TERRA INCOGNITA: Iran’s ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ and #MeToo ethnocentrism

A regime that polices a woman’s hair is not a legitimate regime.

WOMEN DRESSED as handmaids from ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ demonstrate in the US. (photo credit: REUTERS)
WOMEN DRESSED as handmaids from ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ demonstrate in the US.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
What happens when showing your hair is revolutionary act? Nothing. Outside Iran, at least, there has been a collective shrug about the dozens of Iranian women who have been protesting the chauvinist theocracy by showing their hair. Twenty- nine women have been arrested for exercising their basic human rights to freedom of thought, conscience and religion by simply showing their hair.
Iran’s regime is a real-life version of the television series The Handmaid’s Tale. Written by Margaret Atwood in 1985, the original book envisioned a future theocratic republic in the United States where people would be segregated and women forced to wear clothing that distinguished their role in the society. Women’s bodies are politicized and controlled by men, who run a militarized country. Secret police watch everything and run clandestine brothels for the elites, while women wander about in their red burkas, devoted to household work.
Oddly, Bruce Miller, the executive producer of the 2017 show, claimed that the society portrayed is based on “a perverse reading of the Old Testament.” It’s been compared to New England’s Puritans and regimes like Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge, but no one seems to dare compare it to what it actually resembles: Iran. Iran’s regime is the Handmaid’s Tale, not in some obscure, dark fantasy novel or a TV show, but in the daily life 40 million Iranian women are subjected to.
However, Iranian women have resisted this state-imposed “toxic masculinity” for almost 40 years. Forty years in the cages imposed by men guided by religious fanaticism.
Since the recent wave of protests broke out in December women have been standing up and taking off their state-imposed hijabs. Just to show their hair is an act of revolution. Even women who are genuinely religious, not because the state has imposed it but because they are believers, have stood in solidarity with women who want the most basic right to decide whether or not to cover their hair. What to wear. This is a choice men have, of course, under the fascist regime in Tehran.
Oddly, Iran’s regime has long earned support from the West. The support takes several forms. First of all there is the quiet acceptance of the regime. Second there are the business deals Western governments rush to sign with Tehran. Third are the visits by giddy female Western politicians who smile and pat their hearts in obedience as they bow to the ayatollahs. When a raft of Swedish female politicians went to Tehran in 2017 they came cloaked in the “modest” attire the regime demands, clasped their hearts and smiled at the mansplaining fanatics. No sense of shame.
While the government keeps its boot on the throat of the people, Europe’s “human rights” preachers stood shoulder to shoulder with the regime. The only thing they didn’t do is attend a public execution and ask if they could press the button at a hanging. It wouldn’t have been a surprise to see a European Union politician at a public hanging in Iran, smiling alongside the Supreme Leader. Because there is one thing you can count on: you will never find widespread solidarity in the West for the rights of Iranian women.
It would seem an opportune time for people in the West who are championing the #MeToo movement to embrace the rights of women everywhere. But too often women’s rights, even the most obvious and basic thing like being allowed to show your hair, has become an ethnocentric “right” reserved only for wealthy states, as a way for the West to insulate its progressive values as a privilege. That’s why you see almost no people of color among the #MeToo stories. You primarily have a reform directed at the West by the West and for Westerners.
The logic here is that any interest in women’s rights in Iran is “colonialism” and “imperialism” because it doesn’t accept the “culture” of Iran. Under that logic Iran’s leaders have been allowed to travel the world making a mockery of human rights. While they suppress people at home they enjoy themselves in Europe, laughing and joking with their colleagues. Former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad got invited to Columbia University to spew hatred under the guise of “free speech.” Iranian leaders demand “free speech” in the West while they deny it to their own people. They tweet hate-speech online while taking away social media from Iranians. And they pretend that any critique of them is an attempt at “regime change.”
A regime that polices a woman’s hair is not a legitimate regime. The question today is how can one join the Iranian women’s revolution? One way for the West to show solidarity would be to subject themselves for several days or weeks to the same laws that Iran uses against its people.
That means Western women, since the laws mostly affect women, would subject themselves to the dress code imposed by the regime out of solidarity.
It’s difficult to comprehend the level of oppression that exists when a government tells you how to cover your hair.
The only way to understand it is to take on this burden. But that is only one step on the road to solidarity.
A second step should be to impose upon Iranian regime elements abroad the same dress code they force on people at home. But it should be enforced upon men from the regime.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif enjoys his trips abroad, dining in Europe and laughing and joking while his regime squeezes the life out of dissent. It’s time to put the chador on Zarif. If his regime wants to force women to cover their hair, then every Iranian regime member traveling abroad should have to obey the same dress code Iran imposes. Put the hijab on Zarif.
You might think that sounds silly – why should a man have to cover his hair? Well, why should a woman?
Follow the author @Sfrantzman