If you’ve been following the newspapers over the last couple of weeks, you are probably properly shocked and appalled by the renewed oppression of women in Iran. Here is a sampling of the actual headlines:
Reuters, April 22: “Iranian Police Start Summer Crackdown on Women’s Dress.”
Houston Chronicle, April 23: “Iran Cracks Down on Dress Code for Women.”
Washington Post, April 23: “Iran Cracks Down on Women’s Dress”
ABC News, April 25: “Iran cracks down on women’s dress”; “Iranian Crackdown on Veils.”
The Guardian, UK, April 23: “Iran Cracks Down on Women’s Dress.”
And, of course, the New York Post:
“Iran’s Vicious Dresstapo Hits Unveiled Gals with Barbaric ‘Banishment.’” April 25.
What you might have missed, reading all those headlines, is that the dress code in Iran applies equally to men and women. For that, you have to read the stories pretty closely. Reuters never mentions the fact. The Houston Chronicle notes this in passing in paragraph 13, the Washington Post in paragraph 14, the New York Post not until paragraph 16. The BBC’s headline is more neutral—“Crackdown in Iran over Dress Code”—but the fact that men too must comply does not come until paragraph 26.
Conclusion: it does not matter what you do to men; only what happens to women.
To be fair, it seems that many more women than men are being hauled in for violations. But, from my observations here in the Persian Gulf, or even in Canada, I’ll wager that fact can be entirely accounted for by fewer men trying to violate the ban. Just imagine any restriction on men’s dress alone being referred to as “vicious” or “barbaric.” No, the truth of the matter is that we really do naturally assume women should have more rights than men. Such a trivial violation of men’s rights would not trouble us in the least; most men would just quietly accept it. Do it to women as well, though, and it is front-page news worldwide.
It illustrates the truth we all learned, if we were attentive children, from the fairy tale of the Princess and the Pea. One who is used to luxury will scream loudest if it is not forthcoming. One accustomed to a hard bed is less likely to complain.
I recall being struck by this truth forcefully while living in Korea. Westerners, men and women, would object strenuously to the treatment of women in that culture: expected traditionally, if not currently, to stay home with the kids with little to do. Meantime, nobody seemed to care that the husbands, were actually dying of overwork. The average Korean salaryman cannot expect fixed hours: he must stay at the office as long as his boss wants him to, on any day his boss wants. This usually means six-day work weeks, and twelve-hour work days. Nothing wrong with that. But let a women get bored? Oppression!
If this is oppression of women, then Marx clearly had it backwards: the idle landowners and capitalists have all along been viciously and barbarically oppressed by the working poor.