On December 27, 2017, a thirty-two-year-old woman climbed atop a utility box on a busy Tehran block called the Revolution Street. People usually do not clamber on street furniture in Tehran, but this particular sight was odder still for its being a woman with a stick in her hand. Perfectly focused on her task, once she found her balance, she loosened the knot of her white headscarf and removed it—exposing her dark hair that fell to her waist. Tying the scarf to one end of the stick, she began, with slow, rhythmic movements, to wave her makeshift flag.
Traffic slowed. Passersby stopped to watch. For those few minutes, the flag-waving woman had fixed people’s attention. If she felt fear, it was not visible. At that moment, she became a nexus that connected Iran’s bygone veilless time to its current era of prohibition. She was not the first or only woman to stage a public protest against gender inequity, but this particular rebellion—removal of the mandatory headscarf—broke a taboo that had ruled for nearly forty years. It was as if, in all the previous shows of dissent, women had tip-toed around that ultimate symbol of their subjugation. This was a revolutionary act, one the regime would not tolerate even on the Revolution Street, where all past rebellions in Tehran had begun.
The New York Review of Books, March 8, 2021