Masih Alinejad has a blunt message for Western feminists trying to help her country’s women: You’re making it worse.
“I keep hearing in the West especially, Western feminists who go to my country — the female politicians — we don’t want to break the country’s law,” Alinejad said at TheWrap’s Power Women Breakfast in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, noting that many well-intentioned foreigners choose to wear veils when traveling in Islamic-dominated countries like Iran.
“Women of Iran don’t want to be slaves,” she said. “They don’t want to be told by men or the law of the Islamic Republic of Iran what to wear.”
Too often, Alinejad said, women seeking to be culturally sensitive in fact manage to exacerbate the problem.
“In America when I talk about compulsory hijab, I often get this question that, ‘You know, this is a cultural issue.’ It’s not,” Alinejad said. “Before the revolution we had the right to choose what we wanted to wear in Iran. Compulsion was never part of Iranian culture.”
In addition, Alinejad said some Western feminists resisted legitimate criticism of the regime out of a desire not to appear in line with the policies of President Donald Trump. This too, she said, was a mistake.
Alinejad, an activist and author of the new book “The Wind in My Hair: My Fight for Freedom in Modern Iran,” has launched a social media campaign against the compulsory head covering, which has often put her on the wrong side of the nation’s ruling clerics.
But her prolific use of social media to connect women in the country has nevertheless made her a powerful force to be reckoned with. She currently lives in exile in Brooklyn, New York.
Alinejad told attendees that she got much of her strength — and wisdom — from her mother.
“If you let your fear win, then the darkness can devour you,” she said her mother told her. “I experienced a lot of darkness in my life. I got expelled from my high school because I had too many questions. I got expelled from parliament again because I had too many questions.”
Michèle Flournoy, a former Under Secretary of Defense also on the panel, shared her own story of being a woman in the Middle East.
“A lot of Western women who go to the Middle East think that they’re being culturally respectful — that’s what you’re told — to put on a scarf, not a hijab necessarily, to cover your hair in some way,” Floournoy said. “I think there is a misunderstanding.
“When I would go to Saudi Arabia, I would not put on a hijab and I would not put on a scarf,” she said, adding she was once told she was able to get away with it because she was an “honorary man.”
“It was supposed to be a great compliment,” said Flournoy.
The Power Women Breakfast series brings together influential women of entertainment, media, technology and brands in key cities to network and connect. TheWrap has built a broad power base of professional women who are decision makers and mothers, leaders and wives, innovators and activists. The franchise is now in six cities including Los Angeles, New York, Austin, San Francisco, Washington, D.C. and Miami.
In addition to Alinejad and Flournoy, the event hosted panels and welcomed speakers on the Times Up movement in Hollywood and how women photographers and explorers were pushing the envelope for National Geographic. Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar also spoke at the event.