The news emerging from Iran describes a courageous fight for freedom.
When it comes to repression, the Iranian government is among the most brutal in the world. Now protests are sweeping the country after its notorious "morality police" killed 22-year-old Mahsa Amini for allegedly not wearing her hijab appropriately. The widespread response has united people of different ages, economic classes, ethnicities, and even religiousness.
The Iranian people have protested before in the wake of other outrages. And, once again, a brutal and bloody crackdown is underway. If the past is prologue, hundreds will die. But reports from the country suggest that the embers of disgust at the regime will not be easily extinguished — no matter the arrests, tear gas, or bullets. Many Iranians are saying some version of, “We have nothing to lose.” And it is difficult to permanently subdue a population that feels that way.
Another hallmark of these protests has echoes in other movements active around the world, including in the United States. And it is one that should have Iranian authorities rethinking their assumptions. At the frontlines of these protests are women. They are burning their headscarves, dancing in the streets, and chanting their truths.
It is impossible to overstate the courage of these actions. They represent a direct repudiation of a system that oppresses women at all stages of life. Iranian women are fighting for the most basic of human rights: the right to be themselves. In this fight, they are of course not alone. Around the globe, societies that differ in such matters as religion, race, ethnicity, or even form of government often have one thing in common — women have fewer rights than their male counterparts. Their work is less valued, their autonomy questioned, their voices silenced.
Most if not all present-day societies have been constructed by men to further domination by men. This dynamic is fundamentally incompatible with a truly just and equitable society, no matter how soaring the rhetoric of one’s constitution.
And that is the case in our beloved United States. You aren’t truly a representative democracy if women are not equal citizens, both in practice as well as in law. Our country and others have achieved progress toward this goal, but much remains to be done. And while male allies have aided the cause in America, women have inevitably been compelled to rely on their courage, determination, ingenuity, intelligence (and any other positive adjective you wish to offer), to secure more of an equal footing in their own country.
Now, in the wake of the Dobbs decision, what had seemed to many a consistent march of progress has been thrown backward. Roe's reversal signified the culmination of a trend years in the making. Indeed, the election of Donald Trump and all he stood for was not only a rebuke of women’s progress but a threat to women’s rights. Hillary Clinton, who would have been the country's first woman president, warned the nation during the 2016 campaign. Like those of countless women before her, her concerns were too readily dismissed.
During the Trump presidency, many of those who stood up to defend American democracy most forcefully and effectively were women. There was the Women’s March in the immediate wake of the inauguration, to let the world know there would be a vocal and passionate opposition. Women ran for and won elected office in 2018 and 2020 by campaigning as bulwarks against Trump and Trumpism. And women lawyers took action in a variety of forums to protect America’s rights and ideals against the Trump assault. My friend Dahlia Lithwick profiles many examples of this mobilization in her wonderful new book Lady Justice.
To be sure, women are not monolithic in their politics. There are millions who support Trump, and it was the addition of a woman to the Supreme Court — Amy Coney Barrett — that helped cement the end of Roe. But one need only look at the gender gap for voters in this country to recognize that if women were still barred from exercising this basic right (as they were for the majority of this nation’s history), we would be a very different country. And that’s putting it mildly. It’s chilling to contemplate where we would be.
Is it a coincidence that of all the Republicans who could have spoken out against the outrages of Trump, it is a woman, Liz Cheney, who has done so most forcibly and has faced the biggest backlash?
Is it surprising that the most direct efforts to hold Trump legally accountable to date have come from women, and Black women at that — New York Attorney General Letitia James and Fani T. Willis, the district attorney for Fulton County, Georgia?
Is it shocking that in the wake of Dobbs and other outrages, women would once again rally in defense of a vision for America that is inclusive and empathetic?
This nation, and our larger world, are greatly improved by women’s activism and political involvement. That is a statement of fact. The evidence is overwhelming. In the United States, it is striking that women, who have felt the inequality of American democracy from its inception, should be among its fiercest protectors and improvers. This is something women share with Black America and a reason why women of color in particular have played such a vital role in making our country better against long odds.
We are headed into an election where the forces summoned by Trump still threaten the future of American democracy. If they are defeated, it is likely to be because once again women stepped in to save the country from itself.
In the long run, from the streets of Iran to the ballot boxes of America, from political movements around the world to the dreams of young girls who know they are just as capable as their male counterparts, we can find a real and persistent hope that women will also help save the world from itself.
Let us hope that, regardless of gender, nationality, race, religion, or other distinction, there will be widespread support for women in this march toward the ideals of freedom, justice, and equality.
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We women hold much more power than we ever dreamed of.
Just think — if we had more women leaders worldwide I’d venture to say there would be much less war, for one thing. No one wants to send their father, husband, daughter or son off to war.
We are changing the world. One vote at a time… 🌻
Once again Mr Rather, your writing is pertinent and aimed at the bigger than all the small but important items in the news. My father-in-law in the 70’s was a card carrying member of NOW (Nat’l Organization of Women) and said if our world is to survive it will be because of women who are nurturers not war mongers acting like “the cock of the walk”. It struck such a cord with me. His son, my partner in life over 50 years is not nearly as brace to voice such things in our home. Our two grown daughters, their daughters and a contingent of friends were among that amazing Womens’ March. Sadly so many otherwise good men don’t truly buy the fact we should absolutely be viewed as their equals.