Why Iranian Men Are Taking Photos Of Themselves Wearing Hijabs

This is what being an ally is about.

When Iran elected Hassan Rouhani as president in 2013, many saw it as a sign of the changing times. At his swearing-in ceremony, Rouhani stressed the need for openness and trust with the rest of the world in a speech that made waves both inside the isolated country and outside, as Western powers concerned about Iran's nuclear capabilities looked on.   

Three years on and a historic nuclear agreement later, Iran is making tentative steps towards opening up. But the country is still largely controlled by conservative hardliners, both in politics and society.

Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Iran has imposed strict cultural rules on its people, and policing women's dressing and demeanor is a large part of it. Iranian women are required to don hijabs, a rule enforced by the state's "morality police." Punishments for women who do not cover their heads include fines and imprisonment.

Iranian women have been protesting the forced hijab in one form or another for decades. And now, Iranian men are joining them. 

Masih Alinejad, the activist behind My Stealthy Freedom, a movement that encourages women to post photos of themselves without the headscarf, recently invited Iranian men to join their protest. Alinejad asked men to post a photo of themselves wearing hijabs next to their headscarf-free spouses or female relatives under the hashtag #MenInHijab.

Compulsion is not a good feeling. I hate when they used morality police in order to force my wife to wear compulsory hijab. There are a lot of men in Iran who have respect for women's freedom of choice, so those conservatives who called men pimp just because they are not happy with our wives' "bad hijab", are not representative of Iranian men at all.

Alinejad told A Plus in an email that she was inspired by an incident involving Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif when he was in Paris. Zarif was challenged by a French female lawmaker on Iran requiring foreigners to don the headscarf, and replied that visitors had no issue with the hijab. 

Outraged, Alinejad decided to respond by photoshopping a hijab onto a photo of Zarif. "In a repressive theocracy, like Iran, you have no choice but to wear the compulsory hijab," she said. "The alternative is being beaten, losing your job and even jail time. And if women, both Iranian and non-Iranian, had a choice, they may not opt for the hijab."

She posted the photo on My Stealthy Freedom on Facebook and asked, "Would men don the compulsory hijab and take selfies of themselves and tell me how it felt?"

Alinejad added: 

I wanted the men to experience wearing compulsory hijab in the suffocating heat of Iran's summer. I wanted to poke fun at the dress codes for women but get the men to join the women to challenge these repressive laws. 
Here in Iran if you want to judge a woman, then you had better try the compulsory hijab first. For me, it was not as easy as I thought. I believe our sisters are much stronger than us when you see despite all the restrictions women dominated the entrance examinations for college attendance. Forcing women in Iran to wear hijab is an insult to men as well especially given that women are free to wear what they want to wear in many other countries.

Alinejad didn't think many men would participate, but they proved her wrong.

"The response has been amazing," she said. "In Iran's cultural wars, Iranian people crave greater social freedoms. This is our way of fighting back. And the most obvious way is to challenge the enforcement of headscarves and other coverings for women. All we — men and women — want is freedom to choose what we wear."

A German journalist who happened to have travelled around Iran wrote this in her memoirs: "In my opinion, Iranian men seem to lack a bit of zeal and fervour because they do not seem to be bothered that while they themselves can wear whatever they choose to, their female counterparts have to endure a compulsory dress code." Speaking of a man's fervour, how do you measure it? Well, in my opinion, it is measured by the degree of a man's respect for the rights of his mother, wife, and sisters so that they, too, can enjoy their freedom of choice. When each and every single one of you see my picture, instead of laughing and making fun of me, please take a moment to reflect on the following: Forcing anyone to wear any sort of clothing is an insult to [anyone's intelligence]. It is cruel, unjust, and humiliating. The best way to build a harmonious society is working together to keep our hope in the face of the worst.
When my female cousins saw that I was wearing their headscarf, they couldn't help laughing. I asked them, does it look so funny on me? I really love and respect my cousins. I think that one should not talk about freedom if she/he supports the idea of restricting other people's freedom. If only hijab were the only problem in our country, as the authorities would like us to believe. It is as if they have hypnotised our brains with a black piece of cloth and they only want us to believe that hijab is the most important issue in our country.

She also made a reference to the United States presidential election and how Americans are so close to electing its first ever female commander in chief. 

"The American people get a chance to elect a female president," she said. "How ridiculous is it that Iranian women cannot get to choose how to dress?"

When we entered this store and wanted to get our photos taken, the photographer asked us about the purpose of the photo. We responded by telling him that we wanted to take a photo to challenge Iran's compulsory veiling law. I sincerely want my wife to be able to live in an Iran where she is the one who can determine what she can wear. It is indeed extremely difficult for a woman in Iran to endure wearing these clothes in the midst of our sweltering hot summers just because we want to avoid driving the ire of the officials in the country. Those friends who agree with me, please do not hesitate to join this new campaign launched by men opposing the compulsory veil for women. Hoping for a free Iran.