Looking into my closet, I asked my husband, “How cold is it outside?” It’s snowing, he replied. My hand went toward my only boots, but I remembered: “I’m going to a feminist meeting.” Living as an Iranian refugee in Turkey, I had difficulty fitting into our new political group. I thought, “If I wear these stylish, attractive wedge heel boots, nobody will take me seriously.”
I tried to remember the last time I wore them. It was after the Green Movement in 2008. I wanted to visit my friend in Hamedan. I bought my first pair of boots because it was cold there. On the way, the excitement of wearing these new boots kept me looking at them all the time. I especially liked the big fur trim at the top with the strap around it.
By the time I got there, it was getting dark and snowing. As soon as I got off the bus, my body started shivering. I waited for a taxi outside the terminal. The darkness and the strangeness of the new city made me shake even more. All of a sudden, I saw a van in front of me with the shadows of two men in the front seat and a woman in the back. As it got closer, I saw the police sign. The older policeman told me to sit in the car. Having no option to run or resist, I did. The female police officer wore a black veil covering most of her face except her eyes. She looked at me viciously and said, “Those boots are very provocative. You are a Muslim girl. Where is your chastity?” I looked at the narrow shafts that revealed the shape of my legs. I wanted to scream, “No, I’m not a Muslim! Who the hell are you to tell me who I am?” But I thought to myself, calm down. Take a deep breath. You are already in trouble for protesting at the university. The police might have your name in the system.
Humiliated and vulnerable, I gave her my purse. I watched her going through my pencil case, my notebook, reading the first two pages, and finally, my wallet. She brought out my ID card and registered my name for the crime of wearing “immodest boots.” Then she gave me a big lecture about Islamic dress codes and Islamic mores. She ended her speech by saying, “Stop dressing like a whore. Next time you will be arrested. Leave the street before committing more sin!”
My husband’s voice broke my train of thought. “Hurry, we’re going to be late for the meeting.” We had started a new life in Turkey. In this new group of activists, I felt judged by my appearance, behaviour and even my choice of words. This time it was not about whether I followed Muslim values; it was about patriarchal values. Again, I was limited in choosing my lifestyle.
I looked at my boots.
They were not provocative at all! They were an imitation of Russian Cossack boots only with a feminine ruffle on the front. They were the boots of a warrior.
And I thought these boots are me, hiding in a closet for years. Living in Iran, I didn’t have a chance to be myself. And even after coming to Turkey with the promise of freedom, my real me was still sitting in the closet.
My hand went firmly toward my boots. I said out loud: “It is time to stand up and make your own choice. It is me and only me who should decide what shoes I stand in.”
MOJDE NIKMANESH is a women’s rights activist from Iran who dreams about an equal, peaceful world for all human beings.