Vol. 1 No. 1 (2020): Global Connections

Feminist Engagement in Contentious Politics in Iran

Published May 15, 2020


Iran has had several feminist movements in recent decades that ended in brutal repression and government crackdowns. Yet today, women's rights groups continue to mobilize, even in a worsening climate of religious polarization and state intolerance. Why? My paper weighs two scholarly explanations: first, the increasing tenacity and will of activism; and second, the declining ability of the Iranian state to repress. Whereas the optimistic approach stresses the robustness and durability of societal dissidence, the statist approach places primacy on political and security institutions. Utilizing a simple theory of rational decision-making, I combine the two in a novel way. I argue that Iranian feminists continue to engage in contentious politics in order to innovate new types of resistance, as an alternative to traditional organized movements -- that is, as a way to *avoid* opposition crackdown. Using the One Million Signature Campaign and White Wednesday women's "non- movements" as dual cases studies, I show how Iranian feminist activism has shifted from a traditional mass movement to a contentious, non-movement that combines social dissent with organizational creativity. Social media and cyberspace have played a critical role in this elusive cat-and-mouse game of outpacing regime repression.

Contentious politics, White Wednesdays, State oppression, Social media, Rational choice theory