If you are an avid social media user you have have recently come across a whole string of images of men wearing a hijab standing next to family members or holding up signs saying #MenInHijab like the lead image above. This viral campaign was spearheaded by an activist organization called My Stealthy Freedom, founded by a New York-based Iranian woman who is on a mission to revolutionize restrictive gender laws in her home country.
Masih Alinejad has been a powerhouse on social media, using the MSF Facebook page to launch a number of viral campaigns that draw attention to the way Iranian law forces women to wear the hijab. Images of women expressing their freedom be taking off their hijab caused plenty of controversy in the conservative nation. But one of the very clever tactics she has used is to engage men in her campaigns to stand in solidarity with the women of Iran.
Without officially being part of it, Masih’s movement has been exhibiting the exact message UN Women’s He For She campaign is promoting, but actively engaging men to understand in personal ways why the fight for gender equality is theirs too.
After putting the call out on the MSF Facebook page asking men to join the fight against Iran’s strict “moral” code about women wearing the hijab, which has been in place since the 1979 Iranian Revolution, Masih started getting a number of men posting images of themselves using the hashtag #MenInHijab. The movement soon spread to Twitter and Instagram also, where messages and awareness of the message started reaching even more social media users.
Masih told the Independent.co.uk why this is more than just another social media trending hashtag.
“Most of these men are living inside Iran and they have witnessed how their female relatives have been suffering at the hands of the morality police and humiliation of enforced hijab,” she said.
Similar to the way women and activists in Saudi Arabia have been defying their own laws which say women cannot drive, and instead are creating stealthy campaigns and displays of rebellion in the hope it will eventually change the culture, My Stealthy Freedom is doing the same for women in Iran.
“For years, from childhood to womanhood, we’ve been forced to wear the compulsory headscarf and for years we have had to endure the loss of our dignity. Many men have gotten used to seeing women in compulsory hijab every day and you think that is normal. But for millions of Iranian women, this compulsory hijab is an insult to their dignity,” said Masih.
Her perspective is that it should be a choice, not forced upon women. Like so many other issues we have written about on our site, the idea of women being capable and free to make their own choices about their bodies, their beliefs and how they want to show up in public is still an extremely controversial issue. This is why feminism is still very much needed around the world.
In countries like Iran, where religion plays a dominant role in the law, women are not always treated as equals and men are given more of the power to make decisions. By creating a viral movement where men are publicly donning a female garment, the message of gender equality is disrupting the status quo in a powerful and equally controversial manner.
“In our society, a woman’s existence and identity is justified by a man’s integrity, and in many cases the teachings of a religious authority or government officials influence a man’s misguided sense of ownership over women. So I thought it would be fantastic to invite men to support women’s rights,” said Masih.
The Independent spoke to a couple of the men who participated to find out why it was important for them to stand in solidarity with women in Iran who are demanding their own freedom of choice.
“I decided to stand by my niece and wear the hijab because the truth is I don’t want anyone to take my freedoms away from me. I can’t be indifferent to the violation of freedoms of half of my people…It means that women when they leave their house everyday have to leave their real identity back at home…My message, as a liberated human being, is that everyone, as intelligent beings, should be able to decide for themselves how to dress,” said one man who chose to remain unidentified.
“Our women have been obliged to wear the veil for more than thirty years whereas mine was only a momentary experience. This is the least of what men can do to show their support to women, especially within the context of Iran where the Islamic Republic constantly propagates the notion that a man’s honour depends on his wife’s veil,” said a 40 year old man from Tehran named Mehdi.
“The biggest problem that women in our country face is the mentality of the conservatives in power. These conservatives have been imposing their way of living on ordinary people by means of insults and threats…while women are running for presidency elsewhere in the world, women of Iran, who constitute more than 60 per cent of university students in the country, are simply deprived of the freedom to choose their own dress. I sincerely hope that the voice of Iranian women will be heard world-wide and that they will get to enjoy their most basic right,” he continued.
Until the law changes and women are afforded the same rights as men to dress and adorn themselves as they choose, it will be activists like Masih Alinejad and others like her who will be part of a different revolution, and underground revolution that is changing hearts and minds in a conservative culture where women need a more public voice. Take a look at more of why the #MenInHijab campaign has become a source of enlightenment and empowerment for men standing by the women in their families, in the video below: