11 November 2022

Iranian Beauty

In Iran, female beauty becomes the lever of a real revolution: nothing like the mortification-commodification of bodies that is propagated as freedom in the West. The struggle to be able to be a woman reveals the'hypocrisy of the queer
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It is now almost two months since the Iranian girls' revolt against the veil, an irrepressible wave that every day produces new images, new content, a breath of fresh air in relation to certain narratives about women in the Islamic world, but also a mirror that reveals how much of an artefact there is behind so many politically correct buzzwords of intersectional feminism or transfeminism.

First: the veil is not a free choice, nor is feminist empowerment on which we have been bombarded for years by the western, liberal left, which for too many years now has been supporting and promoting the glamourisation of this 'garment' (increasingly common among young people in schools, both here in Italy and in France, where the identity game has reached dramatic peaks), with more or less explicit support for radical Islam groups.

Until a couple of years ago our policies when visiting Iran or receiving influential members of that theocratic regime in Rome, flaunted a devout and very modest veil despite the harsh anti-first martyr protests (that's the name) of a cause that is shaking Iran to its foundations today. Since a few days ago, here is the new and creative form of protest of those extraordinary girls who are filmed and photographed while striking the mullahs from behind, causing their turbans to fall in the dust and running away: an ingenious, irreverent, genuine, anarchic, incorrect gesture that will certainly go down in history

No talk, no proclamations, a simple, spontaneous gesture, almost childlike, truly iconic. Much more than many useless words.

Second: Iranian women demand 'normal' rights, to live, study, work, move around, no sex work is work, wombs for rent, hormones for children, feminist pornography and other amenities about which we are torn. Let alone the fear of appearing politically incorrect, which paralyses even our thinking here: they have understood perfectly well that patriarchs, with or without beards, Sunni or Shia, secular or religious, conservative or progressive, are all the same in oppressing, beating and killing women. No downcast eyes, 'modest fashion' or fashion halal so dear to western designers who rub their hands together for a colossal market, no 'self-determined' influencers who teach their followers how to style their instrument of oppression in a vexatious and cool way: they rip it off, set it on fire.

Third: hair. In the early days of the protest all enchanted by the transgressive gesture of the sisters cutting their hair in the streets, immediately imitated by Western actresses, singers and journalists who actually only spiked their hair by a few centimetres. Photos and videos show us braids, ringlets, hairstyles that we have not seen for almost a century, since the days of the 'little boys' who claimed modern and practical heads, bobs and short fringes. Here in reverse freedom relies on the display of hair worthy of ancient goddessespatiently cared for in secret and now flaunted as pride, a challenge to a male power that sees them with desire to be feared for their destructiveness, a powerful instrument of seduction and therefore perdition in the eyes of the pious defenders of morality and decency.

Fourth: beauty. In the videos and images, Iranians are beautiful, and this squares away so many of our beliefs and prejudices that Feminism often calls for the renunciation of beauty as surrender to male desire. A story that comes from afar, that tears us apart and divides us: Gloria Steinem remembered how her attractiveness was a real handicap for her, which diminished her credibility. To free ourselves from the patriarchal grip, we should renounce the beauty we read as stereotyping and subordination.

Iran's radically anti-patriarchal women's movement does not need this, nor does it need moustachioed matrioskas or mutilation. Neither does it need a haircut. That gesture does not mean giving up beauty in exchange for freedom.

Iranian women do not talk about non-conforming bodies, their bodies are the most conforming and therefore the most dangerous there is . They know very well that they are oppressed precisely because of that sexualised body, so much desired, so much envied, so much feared by the males of the last 5000 years at every latitude. And they have realised that they will not win this war by hiding, mutilating and mortifying themselves.

They walk tall and free, their bodies are in the streets and squares, bodies that are very different from how the liberal West thinks of them, healthy bodies, not denuded, not exhibited, not commodified, not pornified, not mutilated, not hormonised. Clear, proud gazes, faces of ancient beauty. You see these girls and thequeer hypocrisy (here Pakistani writer Bina Shah's splendid response to Judith Butler): their challenge prison and death precisely because they are women.

Anna Perenna


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