The revolution that swept through Iran 40 years ago ruptured all diplomatic ties between Iran and the United States. This we know all too well. But another bond, one between Iranian feminists and their American counterparts, was also ruptured, which, unlike the other, occurred in virtual anonymity.
In March 1979, days after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini rose to power, the American feminist icon Kate Millett traveled to Tehran. On March 8, Millett looped arms with fellow women demonstrators to protest against Khomeini’s proposal to reinstitute a mandatory dress code for women, the hijab. If there were a moment that could stand for a perfect microcosm of all that was right about Iran then—and for all that was about to go wrong—it was that moment in March. Veiled women, alongside unveiled women, were throwing their fists into the air, demanding gender equality.
When reporters asked the veiled women what they were protesting, since they themselves wore the veil, they unanimously said they objected to the eradication of choice. These women wanted the next generation to have more freedom than theirs did. A reporter asked Millett what she thought of Khomeini. She cast an unflinching look into the camera and said she believed Khomeini was a “male chauvinist.” These were the euphoric post-revolutionary days when most people revered the ayatollah; those who did not knew to keep silent. It was no surprise when Millett was subsequently arrested and expelled—an experience that she later recalled as the most terrifying of her life.