On September 4, Iranian tweeters had their eyes on one hashtag in particular: #reverse_cliché. Two Iranians, @Narvan_Carmir and @Mulanium, started it. An effective experiment in combating misogyny and challenging gender stereotypes, it soon took off.
Although initial comments seemed to come from women, who criticized Iranian laws that discriminate against women and slammed everyday expressions that perpetuate negative gender stereotypes, many Iranian men soon joined in.
The tweets attempted to reverse common sexist beliefs and expressions and apply them to men — from dress codes and discrimination in the workplace to needing to get permission from fathers or spouses to travel abroad, discrimination in education and a whole range of humiliations Iranian women are forced to endure on a daily basis.
For one day, perhaps, Iranian men (on Twitter) felt what it was like to be targets of sexist clichés, and to get a sense of what their lives would be if they were turned upside down.
“It really shocks you, especially if you are a man and imagine for just a moment that this talk is real,” tweeted journalist and satirist Kambiz Hosseini. “How horrible reverse clichés feels,” a Twitter called Contradiction wrote. “It is difficult to imagine it but that is exactly what we are doing to half of the society.” Another tweeted:“I suggest that gentlemen click on this hashtag and read on as much as they can while thinking about what they themselves have done to women throughout the years. It is really horrifying.”
One popular topic was the right to divorce — a right denied to women under the laws of the Islamic Republic. Traditionally, if the husband grants a divorce to his wife it is seen as a favor. “Be careful,” Asi (translated as “Fed up”) tweeted. “If you give your husband the right to divorce then he might suddenly go and divorce you! You know, men are not right in the head.”
Narvan, one of the creators of the hashtag, tweeted about the assumption that women get ahead by exploiting their gender: “I cannot understand how these boys force the professors to give them grades. They all bully and strong-arm. The professor has no option but to give them good grades.”
A tweeter with the handle Kitten targeted the cliché that women are poor drivers: “The car in the front moves so slowly. I bet that the driver is a man.” Another tweet was about the legal and traditional limitations on women’s freedom of movement: “Don’t let your son out of the house! And there is no virginity [test] so you can’t know whether he has gone astray or not. There are a lot of wolves around these days!”
Lust over Reason
In the Islamic Republic, women are not allowed to be judges. So twitter user Mehdi tweeted: “Men are not competent to be judges because their lust overcomes their rationality.”
Another topic up for discussion was the fact that Iranian women are not allowed into sports stadiums to watch male athletes compete in any sport: “Men must not be allowed into stadiums because they cause women shame,” one tweet read. “They curse all the time. Can’t they just sit still like a proper person and watch the game?” Another tweet combined this theme with travel restrictions on women: “Half of the members of National Football Team cannot compete in the World Cup because their wives won’t let them travel. Now [Head Coach] Queiroz is consulting with the wives.”
Many tweets addressed dress codes for Iranian women and the hyperboles often used to justify them: “Our martyrs [who fought in the Iran-Iraq war] did not die so that men can wear anything they want and do whatever they desire.” Or: “Men must not wear short sleeves because women might get aroused by looking at their arms. They must wear black gloves because the veins on their hands are arousing.”
Other tweets covered a range of other subjects, including polygamy. “I have the money and support two husbands. I want to go for a third,” one post read. “After all, women want variety. They are different from men.” Then there was the issue of discrimination in the workplace: “We don’t hire men. They can’t work in a feminine environment and can’t handle delicate work.” And: “Need a male employee. Must be single and good looking with excellent communication skills.”
The ever-controversial issue of women’s sexuality was also deconstructed: “A man who wants sex and starts it is a whore. Can a man really enjoy sex?” Then there were taunts about gender roles: “A man must only groom himself and wear nice outfits at home for his wife. So much the better if he does a belly dance for her once in a while,” mocked one tweeter. “Why is the blood money for the life of a man less than that for a woman’s left ovary?” asked another tweeter — a challenge to Iran’s application of sharia law.
Some tweeters shared images from advertisements, replacing women with men — especially images that focus on women’s faces and bodies.
Politics were never long out of the #reverse_cliché debate. “The winning faction is worried that if they choose a man as mayor he might prove incompetent and this would hurt the chances of all men for management positions,” tweeted [male] journalist Hadi Nili.
Ms. M. summed it up: “We wrangle with these [clichés] every day but only when you reverse them, does their rudeness hit you and shows how dire the situation for women is.”
So for one day, some men got the chance to experience an alternate universe, and an opportunity to understand the discrimination and the humiliation that Iranian women are subjected to — not only at the hands of the government and its laws, but also by many men, and even some women.