[PAST EVENT] [CANCELED] Anthropology Brown Bag: "The Black Chador and Howzevi Women in Iran"
In the struggle against Iran’s forced veiling policy, a number of Iranian women in 2018 began wearing white headscarves or unveiling in public spaces every Wednesday. They referred to this as White Wednesday. These acts of resistance belong to a long list of efforts made by women’s groups in Iran to counter the Islamic regime’s policies. During her 15 months of ethnographic fieldwork in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Dr. Tawasil came across something similar that speaks to the veil’s symbolic value, yet quite the opposite in purpose for the howzevi (seminarian) women. Veiling for the howzevi at any given time could equally become an act of resistance, not against the Islamic government, but against their “enemies”- the United States, its European allies, and those within Iran in support of the United States. The howzevi not only wore the state-mandated headscarf, they also wore the black chador, a tent-like cloth religiously conservative Iranian women wore outside their homes, over their headscarves. The black chador was a double emphasis on this resistance. As a daily practice, the black chador concealed their identities. Thus, the practice of wearing black chador is often interpreted as an instrument to silence women. “Hidden” is equated with being voiceless on the one hand, and trapped on the other. The state of being hidden is thought to be perpetually crippling everywhere, because its opposite, public visibility, the space where men have dominated, is assumed to be the only place where true power exists. Based on her fieldwork, Tawasil proposes a different interpretation. Here, in this specific howzevi context where being unseen was purposeful and practiced overtime, Tawasil reframes the notion of being unseen as agentive. While the black chador could serve a political purpose, it also accomplished other objectives for the howzevi as students of the howzeh elmiyeh. Here, Tawasil explores how the black chador was a moving part of a broader system of relations that considered the practitioner forgetful, adaptable, and unyielding among other momentary experiences all at once. Thus, having the right amount of self-surveillance was a source of power, not a detriment. Tawasil focuses on the practice of wearing the black chador among the Iranian howzevi for what it may tell us about them beyond the dichotomy of the ‘free’ versus the ‘unfree’, as well as to gain insight on the black chador’s enduring legacy as a tool and as practice to navigate, create and re-create a sociopolitical world where being publicly visible was not the only index of power.