To Take My/Our Past and Future Selves Back: Woman, Life, Freedom

by: , September 28, 2022

© Protests after Mahsa (Zhina) Amini’s Death

‘But she can take her self back.

Her self is the self of a historicized people who live in resistance in the midst of oppression’ (Lugones 2005: 87).


19 September 2022: An Iranian Woman with a Burning Scarf on a Stick


On 16 September 2022, Mahsa (Zhina) Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman, was murdered by the infamous ‘morality police’ in Tehran. Now, days after Mahsa’s murder, the whole country is enraged. People are protesting throughout the country and worldwide to demand an end to the Islamic regime and its machinery of death.  At the same time, the state-sponsored ‘troll army’ is equipped with an array of tools for spreading fake news or cyber-hate against feminists and dissidents who are active online, and the internet in Iran is filtered more severely in times of protest.

Amidst such terror, and ignited by the rage about Mahsa’s murder, an unprecedented feminist and social uprising is underway in Iran. It is supported by women, members of the LGBTQI+ community, men, non-state religious communities, secular individuals, the elderly and the young, all of whom are opposed to the ongoing atrocities and have joined together in the chant ‘woman, life, freedom,’ which is the translation of the Kurdish movement’s slogan ‘Jin, Jiyan, Aazadi.’ While the sources of upheaval are diverse, ranging from social issues to economic concerns, the most significant aspect of this round of uprisings is the feminist aim that drove its formation: to rebel against a topic at the core of the regime’s ideology, namely compulsory veiling, which is fuelling a feminist revolution in the making.

Protestors want to end the regime’s Islamo-fascist machinery more fervently than ever. Since the violent killing of Mahsa for not adhering to the state-imposed ‘proper hijab,’ women have been burning their (compulsory) scarves, as symbols of their oppression, on sticks, in the street, and throughout public spaces. They are dancing shamelessly and continuing to fight—raging bodies who are the embodiment of life. The current resistance of our sisters from within Iran recalls the feminist philosopher María Lugones’ statement that such wounded souls and bodies are living through ‘intimate terrorism,’ as they are at once terrorized on multiple axes of oppression and breeding their own liberation (2005: 90).

Here, the oppression of women’s and other marginalised bodies must be understood with respect to the numerous intersections involved: decades of privatisation in many sectors; economic crises and state corruption coupled with the suppression of ethnic minorities, such as Kurdish, Arab and Afghan communities in the country; mass arrests and murders of political dissidents; attacks on the workers’ and teachers’ rights movements and, above all, the suppression of marginalised bodies alongside many more intersectional issues.

Nevertheless, Lugones asks us not to accept oppression as ‘an accomplished fact’ (Lugones 2007: 90). By ‘thinking-with’ Gloria Anzaldúa, Lugones theorises about the ‘intimate terrorism’ being experienced by marginalised, in-between, oppressed bodies around the world and in the Global South in particular. According to Lugones, ‘to understand [oppression] as accomplished renders resistance impossible’ (2005: 90); hence, ‘resisting’ should always assume the gerund form:

Rather, the relation is oppressing<=>being oppressed, both in the gerund, both ongoing. Resisting meets oppressing enduringly. It is the active subject resisting<=>oppressing that is the protagonist of our own recreations. But as she is resisting<=>oppressing, she is both the one oppressed and the one resisting (2005: 90).

Today, the ‘wretched of the earth’ (Fanon, 1968) in Iran are bravely countering this capitalist–religio-patriarchal oppression with their resisting ‘in the gerund form’ to prove that they have never accepted such terror and violence as their fate, and they deserve ‘grieveable’ (Butler 2015) and liveable lives.


Dancing Women over Fire of Burning Scarves in the Streets in Iran.
Dancing Women over Fire of Burning Scarves in the Streets in Iran.


In opposition to the disastrous machine of death, the leaders of this feminist uprising—‘the dancers in the dark,’ ‘the handmaids’ rebelling against their imposed ‘commanders,’ the witches fighting the capitalist patriarchy at work in Iran—are (working-class) women and trans and queer individuals, who are among the bravest of the protestors, burning their scarves on top of cars (Figure 1) and dancing around fire on the streets (Figure 2). Unprecedented acts and performances are being recorded on mobile phones and shared widely on social media platforms.

One of the most touching performances is a woman sitting bareheaded and silent in the midst of oppressive forces while victoriously displaying a sign of solidarity to passers-by (Figure 3). The video capturing her performance plays a leftist chant that is a Farsi adaptation of the Chilean revolutionary song ¡El pueblo unido jamás será vencido! (‘a united people will never be defeated’). This video is reminiscent of the Turkish performance artist Erdem Gündüz’s famous ‘standing man’ act, which he performed during the Turkish protests in 2013, thus transforming a performative act into an act of collective protest (Sinclaire-Webb 2013). Such memorable moments of resistance through ‘the mobilization of vulnerability or exposure’ (Butler 2015: 152)—collectively and individually, on the streets, captured on phones, and circulated on social media—utilise ‘exposure and persistence’ as the foundation for an ongoing ‘embodied demand for a livable life’ (Butler 2015: 153).

Moreover, we once again witness how revolutionary songs have served as vital ‘tools of political kinship’ creation across various generations of (feminist) protests in Iran (Haraway 2016; Khosravi Ooryad 2020: 130). This video and other similar collaged videos now widely circulating on Farsi social media are among the latest manifestations of the radical solidarities being formed through mediated moments of chanting revolutionary songs and performing dissident acts. Crucially, all of these events illustrate that the marginalised bodies in Iran are opposed to the corrupt fundamentalist Islamic regime that has violently ruled over their bodies for decades.

Nonetheless, in addition to being enraged about the repressive regime in Iran, many of us are both angry and critical towards the ways in which the suffering and demands of marginalised bodies in Iran are continuously and actively met with silence and, more crucially, erased through what I call ‘intentional ignorance’. Intentional ignorance, I assert, refers to dominant processes of knowledge production and recognition that are supported by or unharmful to authoritarian and colonial regimes. These processes are fundamentally Western-centric and colonial in that the enablers of such ignorance predominantly adopt a framework of address that intentionally erases both the oppression and resistance of marginalised subjects located in non-Western localities.

Practitioners of the ‘intentional ignorance’ framework use their thinking, writing, and actions to render the voices of local resistance actively invisible or easily erasable, thereby laying the groundwork to ‘assume full knowledge’ over these erased subjects and consequently centre themselves as the only points of theorising and reference. As Khanlarzadeh has argued (2019), such framework is ‘an intellectual trap’ that assumes to ‘know everything’ mainly through its ‘proximity to the “center of power”’ (para. 11). It is precisely through this proximity that the intentionality of such ignorance and erasure is effectively enforced upon the erased subject.

As it has been elucidated in the message of this petition, such active ‘epistemic and political dismissal’ of the events in Iran are upheld even by scholars and activists in the Global North who present as progressive voices but whose dismissal and ‘assumptions’ of having full knowledge of ‘what is best’ for non-Western subjects—particularly those in Muslim-majority countries—constantly invalidate ‘the fates, wounds, and subjectivities’ of marginalised bodies. This phenomenon has led to a lack of meaningful and steadfast solidarity, which has only perpetuated the suffering of the most marginalised and continues to fuel the rage.

It is, however, important to return to Lugones, who has cautioned against directing rage merely at individuals, as ‘the oppressed self cannot use rage [against another oppressed self] to communicate rage’ (2005: 91). In concordance with this sentiment, I assert that we should more potently utilise our rage to oppose the system and its dominant enablers by, for instance, petitioning, protesting, promoting visibility and documenting. According to Lugones, we need to use anger instead of rage—anger ‘that demands respect’ and ‘seeks to make sense within [and beyond] dominant structures of sense’ (2005: 99).

Thereby, we can also resist the states and frameworks in which we are stuck—that of being split by the dichotomies of patriarchal/colonial modernity and, in the case of Iran, that of constantly having to choose between numerous problematic either/or options, such as sanctions or massacres, foreign invasions or local oppression, the Western colonialist empire or local colonial rule, Western agency or subjugated repression, and anti-gender ideologies or compulsory veiling.

It is, I believe, time to transgress these dichotomies and think-act beyond the mentioned imposed frameworks of knowledge production. A recognition of differences must lead to acknowledgement of the struggles within these different geopolitical localities as well. Crucially, the global rise of the neoliberal right, with its more subtle convergences of ‘archaic forms of sovereign subjectivity,’ alongside that of contemporary digital microfascism (Bratich 2022) and capitalist extractions around the globe should mobilise any progressive politics to approach, address, and take a firm stance on issues beyond the reductive dichotomies of either/or options, both sides of which are detrimental and fatal to the most marginalised: the poor; the working class; trans, non-binary, and female-identifying bodies; and all those who are currently resisting in Iran.


A Woman Sitting Silently among the Repressive Police.


Above all, it is vital to remember that these states and frameworks should not be understood or accepted as eternal, for ‘[the] possibilities [to liberate oneself by oneself] are ahead of [us] and within an ancient history of violent struggle’ (Lugones 2005: 90). Although our every move implies the risk of violent status quo interventions, ‘intentional ignorance’ or political and epistemic erasure, such dangers will not and should not prevent us from demanding our freedom and refusing to remain silent, as the possibilities of emancipation always lie ahead of a resisting people (Lugones 2005: 90).

It is therefore in ‘thinking-with’ Lugones and Anzaldúa that I have tried to ‘disengage with’ my unprocessed rage about the current developments in Iran, where a part of my numerous ‘in-between selves’ resides, to address the violent regimes of representation and dismissal and attempt to process and sit with my rage by offering a snapshot of the bravery of the ‘people who leap in the dark.’ I seek to mark this local moment as a collective struggle in a global continuity to ‘[exercise] a rupture with all oppressive traditions and violent frameworks, [to communicate] that rupture, [to document] the struggle, [and reinterpret] history’ (Lugones 2005: 96). This healing, emancipatory and life-affirming state, which contrasts those eternal-appearing ones, honours the memory of Mahsa (Zhina) and is in deep solidarity with those who shout the slogan ‘woman, life, freedom’/ ‘Jin, Jiyan, Azadi.’


Bratich, Jack (2022), On Microfascism: Gender, War, Death, Brooklyn: Common Notions.

Butler, Judith (2015), Notes Toward a Performative Theory of Assembly, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Fanon, Frantz (1968), The Wretched of the Earth, New York, Grove Press.

Haraway, Donna (2016), Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene, Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Khanlarzadeh, Mina (2019), ‘Anti-imperialism as An Intellectual Trap’, 7 December, (last accessed 25 September 2022).

Khosravi Ooryad, Sama (2020) ‘Conquering, Chanting and Protesting: Tools of Kinship Creation in the Girls of Enghelab Street (Non-)Movement in Iran’, in: Gero Bauer, Anya Heise-von der Lippe & Nicole Hirschfelder (eds), Kinship and Collective Action in Literature and Culture, Tübingen: Gunter Narr Verlag, pp. 129-149.

Lugones, María (2005)m ‘From Within Germinative Stasis: Creating Active Subjectivity, Resistant Agency’, in Ana Louise Keating (ed), Entre Mundos/Among Worlds, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 85-99.

Sinclaire-Webb, Emma ( 2013), The Turkish Protests—Still Standing. Human Rights Watch,  21 June, (last accessed 25 September 2022).

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