Hats Off (But Dresses On) to Our Kurdish Feminist Brothers

A remarkable and unusual sort of civil disobedience has been triggered in Marivan, a city in the Kurdistan Province of Iran. On April 15, an Iranian court in the city forced a male convict to wear traditional Kurdish women’s clothes in public, perceiving it as a humiliating punishment. Kurdish feminists of the Marivan Women’s Community protested against this misogynistic decision on the streets of Marivan in red traditional clothes, similar to the Kurdish bride robe that the convicts had to wear, and they were confronted by violent security forces.

Then, in solidarity with the women, Kurdish men took an extraordinary initiative by dressing as Kurdish women and posting their photos on social media.

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In a café in the heart of Frankfurt, Germany, my friend Çiğdem and I enjoyed tea with Masoud Fathi and Dler Kamangar, two of the feminist men behind this campaign, which has made international news.

Masoud Fathi is a poet, journalist, political activist—and feminist. He is from Marivan, a city known for its disobedience and resistance. He had his friend Dler take a photo of him wearing an authentic, grass-green Kurdish woman’s robe, and posted it on his Facebook page, adding the sentence that became the slogan of the campaign: “Being a woman is not a tool to humiliate or punish anyone”.

Soon, some friends joined this brave statement by taking pictures of themselves in women’s dresses. Within a week, the Facebook page “Kurd Men for Equality” gained over 13,000 fans. Women and men from other parts of Kurdistan, Europe and America expressed their solidarity and shared commitment to gender equality with their own photos.

How did Masoud feel when he put on this impressive green dress?

When I wore that dress, I suddenly realized how much evil the chauvinist thinking of men, male-dominated religions, ideologies and systems have caused. I understood that masculine culture has destroyed the world.

The pictures on Facebook are as diverse as the Kurdish nation: A cute, smiling little boy in red challenges patriarchy the same way as a mature, serious-looking man with thick glasses in a delightfully charming dress. Some women are dressed in Kurdish men’s clothes, some of them stand next to male friends who wear flashy dresses with pride. One mother in a traditional men’s outfit stands confidently alongside her adolescent son, who smiles in a bright-blue, shimmering woman’s gown. Some men covered their faces to escape persecution by the Iranian regime.

Sasan Amjadi, a contributor to this project and a friend of Masoud and Dler’s, says,

The Iranian regime is fascist, and it is almost inevitable that this affects the society, which leads parts of the Iranian population to accept the regime’s beliefs. Perhaps 40 percent of the population does not believe in women. I did not feel any strangeness when I put on a woman’s dress. I just wanted to demonstrate who we were: This is what we look like, this is our culture and they cannot insult our culture, our mothers and sisters. We cannot accept that. … There can be no free society without free women. It is in the responsibility of men to end this culture of male hegemony.

Men in Western societies have also resorted to wearing women’s clothes in order to challenge gender discrimination. Even the most democratic societies struggle with rape culture, sexism, homophobia and transphobia. Violence against women is a global epidemic. If tabooizing and controlling women’s bodies and behaviors in the name of honor is the sexism of one society, the porn industry, prostitution and unhealthy beauty standards make up the other end of the patriarchal spectrum that devaluates women by reducing them to objects of men’s pleasure or property. Cross-dressing is an effective way of challenging binary notions of gender and raising awareness of issues that human beings who are not male and heterosexual encounter on a daily basis.

However, the case of Kurdish men wearing Kurdish women’s clothes is even more special, because it attacks two forms of oppression at the same time. This “punishment” is not only sexist; it further constitutes an attempt to ridicule Kurdish culture. The Islamic Republic of Iran has executed at least 56 Kurds in the past year. It continues to enforce oppressive annihilation policies towards the Kurdish people and other ethnicities, or against any dissident voice, for that matter. While the misogynist regime forces women to cover in black cloth, traditional Kurdish (and of course traditional Persian) women’s clothes are very colorful and beautifully embroidered pieces of detailed handwork. The meaning of these sequined, extravagant robes on Kurdish men is a double strike against a regime that covers, hides and silences women in plain black, discriminates against different ethnicities and believes that being an oppressive despot defines masculinity and power. After all, chauvinist concepts of gender and abusive power structures are inseparable.

But while the Iranian authorities attempted to shame male prisoners by making them wear traditional Kurdish women’s clothes, Kurdish men formidably responded by standing up against both sorts of oppression. They made two statements in one: Being a woman is NOT a punishment—and our culture is beautiful. Not being a woman, but being sexist is degrading. Not Kurdish clothes, but racism is humiliating.

Dler Kamangar, a talented musician from the beautiful East Kurdish city of Sine, agrees with Masoud that this Facebook action is just one small step in the right direction. Though media and public attention are important, future steps must be more practical, and not just remain in the social media sphere. As he drinks his black tea, he tells me that they are currently planning protest actions in front of Iranian embassies. They will appear in women’s clothes. Dler’s skepticism of the Iranian regime is surpassed by his optimism for the Kurdish people’s struggle:

I do not wait for a reform by the Iranian regime. We need to work against the negative structures in our own communities and societies. In the end, we are by ourselves. We must come up with our own solutions.

Like Dler, Masoud considers himself a feminist. He has written columns about women’s rights and men’s duty to actively challenge the male-dominated system. In his words,

Women are part of our personality, our character. If we oppress one part of our character, we oppress ourselves. If one part of us is unfree, our whole cannot be free either.

While the regimes of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria oppressed the Kurds ethnically and created hyper-masculinized forms of warfare and oppression, the Kurds have often responded with feminism. One unifying slogan echoes around all four parts of Kurdistan: “No free society without free women.” A liberated Kurdistan is, and must be, measured by women’s emancipation.

Speaking from a Kurdish woman’s perspective, my dear friend Çiğdem Orhan, a young philosophy student from Karakocan, Elazig in North Kurdistan, who is socially active in our community in Germany, adds:

This action is very meaningful and powerful, because it was started by men who stand up for women’s rights. This illustrates that women’s rights is a societal phenomenon that involves all of society, not just women. These men prove courage in overcoming their “inner man” when putting on dresses, taking pictures and posting these for the world to see. They don’t just mentally stand up for women’s rights, but do so literally in a physical sense.

The Iranian regime’s intention to signify honorlessness, embarrassment, humiliation and degradation by using womanhood has completely failed.

Crossposted from the Kurdistan Tribune

Comments

  1. Fantastic on so many levels

  2. Once again, the Kurdish people – this time, the Kurdish men – are examples to the rest of the world. You inspire us!

  3. This is perfect. Insecure regimes never expect a backlash against their tyranny. Good for you, guys and keep the fight going!

  4. Maria Seager says:

    This is one of my favorite moments to see men stand up not only for women but to understand that it is standing up for themselves. Wow!

  5. Ahenra Dawn says:

    Thank heavens for strong men,women and a culture that is proud of its roots! May the Divine watch over each and every one who stands against tyranny, racism, sexism and hatred. We need more people like these feminists (of both genders) in our world.

  6. Lara Tiara says:

    I am not ashamed to wear a dress, for I think it is not a shame to be a woman!

  7. So, one question….
    what does this do? does it stop violence and abuse against women in kurdistan or just preaches out “it is ok to be a cross dresser”

  8. I’m choked up and speechless! *cheering for our brothers*

  9. Soran Khedri says:

    Men’s freedom depends on Women’s freedom…We Men are prisoner of our thoughts, unless we change our mentality towards women we cannot be free.

  10. Thanks guys!

  11. And now ever greater respect for Kurdish People and Kurdish men, as outstanding examples for the rest of us.

  12. I see no grasp anywhere in this thread of the bedrock fact that to be a sex difference, a garment must be a difference of anatomical interface. A dress is about having a torso and legs therefore not specific to women. People’s habits and traditions fail as a criteria, anatomy is the only universal constant. A dress worn by a man, however, should lack the bodice/bust configuration. A person’s gender does not cause the clothes they wear. That has been caused by social forces, then it’s mesmerized into people’s beliefs by mass hypnosis (monkey see, monkey do!) Men gave up draped garments (skirts) due to adopting a garment for horseback riding (pants) = social forces, not a sex role, of course, some women ride better than some men—Joan of Arc was burned alive in 1431 AD by the “mental health professionals” of her time, the church (abetting English invaders) for “cross-dressing” into “men’s clothes,” yet pants for men at that time were only a military costume because armies had to have horses to compete with other armies. 119 years later, aristocratic Italians laughed at Pantalone, the top clown in the Comedy of the Arts (pants comes from the name of a clown!) Rome exiled men in pants in AD 393, reaffirmed 30 years later. In AD 867 the Pope told the Bulgarians that they could be Christians, even though their men wore pants! Women could not generally wear pants till after World War 2 factory work sent 18 million USA women into pants for the first time, and even then there was sometimes trouble! Chicago police arrested Evelyn Bross in 1943 for wearing “clothing not belonging to her sex” (pants) under an 1851 ordinance, judge Jacob Braude sentenced her to see a psychiatrist for 6 months. JC Penney fired a woman in 1993 for wearing slacks to work. How have people blindly assumed skirts/pants to be sex differences? People use associative, not intrinsic, reasoning, which is why they are so slow to perceive. Greece maintains a regiment of soldiers in pleated skirts, Albanian men also wear skirts, male Dervishes in Egypt wear skirts more fantastic in ornateness than just about any skirts worn by women anywhere, Fijian cops wear skirts, King Louis XIV of France invented high heels for himself and in 1664 sent 4,000 soldiers in “petticoat breeches” to help Austria against the Turks (the Turks lost). Bras, bra forms, tampons = female; athletic supporters = male; all else = sex neutral, social convention is based on mythology. If anything, skirts are more rationally worn by men, since skirts have no crotch, and men can demonstrate a need for more free space. If men want to “dress like men,” they should wear some facial hair. We came to treat women as individuals, with individual choices of all possible styles, no longer being compelled to wear dresses and skirts to “be women;” whereas men, who allegedly have way more rights than women, are relentlessly corralled into this dreary trouser uniform, with strangling neckties and sizzling hot coats in summer. What I’ve stated barely scratches the surface of the fables people believe about this idiotic sex typing of garments, so 3 more facts—American boys till almost World War I were raised in dresses, petticoats and skirts (including Franklin Roosevelt); the New York Times, 5/27/1876, “A Curious Disease,” called for women in pants to be sent to “the best conducted hospitals for the insane;” and the Beefeater guards at the Tower of London wear frillier shoes than any I ever saw on women. There is not this need to deprive men of human choices in order to achieve sex differentiation!

  13. Heroes!

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