Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad calls selfies "private moments of freedom." This statement is universal, but in a country where Facebook is illegal it takes on a whole new meaning. Many of us take our freedoms for granted: ubiquitous social media, being free to let our hair down without fearing for our lives. All women in Saudi Arabia, Iran and Yemen, even non-Muslim women (including visitors) must cover their heads, or they risk facing punishment.
But many of the women of Iran have been inspired by Alinejad, and have shared photos posing in remote locations absent of the public gaze, where they are free to let their hair down. The Facebook group collecting and posting the photos translates as “My Stealthy Freedom,” and was launched on May 3rd by Alinejad. The page has already garnered more than 100,000 likes. "It's not my revolution," says Masih Alinejad, "I just wanted to give an opportunity to the Iranian women to show themselves for what they are." She created the page along with the hashtag: #mystealthyfreedom inspired by her own rare but satisfying veil-free moments. The group has become a supportive forum for women to speak out against the legal and social restrictions of their country.
According to Article 638 of the Iranian penal code ratified in 1996, women who appear in public "without wearing a religiously acceptable coverage" are punishable by a term of imprisonment between 10 days and two months, or a fine. The Iranian Fars News has already criticized the movement of "bold Masih," calling the group a subversive act and stating that consequences of this freedom could in fact lead to severe measures by the authorities. Some of these women were already previously arrested for wearing clothes that do not conform to Islam, as reported under the photos posted on Facebook. These are brave women.
The photos themselves are breathtaking, revelatory, and intimate. Without even knowing the risks taken for the photos, they are full of tangible emotions as the women revel in their self-loving moments.
This page of course does not speak for all women in Iran. Some Muslim women believe that wearing a veil affirms their religious beliefs in a respectful and purified way, and they very actively choose to wear their veils. It's very important to acknowledge that the veil itself does not depict oppression, as Westerners tend to project. The ultimate argument is about granting women the agency to choose how to present their own bodies, as no third part should decide to veil or not to veil.
There are still 4 million Iranian Facebook users despite the ban, and the Facebook page for the movement gained over 30,000 likes in five days. Use #stealthfreedom and support these brave women.
Thanks to Claire Filipek, contributing author to this post
All photos via Facebook