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Be a Man a social media campaign started by Iranian men that involves taking a picture of oneself wearing the hijab, a head covering traditionally worn by Muslim women, and sharing it online. The subversive photo fad first began on Facebook during the 2009 Iranian protests following the arrest of student activist Majid Tavakoli, who was forced to put on the hijab after being taken into custody for state propaganda.
On December 7th, 2009, Iranian college student and activist Majid Tavakoli was arrested after giving a speech at the Student Day protest in Tehran. Later that day, state-run news agencies reported that he was arrested by the security forces as he sought to flee the campus site “disguised as a woman,” accompanied by a photograph of him dressed in headscarf and robes, looking ashamed:
The Green Movement
On June 12th, 2009, a series of civil protests erupted across Iran following the globally contested reelection of incumbent president Mahjoud Ahmadinejad. During the early onset of the demonstrations, Iranian Twitter users changed the profile avatars to solid green to show their support for the opposition which came to be known as The Green Movement.
To express solidarity for the imprisoned activist, hundreds of Iranian men began updating their Facebook profiles with hijabs around their faces. The official “Free Majid Tavakoli” Facebook event was created to further spread the photo campaign.
Elsewhere on the web, several Iranian human rights activists and bloggers openly supported the theory that the photographs were staged under duress by the police authorities in an attempt to humiliate the prominent student activist, citing several witnesses who saw Tavakoli at the protests.
Meanwhile, other detractors of the Iranian government photoshopped the faces of Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Khamanei and President Mahmud Ahmadinejad into Majid’s mugshot image.
Foreign Media Coverage
On December 9th, 2009, The New York Times’ Lede blog covered the story of Majid’s arrest and the controversy. On December 10th, Radio Free Europe also covered the profile trend in an article titled “Men In Hijabs: Iranian Green Movement’s New Tactic.” On December 12th, Global Voices relayed Iranian state news agencies’ claim that he was found dressed as a woman to evade arrest, while raising skepticism as to its legitimacy.
2013 Kurdish Protest
In April 2013, a group of Kurdish men in the Kurdistan province of Iran launched a similar Facebook campaign after the police subjected a convicted criminal to public humiliation by forcing him to march in public while cross-dressed in traditional Kurdish women’s clothing.
Since the launch of the Facebook page “Kurd Men for Equality” on April 18th, more than 9,000 users have joined the group in the first week and at least 150 Kurdish men have pledged their support by posting photographs of themselves in women’s clothing, while women have joined the cause by doing the same in men’s clothes.