Latoya Peterson – with Women’s Media Center – for Women News Network
With reporting opportunities strictly
Images are driving the Western response to the Iranian elections. The media, hampered in their ability to report from the ground, has elected to go with citizen videos and photographs of the rising civil unrest. One early narrative that emerged, before the demonstrations against the results of the election, was of a beautiful Iranian woman, in modern clothes, wearing a loose headscarf and casting her vote.
We can’t predict the image that will eventually represent the Iranian elections as the situation grows more serious each day. The original iconography of painted hands—with green representing the regime’s chief challenger Mir-Hossein Mousavi—has given way to palms painted red, to commemorate those who are dying. A video is circulating of a woman known as “Neda,” who was killed during the protests and is becoming a symbol for the protestors who feel betrayed by their government. One site proclaims, “We Are All Neda.”
However, the pre-protest narrative needs a bit more analysis. One of the most recognizable photographs was shot by Atta Kanare for Getty Images. A young woman stands facing the camera, a stern expression on her face and lips painted peach. A trendy pink and purple headscarf and sunglasses complete the look and she stares directly at the lens, holding up her ink-stained index finger to prove she voted. Some journalists and bloggers have noticed that this and other photographs taken before the election results were announced, of proud young women lining up to cast their ballots, seem to focus on the beauty of the women engaged in political action, and this trend has continued in documenting the protests. In the midst of scenes of chaos, smoky streets, and anger, small symbols of beauty continue to emerge—a hand with manicured red fingernails clutching a pamphlet, or a bright yellow headscarf framing a waterfall of chestnut hair.
Sex sells, but so does beauty, compelling
even those who are disinterested in politics and current events to pay
attention, if for no other reason to find out why the alluring girl in the
photo has painted palms while she flashes a peace sign. Advertising
agencies understand that attractiveness draws people in, forcing them to pay
attention. In addition, photographers are known for working toward a
poignant, beautiful, and memorable picture, so their focus on beauty should
come as no surprise. However, is the narrative around what’s happening in
Megan Carpentier, writing for Jezebel, makes a note of the discussion of “pretty” around the issue, saying “when you see a woman with a tunic above her knees, red fingernails, an extremely loose headscarf and a protest sign, try to look beyond the ‘pretty.’ Those things are also a symbol of what an Ahmadinejad regime would deny (and, in some cases, has denied) her the right to be.”
Mimi, one of the bloggers at Threadbared, a site that discusses politics and fashion, argues for a broader analysis. In a post titled “You Say You Want a Revolution in a Loose Headscarf,” Mimi writes:
“In this moment of civil unrest, we are meant to understand these sartorial and somatic signs—the looseness of the scarf and the amount of hair she shows, but also the French manicure displayed by her v-sign or raised fist, her plucked eyebrows arching above Gucci sunglasses or baklava mask—as cultivated political acts that manifest a defiant desire for Western-style democracy. But this shorthand is too simplistic, too easy.”
While the politics of beauty practices has
been a feminist mainstay around the globe, when employed while discussing the
In this case, it was not just the fact that
the votes in
Our feminist conversations on politics in the
region should not immediately default to veiling and other style issues.
While the freedom to express oneself through clothing is important, it pales in
comparison to the economic conditions and limited opportunities for advancement
that are sparking the demonstrators. The new generation in
The visual narrative may emphasize clothing and beauty, but we should not be so distracted by images that we miss the message underneath the make-up.
Article includes VIDEO:
Many women ask “Why?” as male
police, along with policewomen wearing full-length black chadors, ticket women
as they enforce approved dress codes “only” on the streets of
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