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Iranian women cut their hair in a heartbreakingly moving protest of the death of Mahsa Amini

This dangerous act of defiance is gaining momentum and could help make an impact.

Screenshots from @sepdani TikTok

Iranian women cut their hair in protest.

Sometimes a movement brings you to tears; tears that are mixed with pride, solidarity and sorrow, and that's exactly what this movement is doing across social media. A 22-year-old Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, was arrested recently by the morality police in Iran for not fully covering her hair with her hijab. While in police custody, where she was supposed to be reprimanded and educated about the proper way to wear a hijab, Amini was severely beaten before falling into a coma and passing away. The untimely death of Amini ignited a movement that is taking over Iran.


After the 22-year-old's funeral, protests broke out in the streets where women pulled off their hijabs and burned them. Since the news of her death spread, Iranian women have been removing their hijabs and cutting their hair in a moving display of protest and solidarity. Many of the women who have uploaded videos of themselves cutting off their hair to TikTok have been in tears. Women revealing their hair in public and online is extremely risky. In 1983, the religious revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini began enforcing a modesty law that required women to cover their hair or face 74 lashes.

Since 1995, women caught without their hair covered in public can also face up to 60 days in jail as well as fines. Seeing women in Iran defiantly cut, burn or rip their hijab in public is truly awe-inspiring because the risks are so great. But the women are not alone in their fight to abolish the morality police and hold them accountable for the death of Amini. Men in Iran are not only showing solidarity by shaving their heads, they're showing up in the streets, seemingly acting as protectors and accomplices.

@sepdani So heartbreaking 💔 #mahsaamini #mahsaamini🖤😔 #justiceformahsa #humanrights #iraniantiktok #iraniangirl #farsitiktok #نه_به_حجاب_اجباري #مهسا_امینی ♬ Ali Zandevakili - ﮼نالی

In one video, a girl with beautiful long dark hair sections her hair off before taking small scissors and cutting it close to her scalp. She begins to break down with the first cut, but she finishes before crying into her hands. Music plays in the background and words are displayed over the video explaining why the unknown woman is cutting her hair.

This isn't the first time Iranian's have protested the hijab. When the idea of a national modesty dress code was introduced in 1979, people protested, which temporarily caused the country's leader to walk back on publicly pushing it before it became law a few years later. According to U.S. News, there has been a steady push back against the hijab rule since 2014 after the creation of an online campaign called My Stealthy Freedom. The campaign collected pictures of Iranian women without their hair covered.

@mhd__ahmadi

They Killed her,But Mashsa Amini is alive in our mind🖤 #mahsaamini #viral #protest #hijab #freedom #مهسا_امینی #گشت_ارشاد #مهساامینی #ایران @selenagomez @taylorswift @dailymail @amandacerny @samsmith @brodywellmaker

The protests going on today are large in number and happening despite the country shutting down internet and social media channels in an effort to control the narrative and reduce coverage of the protests. But videos continue to pop up online showing things burning and people filling the streets chanting. One video that has more than 900,000 views and more than 200,000 likes shows a crowd gathered while women burn their hijabs.

Videos are appearing on TikTok claiming to show the continued unrest in the streets. The hashtag #MahsaAmini on TikTok is filled with videos of people cutting their hair, crowds gathered in the streets and stories of the 22-year-old whose death may have spurred a revolution.

Events are still unfolding in Iran and with internet access being cut, the information about continued protests may become more difficult to come by. But the videos that are making their way to social media are as inspiring as they are heartbreaking. Hopefully protests on this scale will bring about real change for the women in Iran.

Back in 1979, all women in Iran were required by law to cover their hair, arms, and legs in public.

The Ayatollah Khomeini had just assumed power as the Supreme Leader of the newly formed Islamic Republic — and more than 100,000 women, along with their male allies, weren’t happy about the new rule. They took to the streets of Tehran to protest the compulsory decree.

Now, nearly 40 years later, their fight continues.


On Dec. 27, a video of an Iranian woman protesting the mandatory dress code went viral. Dubbed “the girl of Enghelab street,” stood on top of a pillar box in Tehran’s busiest street, took off her white headscarf, tied it to a stick, and waved it back and forth as cars passed by.

Original illustration by Ashely Lukashevsky.

The woman’s protest became a part of the “White Wednesday” initiative.  

The campaign, launched last summer by Iranian activist Masih Alinejad, challenges Iran's rule by asking women to publicly wave white headscarves, the color of the campaign, while bare-headed.

According to Iranian social media accounts, six women have taken part so far. Two protesters were arrested for participating, including the woman in the Dec. 27 viral video, who was later released from custody.

This online campaign has also generated a lot of media attention. This might be because typical protests against compulsory hijab over the last decade were often confined to social media.‌

This time, the protests are taking place in the "real world" — with real-world consequences and messy debates.

To some, these are brave acts of resistance because women in Iran can face hefty fines or imprisonment for failure to comply with its mandatory dress code. To others, it’s a lot more complicated.

I talked to nine Iranian women — some still in Iran — about their thoughts on the White Wednesday campaign and compulsory hijab to get their unfiltered thoughts about how they’re being portrayed in media.

1. Masih Alinejad, 41, founder of #WhiteWednesdays and #MyStealthyFreedom

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زن که باشی کم کم یاد می گیری هر طور که باشی و بپوشی جمعی فقط تو را با نگاه جنسی تحقیر می کنند. دو راه را بیشتر نداری، زا...

Posted by Masih Alinejad on Saturday, June 24, 2017

"Iranian culture isn’t as simple [or] black and white as Westerners see. It’s a mixed culture of many minorities, religious and [irreligious] people. Hijab is not our so-called ‘culture.’ It’s a part of a culture that also dances and doesn’t practice any religion [...] 40 years ago, Muslims, Christians, Zoroastrians, Bahai and Jewish believers, and men and women co-existed and had respect for people’s individuals choices in life."

"We are not fighting against a piece of cloth. We are fighting for our dignity."

"[White Wednesday] is peaceful civil disobedience and thanks to to social media, Iranian women now have a hub to find each other to organize and give support. What Iranian women are doing now is no different than what the women’s suffrage movement was in any other country in the world."

2. Misha Zand, 38, consultant and freelance writer

Image by Misha Zand

"I have difficulties assessing the scope of [these] veiled protests. At this point, it seems to be a bigger issue in the foreign media and social media than in Tehran’s streets. For instance, Radio Free Europe actually wrote: 'At least three more women ditched their head scarves again on January 30' and called the piece 'Uncovered "Girl From Enghelab Street" Picks Up Steam In Iran,' which to me is problematic. Three women is not a 'protest picking up steam.' And, I am not sure what these types of reporting are good for."

"Earlier today, I tried to read all the posts attached to the Persian hashtag and most of them were in English. Few of them were in Persian. We need more facts to conclude that this campaign is picking up in Iran."

3. Zahra Kiani, 33, lives in Esfahan

‌Image by Zahra Kiani‌

"Women's rights are an issue everywhere in the world and in Iran to a larger extent and certainly all social movements need to incorporate women’s rights in them. But my sense is that this kind of protest against mandatory [hijab] at this stage is somewhat misguided."

"I think restrictions on [hijab] is something that is going to be laxed in the next couple of years because of the high social and international pressures, just like it has gradually been laxed over the last 30 years. Even Saudi Arabia has now removed some of the obvious restrictions on women’s activities that have been in international spotlight, such as driving and going to stadiums, but do women really have better rights in Saudi Arabia now? I don’t think so."

4. Atoosa Moinzadeh, 24, journalist

🎶everyday I'm with my 🌱team🌱🎶

A post shared by Atoosa Moinzadeh (@atoosamoinzadeh) on

"It should be noted that these these women are truly putting their bodies on the line. These women are fighting for their autonomy and that shouldn't be diminished at all. However, the media needs to make sure to contextualize this against the broader history of women's issues in Iran, and sadly, that has not been the case historically with western protest coverage. If history has shown us, miniskirts and mod haircuts don’t symbolize freedom, if you look back to the way that people in rural areas were suffering under the Shah and the human rights abuses he committed under his authoritarian regime. This narrative evokes a type of whitewashing of the women's movement in Iran. It’s also important to note that the mandatory hijab is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what women and other marginalized identities are fighting for there."

5. Khadija*, 26, playwright and activist

*This source requested anonymity and is not pictured.

"It is against Islam to force women to wear the hijab because women should wear it for the sake of Allah and not for the sake of the police. A woman’s intention is not there if she is forced to wear it. It goes against Prophet Muhammad’s Hadith. Also, the Iranian government is not merciful, so is it even Islamic? After all, God is the 'Most Merciful' and 'Most Compassionate.'"

6. Sara S.G., 30, graduate student

‌Image via Sara S.G.‌

"The issue of women's rights like everywhere else is first and foremost cultural — and secondly legal. In Iran, the legal obstacles are larger than many other places, but they are not the entire story. On the cultural front, there has been a lot of improvements in the past 40 years. Since the [1979 Islamic] revolution, the overall culture has definitely improved."

"This change needs to be recognized. In western media, Iran is often portrayed as a static society and Iranian state as an absolute dictatorship, which then justifies the narrative that women need the West to liberate them from 'the evil mullahs.'"

"It's what we heard so much about Afghanistan, but what did the U.S. bring to Afghan women other than a never-ending war? This narrative undermines the agency of Iranian women and Iranian people generally."

7. Soraya Sebghati, 23, musician

‌Image via Soraya Sebghati‌

"I think for Iranian women, the White Wednesday movement is a really positive thing. Covering ones' hairline and body and (not) wearing makeup should be a choice for people to have; it shouldn't be forced on an entire country. It absolutely spreads dangerous ideas about femininity, sexuality, and shame."

"However, the neoliberal perspective on the hijab and the Middle East in general upsets me. We shouldn't strive to eliminate the hijab altogether — in my opinion, that's an issue that only Muslim people should discuss. As a person who isn't religious at all, I believe it's important to respect those who wear religious headcoverings of their own accord."

"You should have the full reign to choose between a bikini and a burkini, as long as it's your choice."

8. Anna Bas, 39, architect

‌Image via Anna Bas.

"I would like for the media to amplify the voices of millions of Iranian women. All these women face punishment for their objection to compulsory hijab. They are so brave."

"If there’s one thing I want Americans to understand, it’s this: Women in my country are not vulnerable victims. We are fighting for our basic rights, but we just need support and for our voices to be heard."

While it’s important to highlight their efforts, there’s a tendency for Western media to turn photos of rebellious Iranian women into a not-entirely accurate reflection of a dark regime.

For example, resurfaced photos of bare-headed Iranian women in the 1960s donning miniskirts — like in Business Insider and the Daily Mail — are often fetishized and used to symbolize a democratic and free Iran.  

‌‌

But in reality, at the time, Iran was ruled by an authoritarian regime since 1941 under Shah Reza Pahlavi that clamped down on dissent and suppressed political freedoms to appease the western governments that backed it. For instance, when Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh nationalized Iran’s oil supply, to the dismay of the U.K. and the U.S., the 1953 Western-backed coup's motive for attempting to overthrow the democratically elected leader was to strengthen Pahlavi's monarchial power.

Pahlavi was ousted during the 1979 Islamic Revolution. And ever since Ayatollah Khomeini assumed power, western media capitalized on his implementation of the Islamic dress code for women. As tensions between the U.S. and Iran continue to fester, photos of women in long black cloaks, or chadors, were often used as anti-Iran propaganda.

As the national media watch group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting pointed out, one of the most popular examples is this stock photo of an Iranian woman in a chador walking by an anti-American mural. That particular stock photo has resurfaced everywhere as the featured image for numerous articles — often having nothing to do with Iranian women — for The New York Times, CNN, Washington Post, and The Atlantic among many others.

In news headlines, book titles, and events pertaining to Iran, the phrase “Iran Unveiled” is ubiquitous. Seriously. Just look here, here, here, and here.

How can we productively support Iranian women challenging oppressive laws — without exploiting their imagery? Amplify their voices here and abroad.

If you appreciated getting the points of view of these Iranian women, it’s time to support them. You can do this by signing petitions that favor freedom of choice, signal boosting their commentary on social media, and supporting Iranian artists who use their craft as a form of empowerment and resistance.

But the first step is simply listening.

It should be noted that, according to Insider Gov, a public website documenting government contracts, White Wednesday campaign leader Masih Alinejad received more than $230,000 in the last three years from the U.S. State Department for her commentary and anti-compulsory hijab activism in Iran.

UPDATE 2/2/2018: A person previously mentioned in this story has been removed.

Most Shared

Check out Mattel's new badass, hijab-wearing Barbie.

Ibtihaj Muhammad, who made history at the Rio Olympics, is the newest Barbie doll.

If the name Ibtihaj Muhammad doesn't ring a bell, it definitely should.

Muhammad represented Team USA at the Rio Olympics last year in fencing. She wore a hijab while competing — the first time an American athlete had done so.

Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images.


And now, Muhammad is making history again.

On Nov. 13, Mattel unveiled a new Barbie doll inspired by the champion fencer at Glamour's Women of the Year summit.

Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images for Glamour.

And it's pretty darn cool.

Photo by Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images for Glamour.

This is the very first time Barbie is rocking a hijab, which many Muslim women choose to wear in recognition of their faith.

"When I think about my own journey, me being a Muslim girl involved in the sport of fencing, there were people who made me feel like I didn’t belong," Muhammad said at the summit.

"For all those people who didn’t believe in me, this Barbie doll is for you."

Photo by Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images.

The groundbreaking new Barbie marks another step forward for Mattel, which has focused on creating dolls that are more inclusive and positive for girls and boys.

Throughout the decades, Mattel has (understandably) been hammered by many parents who've seen the Barbie brand as promoting unhealthy messages on body image and self-worth as well as suggesting beauty is linked to a certain, discriminatory look  (I mean, how many blonde-haired, blue-eyed Barbies does a kid really need?).

More recently, however, Mattel has made efforts to feature dolls that represent girls and women of color and a variety of body types. In November 2015, Mattel launched a campaign featuring a boy playing with a Barbie doll with his friends — "So fierce!" he exclaims in the ad. A month before that, it released a clever commercial (seen below) that encourages girls to dream big when it comes to their futures.

"When a girl plays with Barbie, she imagines everything she can become," the ad tells viewers in its conclusion.

It's an inspiring message Muhammad hopes her new Barbie doll will help spread.

"Today I’m proud to know that little girls who wear hijab — and, just as powerfully, those who don’t — can play with a Barbie who chooses to wear a headscarf," Muhammad said at the summit. "She’s a Barbie who is strong enough to wield a giant sabre and dedicated enough to spend years working her way to an Olympic medal."

More of this please, Mattel.  

Praise and gratitude continue to pour in for two men slain in Portland while defending two young girls from violent harassment on a train.

On, Friday, May 26, Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche and Rick Best were stabbed by Jeremy Christian after they confronted him for harassing two young girls, one wearing a hijab.

The response around the globe has been nothing short of inspiring.


There have been vigils throughout the city honoring both men, who died as heroes. Support has overflowed on social media, and Namkai-Meche's mother even wrote a powerful open letter to President Donald Trump urging him to condemn the attack.

There was a third man on the train who was brave enough to step in as the girls were berated: Micah Fletcher. He was lucky enough to survive the fight that followed.

Now, nearly a week since the attack, Fletcher is speaking out about what he saw.

After being treated for serious injuries, Fletcher is recuperating home. He posted a video to his Facebook page on Wednesday that quickly went viral:

"As a poet, you would think that I would have the words. It's kind of my job," he begins. "But for once, I don't."

Amid all the donations and support coming his way, he wants people to know one thing: He is not the real victim.

A clearly emotional Fletcher grasps for words at times before issuing a powerful reminder:

"Can you imagine being the little girl on that MAX [train]?" he says in the video. "This man is screaming at you. ... Everything about him is cocked and loaded and ready to kill you."

"So brave that young girls experience that and still find ways to wake up in the morning with smiles on their faces, to trudge through the day and make their parents proud," he continues.

Fletcher says that, of course, the men who died by his side while defending the women are heroes, and they deserve to be honored. But he urged his viewers not to get swept up in what he calls a "white savior complex."

We should praise the men who stood up against it, but we can't forget that this kind of violence and harassment continues to go on every single day around the country.

"I think it's immensely, morally wrong and irresponsible how much money we have gotten as opposed to how much money and love and kindness have been given to that little girl," Fletcher says near the end of the six-minute video. "These people need to be reminded that this is about them. That they are the real victims. "

Fletcher encouraged everyone watching the video to donate to a fundraiser that would provide the girls with meals, transportation, and mental health care as they recover from the traumatic attack.

Doing so is without a doubt the best way to keep the fight against hate and intolerance alive.

Update 6/13/2017: The video was removed by its creator.