve them. I stand as a middle voice, and even as I adjust my hijab at the glance of a policeman, I bow to no one.
"Before Rouhani and the regime are inclined to take action on behalf of women’s rights, the women of Iran must find a way to see each other in a different light."
My Iranian family descends from my late grandfather, who raised his daughters (my aunts) in a strict Muslim household. Yet, these four sisters, raised by the same Muslim values, yielded very different individuals. Although Saba and Fatima are both my first cousins, their idea of femininity and their appearance represent the polarity of the Islamic Regime.
Women of all types identify themselves as Muslim in Iran. However, only a few follow the exact dress code laws set by the regime. Islamic law restricts women to the wearing of a hijab around “non-mahram” men (adult males that are not brothers or husbands), and condones the use of perfume, makeup, or extravagance that can attract men. On the streets of Iran, many women, like Fatima, do follow these laws to the point, as it often coincides with their own religious views. However, many others, like Saba, are already rejecting the regime through their appearance.
You will rarely see two girls like Saba and Fatima talk to each other on the street. A certain cultural stigma has become indicative of Iran’s “fashion forward women,” portraying them as unintelligent and shaming them for how they choose to dress. Yielding western and secular influences many women like Saba denounce the regime by representing exactly what Islamic law prohibits.
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Yet, strict Muslims that obey Islamic Law, those like Fatima, also feel vindicated and suppressed by the regime’s treatment of women. By enforcing conservatism, the regime implicitly proves that they are unable to enforce Islamic law effectively, undermining their own power and the voice of women. This paradox of conformity on the streets of Iran represents the weakening of the regime, and its possible extermination.
So how can the female youth of Iran actively use their disapproval of the regime to create a more accepting culture and bolster the expression of femininity? Many Iranian women grow up with a sense of femininity rooted in cultural values and familial role models. However, as the 21st century becomes reality, a lot of them still feel they lack a common consensus on who they are as females, which hamper the development of women’s rights in Iran.
With the introduction of Rouhani to the presidency in June 2013, the women of Iran have a unique chance to redefine how they view each other within the confines of Islamic law. Although western influences have “infiltrated” Iran, Iranian values still retain strength, transcending time after time, and preceding the takeover of the Islamic regime in 1979.
Saba and Fatima represent a large population of women that have the same mentality towards the Regime, but are disjointed due to how they choose to express themselves. Without the unity of women, the paradox that the Islamic regime creates will go untested. By breeding acceptance and unity through rejection of the regime and it’s suppression of women’s rights, women like Saba and Fatima can find a way to talk to each other and build a consensus on who they are as the female youth of Iran.
Before Rouhani and the regime are inclined to take action on behalf of women’s rights, the women of Iran must find a way to see each other in a different light.
The views expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily correspond to those of Your Middle East.