Masih Alinejad

Journalist

New York City, NY

'First cover your hair...'' is a retort familiar to all women in Iran. I bet every woman in Iran has heard that put down at least once in their life.

First cover your hair, then you may ask your question,'' the Iranian member of Parliament said when I approached him in the lobby to interview him for a political story. He waved his fat fist in front of my face.If you don't cover yourself, I'll have to beat some sense into you.''

In a panic, I took a step back and reached with my hands to protect my face and check my hijab. All I found were two loose strands of hair sticking out from under my head covering.

``All this fuss for two strands of hair,'' I told him. He should be ashamed of himself. "What will you do if you take a walk in the streets?"

That did not go down well. The lawmaker, who was also a cleric, yelled and started to wave his arms as he came to hit me. I am not really brave and it was lucky that the commotion attracted the attention of other journalists who rushed to stop him from hitting me. A photographer even took pictures of the angry scenes.

You see, his comments did not make any sense. All women who wanted to enter the Parliament area, had to wear the strictest form of hijab. Women in Iran have to wear the hijab from the age of 7.

``First cover your hair...'' is a retort familiar to all women in Iran. I bet every woman in Iran has heard that put down at least once in their life.

I had heard that comment a number of times.

Women, like me, who have too much hair, always had a problem covering our hair. As a teenager, my parents would force me down on the floor to tamp down my hair before tying a scarf around my hair.

As a woman parliamentary journalist, I was often told by politicians that I was too loud when I asked my questions, or I that I should fix my hijab. My hair was a problem in Iran. No one told my male colleagues that they were too loud or had too much hair. That day I didn't back down and leaned in. I wasn't going to leave my place at the table. You see, I loved being a political journalist; I loved competing and beating my rivals, men and women. The memory of that punch that almost waylaid me has stayed with me – instead of knocking me down, it has motivated me to be ask tougher questions and dig deeper.

Maybe that's why later that year, I uncovered a major corruption case in the parliament, where the lawmakers had awarded themselves pay rises and perks. The story was front page news in Iran but it got me expelled from the parliament. No matter, my celebrity elevated me to become a political writer for a number of daily newspapers.

Instead of backing down, I was even more determined to bring up the question of hijab whenever I interviewed major figures. Like when I met President Mohammad Khatami. I asked him what his reaction would be if on a state visit to a Western nation, if his hosts insisted that Iran's First Lady, removed her hijab, and dress like a Western woman. Khatami said the West should respect our Islamic values. Aha, I said, so, why don't we respect Western women when they come to Iran and insist that they wear the hijab.

Khatami, for once, was speechless.

Today, I live outside of Iran, thousands of miles away from the men who threatened to beat me up and robbed of the right to return to my country. Those men may think they have won but I now have a platform, My Stealthy Freedom, through which hundreds of thousands of Iranian women are asking questions about hijab that no punch can silence.

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