Protest, Precarity, and Paradox in Iran’s Anti-Compulsory Hijab Protests

Authors: A. Marie Ranjbar*, University of Colorado Boulder
Topics: Gender, Middle East, Political Geography
Keywords: Iran, social movements, feminism, hijab
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In December 2017, a young woman climbed atop a utility box on Revolution Street in Tehran. She removed the white scarf from her head, a criminal offense in Iran since 1983, and silently waved it like a flag from her elevated platform. Following her arrest, a wave of anti- compulsory hijab protests erupted throughout the country, with more than 30 women protesters imprisoned since 2017. Taken together, the solitary “Girls of Revolution Street” protests constitute a collective act of resistance that has sparked debates about Iranian women’s socio-political rights unprecedented since the 1979 Revolution. The protests have also attracted global attention, including from Trump administration officials who have openly called for regime change in Iran. In this paper, I examine how gendered experiences of precarity are articulated and deployed in narratives of the protests which, paradoxically, rests on Iranian women reproducing themselves as the vulnerable ‘unfree’ other. Drawing from feminist postcolonial insights, I argue that the anti- compulsory hijab protests are sites of precarious resistance, both in terms of the steep penalties for civil disobedience in Iran and how US representations of the protests reinforce orientalist representations of women’s rights in Iran. More specifically, I analyze how the Trump administration has appropriated feminist activism to justify punitive sanctions against Iran, which not only erases the multi-faceted nature of gender injustice in Iran but deepens the precarity of Iranian protesters through threats of war.

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