Twelve years ago this week, a woman named Homa Darabi tore off her chador in the middle of a public square in Tehran and set herself on fire. She died shouting: Death to tyranny! Long live freedom! Long live Iran!
Homa was 54 at the time. She had grown up in a secular family in Tehran, earned her medical degree in the US, specializing in child and adolescent psychiatry. Returning to Tehran in 1976, she founded the first children’s psychiatric clinic. She supported democratic revolution, but withdrew from politics, smarting, when the fundamentalists took the lead.
After the 1979 revolution, Homa refused to comply with the rules of hijab, which mandated the covering of women.
Her sister, Parvin Darabi, described many of the psychologically brutalizing experiences her sister underwent as a result of this decision, including this, in a 2004 speech to the Jerusalem Summit:
As a prominent psychiatrist, her services were requested by devastated and helpless parents whose daughters were subjected to flogging and beating for such violations as wearing make up and nylons. These devastated parents would beg her to go to the courts and declare their daughters insane to suspend their punishment.
- To Establish Separation of Church and State
- To Establish Democracy
- To Abolish Gender Apartheid and to Establish the
- Equality of the Sexes
I wrote on Jack & Hill a few months ago about an incident in which a provocative but by no means obscene exhibit of political photography by Amir Normandi was shut down by a US College for being “insensitive” to Islamic hardliners--the exhibition included photographs of partially nude, chador-clad women. At the time, I was struck by how little uproar this incident involving censorship and repression caused.
Bodies--be they voting, warring, democratic, rebellious or peace-loving--are the basic political units of which societies and nations are constructed. How we clothe and represent them, and to what degree individuals control what is "legal" to reveal, is inherently political.
I don't think it's too much of a stretch to say that fashion is a form of speech--it's how we communicate, quite efficiently, who we are.
As women, we allow our interest in "fashion" to be trivialized at great peril--taking away a woman's right to be seen is as much a violation of her humanity as is taking away her right to be heard. In that sense, I think it's a politically healthy sign that bloggers are taking fashion "back" from the mainstream and re-introducing the very idea of freedom, individuality and expression, that the freedom to have a "style" is one of the chief achievements of our culture. And certainly one worth defending.
I think Homa Darabi would have taken Fashionweek very seriously, as well as taking great pleasure in what it represents. As do I.