From Tehran, Autumn 2022



On September 16, 2022, Kurdish woman Mahsa Jina Amini was killed in Tehran by the Iranian so-called “Guidance Patrol” after having been arrested for not wearing her hijab according to government standards. Following her murder, hundreds of thousands of women and men joined in a movement against the Iranian regime. The following text, written by Termeh, constitutes politically-induced impressions of a stroll in Tehran’s streets during this ongoing movement.

Termeh Funambulist
Tehran, Autumn 2022. / Drawing by Termeh to accompany this text (2023).

Tehran’s autumn sun is not hot. You don’t sweat when it falls on your skin, your body doesn’t get hot—but it has a dazzling light, sometimes brighter than the summer sun. In recent years, when it has rained less, we get more sunny days of autumn than cloudy and rainy days. If we are lucky and the weather is not polluted, the Alborz Mountain range can be seen from different streets of Tehran on the north side. This year, it has been another dry autumn with golden sun rays in Tehran.

I walk down Valiasr street that connects the north of Tehran to the south. Valiasr Street is famous for the plane trees on both sides. It was also once known for its tiny rivers by the sidewalks, which are now dry. I feel the warmth of the sun on my scalp. My hair is short, as I have shaved my hair around my ears. I narrow my eyes so that I can discern the farthest parts of the sidewalk. For several weeks now, I have been looking very carefully and examining the perspective in front of me. A woman with light brown hair is buying fruit at the end of the street, while a woman with black curly hair gets out of the car in front of my feet. Another woman with short gray hair walks vertically down the street and enters the pharmacy. These days on the streets, I look for women and I look at them. It feels strange that I have never looked at women so much before. I have never been so Woman myself.

Before I started doing this, I had always tried to forget my gender. On the street, I was unconsciously paying attention to the men and my distance from them, perhaps to measure my safety. The solution for many of us to escape the imposition of gender in society, was to keep repeating that there are no men or women. This way, we can also forget that we are women.

But these days, we understand that in order to get rid of this gender division, we must all become women once and for all.

I’ve reached the regular streets of the city center—it is not easy to see their ends from the alley I’m in. My eyes follow the faces and heads of other women. I see them through the branches of the mulberry trees towards their yellow leaves. A woman gets out of the car in the middle of the alley, tying her hair back before grabbing a folder of papers and her purse from the back seat. I look carefully at the movement of her hands, her speed, her composure. My own two hands are shoved in the pockets of the loose sports pants that I’m wearing. Yet I had never walked with both hands in my pants pockets before. Why am I doing it now? Towards the right side of the alley, an older lady comes out of an apartment. Wearing a long-sleeve blouse and simple pants, she adjusts her leather handbag on her shoulder, and starts walking. I move a few steps behind her, and notice that there is also a halo that has followed her out of her home. A trace of her movements from the living room, to spinning around the kitchen, then leaning on the porch railing after laying out the laundry. It is as if this woman is moving with the repeated delicate movements that she does in housekeeping, and I could see these details from how she is dressed, without a uniform and a scarf. It is as if a home has stepped outside.

I remember the Iraqi women in the fall of 2019. When Baghdad’s Tahrir Square was occupied by revolutionaries, the women had set up a homey corner on the square. I remember a photo, where they were cutting tomatoes for the revolutionaries’ sandwiches, as well as washing dirty clothes and spreading them on a rope hanging from two tree branches. There was also the image of a woman sweeping Cairo’s Tahrir Square after eighteen days of sit-in, and the image of young people bringing their couches from their homes to block the bridge in Beirut. All these people had brought their home outside, to make the public space a home again.

A woman comes forward with fast and straight steps. She has thrown a maghna’e (a formal scarf for official institutions) on her shoulder. She looks like she’s exiting an administration building. Her untidy dyed hair is tied behind her head with a tight elastic band. I ask myself: how do different types of hair allow us to adjust the scarf in official places? Which type of hair is more rebellious?

The next alley is quiet. No one is coming from the front. I try to forget what I am wearing to feel safe. I think instead about the smells of different food coming out of windows, and the sound of a motorbike engine as it comes from behind me. I move quickly to the sidewalk, but nearly bump into a building wall.

At this moment, I try to forget that I am a woman. I remember that I am a part of a bigger body whose various organs got wounded and painful in the last three months.

I try to remember carefully the statements of Baloch women in the past few months. I imagine the moments they were choosing their words: their will to freedom. I try to remember the words of the mothers of martyrs of Kurdistan during the funeral ceremony: their sentences, their faces, their bodies on their lands. This reminder makes my scared body strong again. I remember that the freedom of the last few minutes that just passed was the result of warm blood that flowed from different parts of this bigger body. I think of warm blood and realize my hands are tightly fisted in my pant pockets. The engine finally passes by—it is a pick-up motorcycle. My body becomes relaxed. My hands unclench in my pockets. At the next crossroad, I pause for a while and look carefully at all the directions. From east to west, south to north. The autumn sun warms my ears.

Three teenage girls with big backpacks and long hair are streaming from the north side of the street. Their legs are moving in front of them in baggy pants, their hair bouncing up and down with each step as they laugh together. Their laughter flows in the four directions of the crossroad. I start to walk and I imitate the way they walk. Without realizing it, a smile appears on my face. A lady on the other side of the street takes out her two fingers from her coat sleeve, raising her hand halfway as a sign of victory and smiles towards me. I laugh at the lady across the street, but also at myself. These three teenage girls pass by between us without noticing us. It is as if women are connected to each other with invisible threads—with their smiles, their bodies, the way they walk and with their being.

I think about women’s environments—the “female-only sections” that I have experienced in my life. I always hated women’s spaces, it was where I felt suffocated. I never felt comfortable when the women were alone together. Most of the time when our environment was completely female, we were inside a fenced off area. Like the girls’ high school where we were surrounded by the school walls, it was always an isolated and separated environment. Although women in these environments communicated with each other, a large part of their energy and power was directed to the surrounding fences: what trick should be used to reach outside? What strategy is required to get past the walls? Which tactics can we use to survive outdoors? For a long time, we couldn’t focus on our relationship with each other and ourselves. Of course, things have changed in the last few years. We found each other again; we grew together; we pushed the fences.

Now that I am constantly finding other women on the street, are we creating our own environment? We are in the city and there is no immediate fence around us now. So it seems that we are spreading out.

Each woman carries out a unique mission alone and is related to other women on the street, held together by invisible lines.

Every woman I see on the street is busy with her daily life, and is carrying out a mission under bone-breaking economic pressures. To lead life in a city where the drive of life is constantly turning towards death, it can be hard to see the horizon ahead, especially during the most polluted days of the capital. I feel that millions of women today are paving the way for tomorrow. While it is difficult everyday and often feels impossible, we can still hear the sound of teenagers laughing.

What would happen if women looked at each other? What would happen if more and more women looked at each other?

I have learned a lot from looking at women on the street. To see our connections, which starts from my body—the way I feel my hands in my pockets—and how I’ve reshaped the way I see myself in the public space, in order to redefine feelings of fear and safety. I finally believed that I was a woman, yet at the same time I managed to get rid of this label forever. Now that I’m a part of a larger whole, no longer confined to one place, I no longer feel the need to perform as a woman. It became possible for me to become a different person: a person who was not imaginable for me before. Being one of the thousands of women who have chosen their way of being on the streets in the autumn of 2022, allowed me to be part of a group with the most diverse and different bodies. I learned the liberation of a woman’s body is liberation from cohesion and uniformity, a liberation to blur gender boundaries. The freedom to belong to all bodies that do not fit into the male and female division. To be free is to be fragmented, to spread out, to be free from classification, homogenization and calibration. Free to be chaotic, queer, absurd, illogical, and ordinary; This is the long way that our bodies started to walk, despite difficult and seemingly impossible obstacles

I have talked to many women in the last three months. More precisely, I only spoke to women in the last three months. I thought with them, drew plans with them, and wrote letters to them. I feel like I lived with women, and this was a practical solution to conquer my fears. It was the only solution to feel safe under unrelenting waves of dark news. Now I feel new words have formed between us: it is a new way of relationship that I did not know before. Within this dynamic, I’m becoming a new woman/none-woman—with both hands in my pants pockets. ■