Masih Alinejad is a brave woman. She is a child of the Iranian Revolution, raised in a tiny village in northern Iran, only knowing one major rule: that she must keep hijab on at all times. After being arrested as a teenager for innocently producing political pamphlets with her friends, Alinejad rose to success as a political journalist until she was forced into exile in the West because of her exposes on said politicians. I discovered her via the Facebook page My Stealthy Freedom by chance one day, and was delighted when I discovered Alinejad was publishing an English-language memoir.
The Wind in my Hair is Masih Alinejad’s first English language nonfiction, and her fifth book overall, and was released in May of this year. It was an unforgettable read, and though it took me a few weeks to read this 400-page tome, I was eagerly awaiting the next time I would read every time I was away from it. There are two reasons for this. One: The writing style employed by Alinejad and her co-writer/husband Kambiz Foroohar is striking and memorable, and easily readable. I read the entire Amazon sample hurriedly while waiting for it to arrive at my library. Second: Her story is so different from most other memoirs you have likely read. It will leave you feeling a whole gamut of emotions: sadness at the treatment of women in Iran, disappointment at the regime’s treatment of its citizens, disbelief at the state of Iranian journalism, joy as she finally finds love and the satisfying conclusion with her son, only for shock to appear as that all comes tearing down with U.S President Trump’s travel ban.
We start with Alinejad recalling her childhood in Ghomikola, a tiny village in northern Iran, and her life with her many family members: her supportive yet oblivious brother Ali, her serious yet wise father AghaJan, her loving mother, ultra-conservative sister Mina, plus a host of others. It starts off innocently enough until Alinejad first enters the schooling system, where we become aware that things are not alright. Her childhood is interspersed with the history of the Iranian Revolution, including the fall of the Shah and his family and the rise of Ayatollah Khomenei and his successor Khamenei.
Without reciting the entire memoir, needless to say, Alinejad’s life is an interesting one, and the novel really begins when an eighteen year old Alinejad is arrested for spreading political leaflets with her friends. They are all sent to prison, brutally interrogated, and the radical amongst them is eventually executed. Alinejad discovers she is pregnant while in prison, and this leads to a hasty marriage organised by her parents so as to not to destroy the family’s reputation (premarital sex is a big no-no in Iran, and as you’ve likely guessed, the woman’s fault). Alinejad, her husband, and their newborn son escape from small-town life to Tehran, Iran’s capital, where their relationship is short-lived, and Alinejad’s ex-husband gains custody of her son. What did you expect? A divorcee in a city that barely treats women as human, Alinejad makes the most of it, refusing to head back to Ghomikola and wait around for another husband. Instead, she uses her contacts (namely, her older brother), and becomes a journalist.
One of the most confronting scenes in this entire novel is when a female friend offers to walk Alinejad home at night, and they are confronted by an off-duty police officer, who roughs them up and accuses them of being prostitutes. Alinejad is bashed, and eventually a taxi is called. The taxi driver, instead of caring that two women have been attacked, says this:
Please, ladies, fix your head scarves. I need you to respect the hijab laws.
To those who believe the women of Iran—every single one—choose to wear the hijab because of feminism and their own free will—then explain this…If Iran is such a free, equal nation, then why are these women being bashed and called “prostitutes” for showing a few strands of hair?
This is not all. Once Alinejad becomes a political/Majilis reporter, a couple of strands of hair fall from her hijab while she is in the hallway of Parliament. A male politician notices her and threatens to attack her. It makes the petty trivialities of Trump says/Schnump schnays politics seem pretty damn trivial. The corruption that Alinejad witnesses while a political reporter is also fascinating. Newspapers are frequently shut down because they criticise the current leader. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is so offended Alinejad calls him a “dolphin” that she is banned from Parliament. Journalists are frequently punished and tortured at the notorious Evin prison. Dissent only goes as far as “reformist” to “ardent Khamenei conservative”, which in Alinejad’s words, is “as if in the United States the only political opinions permitted were those of the Tea Party and the moderate Republicans”. In other words, the reformists are no better than the conservatives at treating Iranians—in particular, Iranian women—like human beings.
The book picks up pace with the 2009 fraudulent Presidential elections. During these elections, Alinejad discovers it is no longer safe for her to live in Iran, and she escapes to the United Kingdom. There, she keeps up her reporting of the 2009 elections where, to everyone’s surprise, Ahmadinejad is reelected. From a safer location, Alinejad reports on what Iranian journalists cannot. She is a hero, and especially so, considering she is risking her life. She learns the Supreme Leader of Iran is trying to smear her image by claiming she was raped by bandits. Of course, in Iran, rape is always the woman’ fault. Sad.
It is the ending of The Wind in my Hair that I wished Masih Alinejad expanded upon. I would’ve loved to hear more of the stories of The Victims of 88: those who were murdered during the 2009 elections. In the middle of the book, Alinejad includes some photographs that I would’ve loved to hear in more detail than actually were. We heard about a few of the relatives of those killed, with the particularly striking example of the nonpolitical girl who was killed while heading to a music lesson with her tutor.
I also would’ve loved more information about the White Wednesdays campaign and of #MyStealthyFreedom. While it took up a fair portion of the last part of the book, I felt it was fairly rushed, and was a little disappointed, since My Stealthy Freedom was the reason I picked up the book. It felt more was dedicated to life in Ghomikola than the stories of the silenced women of Iran, though it could be because this is a memoir. If Alinejad writes more, I hope she writes more about the women of My Stealthy Freedom. The more we hear these women’s voices, the more (we hope) they will be allowed the basic freedoms we women in the West take for granted.
I particularly enjoyed reading of Alinejad’s critiques of Western feminism. The self-proclaimed feminists of the Swedish government, and of German politician Claudia Roth, who all seem to believe that the women of countries like Iran choose their situation, and that wearing head-to-toe coverings are the same as wearing a baseball cap. Alinejad sums it up best:
The [Swedish] women put on head scarves, long coats, and clothing that even Iranian women themselves would not wear. Apparently the Swedes act as feminists when faced with Western men and when making cheap political points at the expense of Trump. When faced with patriarchal societies that subjugate and oppress women as a matter of government policy, they wilted.
Seems like the West still has a long way to go to understanding the rest of the world are not exactly like us. Alinejad even brings up Australia’s ex-Foreign Minister (spoiler alert!) Julie Bishop and her pathetic response to the Iranian regime. To be honest, I was not expecting Australian opinion columnist Andrew Bolt to be mentioned in this book, especially as someone saying the right thing.
Overall, The Wind in my Hair by Masih Alinejad is an engaging, memorable read that anyone who claims to be a “feminist” or believes in equality should read. She writes freely, honestly, and with much anger about life in a country that still believes it is in the Middle Ages. She is incredibly brave, doing so many things that even the strongest female activists in the West would cower at. I’d be the first to admit that it would be terrifying to do even 1/10th of the courageous acts Masih Alinejad has undertaken. To even be able to take her headscarf off briefly while driving should be considered amazingly heroic. Despite a few parts of this book that should’ve been expanded upon, and others that could have been shorter, this book was still an excellent read.
As Masih Alinejad says, she’s not against the hijab. She just wants women to have the right to choose what they want. To be able to feel the wind in their hair.