A Memoir That Came to Life When She Removed Her Hijab
The first time Masih Alinejad, an Iranian journalist and activist, walked in public without her hijab was in 2006. She was a 30-year-old columnist for Etemad-e-Melli, a now defunct Iranian daily newspaper, and working on a series of articles in Beirut, Lebanon. Ms. Alinejad, who was on her first trip outside of Iran, was immediately struck by the city’s relatively relaxed attitude toward women’s appearance in public.
“Throughout my life I had been told that my virtue, my chastity, my self-worth, all were wrapped up in my head scarf,” Ms. Alinejad writes in her new memoir, “The Wind in My Hair,” out May 29 from Little, Brown and Company. “In Beirut, women had a choice; some chose the hijab, but others didn’t. And yet the fabric of Lebanese society had not fallen apart.”
Along with another Iranian woman she befriended early in her trip, Ms. Alinejad swallowed her nerves and stripped off her head scarf one morning near her hotel. Eight years later, she founded “My Stealthy Freedom,” a social media campaign against compulsory hijab laws, and gave voice to millions of Iranian women by encouraging them to share photos of themselves without their hijabs. “It is just the first step toward full equality and it is just the most visible symbol of oppression against women,” Ms. Alinejad said of her campaign and hijabs earlier this month.
Before Ms. Alinejad, now 41 and living in Brooklyn, founded international movements or wrote books or became one of the Iranian government’s fiercest critics, she grew up in Ghomikola, a rural village in Iran. As a young girl she did not understand why she could not run around and play like her brothers or why she had to wear her chador, a full body cloak. Instead of accepting her fate as prescribed by Iranian law and her family, Ms. Alinejad chose to be different.
The throughline between Ms. Alinejad’s early acts of rebellion — from refusing to wear a chador to starting a political reading group in high school — and her current work inspired this memoir. “My life is just full of stories, and as a young girl I was always told that ‘your story is not important,’” she said. “This book is about overcoming obstacles as a woman in Iran and fighting for my identity.”
“The Wind in My Hair,” which Ms. Alinejad wrote with her husband, Kambiz Foroohar, paints a vivid portrait of modern Iran and chronicles her journey from Iran to Britain and finally the United States. She details her career as a journalist covering Iran’s parliament, her first marriage, raising her son and her 2009 exile from Iran. The book comes at a time of renewed energy within the feminist movement, and Ms. Alinejad believes that the book’s themes transcend borders. “If you are a true feminist then you have to condemn inequality everywhere, whether it is in the West or in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” she said. “If you want to have a better world for women, you have to stick together.”
— Lovia Gyarkye