Opinion: Oppression Over Clothing

Iranian women bravely tear off their hijabs in front of guards, cut their hair and shave their heads in public, boldly confront the morality police. Thousands of people mass in demonstrations, chanting their rage through the streets, and workers go on strike.

The upheaval started in response to the cultural and systemic standards that have oppressed and intimidated Iranian women for decades, but the demonstrations soon broadened and spread, becoming a passionate movement demanding change in Iran. People have continued to march and gather all across Iran, despite arrests and police violence against them, and supporters around the world have also taken the cause to their streets.

The spark that lit this fire happened on Sept. 16, when 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in police custody after being arrested for not wearing her hijab – head scarf – in the proper way to cover her long hair completely. As someone who struggles to keep up with world news, I first became aware of this during class discussions, days after her death and the initial backlash.

My first thought was, “Wow, this is terrible,” and I couldn’t imagine things like that still happening. Here in California, I thought, we don’t have such strict rules about how women should wear their hair or cover up their bodies.  The topic seemed very far away and hard to relate to, and I turned away. I couldn’t relate to it enough to feel as bothered and disappointed as I now wish I had.

Then I started learning more about it. Since 1981, in Iran, the law has required women to cover their hair completely in public. Women who break the rule may be imprisoned or fined. A special police force called the “morality police” patrols the streets to make sure that people obey laws like this, which are based in Islamic religious morality. Women’s hair is viewed as a precious beauty that should be protected and shown only to the people in their household, but not everyone agrees with this interpretation. The morality police control people’s behavior through fear.

After doing more research and watching videos of the protests, I realized that the battle the Iranian women are fighting is more relevant to my life than I had thought. . Solidarity protests have reached everywhere, including the United States. Most of the people leading the protests in Iran are in the younger generation – as young as me or just a few years older. That could have been me or any of us girls from our school, having to bravely stand against an oppressive regime and risk facing death or arrest at any moment.

Just like Iranian women, everyone cares about having control over their own bodies and making their own choices about how they dress and how they take care of themselves. While in Iran, protecting women becomes an excuse for the regime to make women stay indoors, cover up in public, or live under the fear of arrest by the morality police, women in the United States once again must worry about the government determining their life and health decisions, including abortion, and possibly marriage and birth control decisions, too.

Bodily autonomy covers a wide range of issues, from dress codes to medical care. Even school dress codes bother students when they limit your expression of your own sense of style. I have really long hair, just like Mahsa Amini – how would I feel being told I had to cover it up or face being arrested? Having control over something as basic as our own body ties to our well-being and our physical and psychological health. In this way, we are just like the women in Iran, although their struggle is thousands of miles away.

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