Why Western Women Aren’t Doing Enough For Their Iranian Sisters

Zahra Barri
6 min readDec 23, 2022

Now I’m not trying to pit women against each other, but western feminists think they’re far more advanced than Middle Eastern feminists. But this is simply not the case. Take Huda Shawarri who campaigned for equal pay in Egypt in the 1930’s- western feminists did not do this till 1970. Or Doria Shafik who went on hunger strike in the 1950’s to get Egyptian women the vote, while western women were on the cabbage soup diet. It’s fair to say I’ve got a massive girl crush on Doria Shafik (I’m writing a book about her) and its nothing to do with the fact that she came second in an Egyptian Beauty contest which was controversial at the time because she was the only Muslim woman who entered. Like all great feminists she had brains too.

Shafik started an Egyptian feminist magazine called Bint Al Nir which discussed things like women’s rights in Islam while western women’s magazines were writing articles about how to please your husband. That’s right, she wrote articles for women on how to get ahead, while western women’s magazines taught women how to give head. Then there’s Fatima Mernissi, Moroccan sociologist and feminist who wrote in her pivotal book in the 1970’s The Veil and The Male Elite that the west wears a metaphorical veil and are just as oppressed by the patriarchy. Which is true because my friend Kelly covers her face in so much make up, Botox and filler I haven’t seen her real face since 2004. From western secular feminists to middle eastern Islamic feminists, we’re all fighting for the same thing, equality and autonomy of body and mind. We might be oppressed by opposite ends of the patriarchy, but we’re still oppressed.

So Why Are Western Women Looking Away?

Western women think that because they are not getting killed for taking off an item of clothing that they are not like the Iranian women. But western women are made to feel invisible if they don’t sexualise (more specifically infantilise) their bodies. A western woman over a certain age is as good as dead to the Patriarchy. They can only bring themselves back to life by selling their soul to Instagram filters (where they are made to look like a Disney cartoon) or chemical peels (where the skin on their face is literally burnt off) or by injecting themselves with poisonous Botox (that you can now get at Boots after you pick up your husband’s haemorrhoid cream). The west think that because women now divorce for money that they can never go back to marrying for money. That because we can now have it all; an only fans account where we take ownership of our sexuality and an Instagram page where we post our ‘authentic’ selves, (as long as ‘authentic’ translates as ‘hot mess’) that we are not like the women of Iran. That because we are a member of several WhatsApp groups all with ‘boss bitch’ and ‘brunch’ in the title that we can never go back to waiting for our husbands to come home for him to ‘properly’ discipline our children. The children we might not have had if we had gone to university or got that abortion or gone travelling or simply decided that motherhood is not part of our identity as a human being. That because we now kiss girls because we feel free to explore the nuances of our sexuality and not to impress that guy we like that we can never go back to physically and metaphorically kissing our husbands’ feet.

Western feminists think they have solved feminism because they are ruled by a Matriarchy. But the Kardashians are double agents to the Patriarchy, and they are selling us teas that promise to help us shit out a dress size and lip kits that make our mouths swell up so much that, rather ironically, make us look like we’ve been punched in the face by our violent husbands. In a way we have.

The west think that because they’ve had the me-too movement, apologised for what they did to poor Britney Spears and can cancel predatory men on Twitter that they’ve cracked feminism. Feminism has been ticked off on their to do list, along with the unshared emotional labour of buying Christmas presents for all the in-laws.

However, progress in feminism is never linear. You only have to google image ‘Iranian women’ and find them in miniskirts in in 1972 and in in niqabs in 2022 to realise that. Feminism is like the grief of heartbreak, it’s up and down. Sometimes you wake up and you stick two fingers up to the guy who throughout your entire relationship history, cheated, gaslit and made you feel like nothing but also validated your entire existence. You might feel empowered one day, equipped with a new sense of vim and vigour fuelled by prosecco brunches and eight-minute-long voice notes with your bestie and chant “I don’t need him anymore!” like you’re a backing singer in a Lizzo song. But other days you wake up and need him to mend not only your shattered heart but your, er, hoover too. Progress is never straightforward. That’s why feminism comes in waves. It’s a tsunami that immerses a generation only to cause the next generation to float back into the Floridian sea where abortions are illegal.

The fundamental problem with western feminists I believe is that they have removed their stories from the stories of these Iranian women. But the truth is western women have more in common with Iranian women than they do their husbands, boyfriends or brothers. Women are bound by blood. A woman could be from the Planet Jupiter, if I live with her for a month, we’ll get our periods at the same time. Do you know how many months I had to live with my ex-boyfriend before we were in sync? With time it happened. He got his male period when I accidentally broke his PlayStation. However, the truth is that time might change things, but it doesn’t necessarily heal you from the past, all it does is distance us from our trauma by putting a big fat band aid over it, which weathered by time, can start to unstick.

At any given moment we can go back in time. Emancipation is like fashion it always comes back. The recent Nazi coup in Germany is evidence of how quickly a seemingly liberal country can go back to the days of yesteryear.

Western feminists look away from the atrocities of Iran because they never believe that could happen in the west. They think Iran are backward thinking but that’s only because they write from right to left. The truth is that all feminists stand on the same page, unable to take full control of their narrative.

Time travelling isn’t just in movies, girls. WE CAN ALWAYS GO BACK…

So, stand with Iranians and Iranian women. The middle eastern and western patriarchy are twin brothers. Romulus and Remus. One has gone one way the other has gone another but they both have the same blood running through their veins.

Find the commonality not differences. The next time you post a pic of your best girlie friends having a brunch and letting their hair down, saying something ‘pithy’ in the caption (because you are hilarious as well as gorgeous): ‘We were so wild we should have got arrested!’ Why not post a picture of Donya Rad eating brunch without her headscarf, who actually got arrested.

Don’t turn you back and say, this is not my country. Stand up and say this is our world.

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Zahra Barri

Egyptian/Irish Writer/Comic/PhD Student Unbound Firsts 2024 WINNER Pre-Order my novel,Daughters of the Nile https://unbound.com/books/daughters-of-the-nile/