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Iranian women weigh in on the French actresses’ solidarity haircuts

The video has since gone viral, with many criticising the celebrities of performative activism – but what do Iranian women make of it?

More than 50 famous French women have filmed themselves cutting their hair in a show of solidarity with the Iranian women who have been subject to state violence at protests against the death of Jina Mahsa Amini in police custody.

Juliette Binoche, Marion Cotillard, Isabelle Adjani and Charlotte Gainsbourg are among those who filmed themselves chopping off their hair. A compilation of the videos – overlaid with a Persian version of the Italian folk song Bella Ciao – was posted on Wednesday morning on Instagram and Twitter.

Since Amini’s death, Iran has since erupted in protest, with many women cutting their hair and burning their hijabs in defiance of the oppressive Iranian regime. The government has been using violence against citizens to suppress the protests, deploying tear gas and water cannons, and even limiting internet accessibility in order to reduce people’s ability to organise. Many social media users across the world – like the high-profile French women in this video – have been trying to raise awareness of the situation in Iran, to support those oppressed by the country’s brutal regime.

Since the video’s release, however, some social media users have criticised the video. Some have pointed out that many of the women only cut off small strands of their hair, making the gesture appear performative. Others have pointed out that France is rife with Islamophobia itself. “This is quite beautiful, undoubtedly,” Arnesa Buljušmic-Kustura, an academic and writer, tweeted. “But France is also the place where Muslim women’s bodies are often the topic of public debate and anti-choice laws. How many of these women came out in support of French Muslim women’s right to choose to wear the niqab or the hijab?”

It’s true that France has eroded the rights of Muslims in recent years in the name of ‘laïcité’ – the constitutional principle of secularism in France. However, it seems as though many Iranian women are glad to see these high-profile French women drawing attention to the crisis in Iran.

Soutiam, 20, is an Iranian woman living in the UK, and she explains that she’s “happy” to see people in the west raising awareness of Iranian women’s plight. “I think criticism of French women for caring about Iranian women is a bit strange,” she says. “As much as people on Twitter like to equate what has happened in France to what is happening in Iran, the two issues are just not the same.”

“I disagree with France’s laws on religious items and would oppose telling any woman what she should and should not wear. But that single principle does not mean France and Iran are now equal in their treatment of women,” she continues. As Soutiam points out, women’s rights are severely restricted in Iran: they cannot work without their husband’s permission; they cannot obtain a passport without their husband’s permission; their husbands can legally ban them from leaving the country. France has no such restrictions.

“Is it hypocritical for French women to be a bit bothered about a regime which actively tortures, rapes and murders men and women?” Soutiam says. “No, because as far as I know France does none of those things. And besides, it is actually possible to disagree with several things at a time.”

Rosa, a 22-year-old Iranian woman, agrees. “I don’t think the video is hypocritical,” she says. “Women and girls are protesting over decades of laws and their violent enforcement [in Iran], which is really an incomparable situation.” She adds that “dissecting” the video is hardly useful when, ultimately, raising awareness about the Iranian regime is the most important thing. “I’ve seen it shared by lots of Iranians on social media, usually just because they’re happy to see so many people show solidarity with their movement.”

Rosa adds that it’s vital people outside of Iran keep talking about what’s happening there. “Because of the media and internet blackout in Iran, those on the ground are largely asking those of us outside the country to amplify their voices and show our support – which can feel performative or helpless at times,” she says. “But it is a crucial aspect of building momentum and keeping their movement alive.”

Tiara, 24, is also an Iranian woman living in the UK. She reiterates that in actuality, women in Iran are begging others to amplify their actions, and that the hashtag ‘be our voice’ has gone viral in Farsi. “If these French actresses want to amplify Iranians’ voices, without using critique of Iran as a proxy for Islamophobia - then great,” Tiara says.

She also understands the backlash to the video, however. “Western intervention – often under the auspices of ‘saving women’ – has killed millions in countries bordering Iran,” she says. “But it’s important to note that it’s not actually Iranians living within Iran who are criticising these French actresses.” Tiara is right: if the majority of Iranian women want the world to ‘be their voice’, in whatever way we can, as their government continues to oppress and silence them – then it’s our job to listen.