A Flash of Green, a Slip of the Dress, and a Mother’s Embrace: the Gendered Aesthetic in the 2009 Iranian Green Movement



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In June 2009 following a contentious presidential election, a cycle of antigovernmental protests took place in major cities throughout Iran. Garnering the attention of the transnational community, this uprising was branded the “Iranian Green Movement” and came to be represented by images of young, well made-up women seen “posing” for the camera leading transnational media to ask, “Are women the face of this movement?” Engaging with this transnational discourse about Iranian women’s political participation, this research examines the nature of women’s participation in the Iranian Green Movement and the construction of a gendered aesthetic. There are three research questions in this study: how did women’s participation in Green Movement protest actions shape the gendered aesthetic of the movement; does the overrepresentation of one method of women’s participation dominate the gendered aesthetic marginalizing the representation of all other methods of women’s participation; and did the transnational curation of the Green Movement’s digital street aesthetic shift the dominant representation of gender towards a specific representation of women that is more often associated with the global North? There are two methods of data collection in this research and multiple methods of data analysis. The primary data used to answer these research questions are 190 sample photographs posted to the online photo management and sharing app, Flickr. Generated from the results of 3 key search terms, the photographs in this study represent a comprehensive sample of images from Green Movement protests collected from various users, albums, dates/times, and locations. I also spent time at many Green Movement rallies as an autoethnographic participant collecting thorough notes from the field documenting my experience. Qualitative analysis of these images uncovers the gendered methods of participation visible in the digital street aesthetic such as women’s use of movement symbols and men’s proximity to violent imagery. Treating protest aesthetics as performative, I discovered that the representations of women that came to dominate this protest aesthetic—young, thin, attractive women seen standing alone—are embodying movement politics through the amalgamation of their daily performances of patriarchal womanhood with the political performance of collective protest. These images are curated by a transnational advocacy network of Green Movement participants with greater access to these digital networks swaying the dominant gendered aesthetic towards representations of women most associated with the global North. This narrowing of the lens overlooks the crucial participation of older women and the “Mourning Mothers” who enact gendered identities in protest to leverage social change. These findings serve as an example of how a global South movement can lose control of its aesthetic image when pursuing transnational support.



Aesthetics, Iran, Mothers, Social movements, Transnational, Women