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

Sahar Haghighat

Advisor: Nancy W Hanrahan, PhD, Department of Sociology and Anthropology

Committee Members: John Dale, Lester Kurtz

Online Location, Online
May 02, 2022, 03:30 PM to 05:30 PM


In June 2009 following a contentious presidential election, a cycle of anti-government 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 and evoking transnational media to question, “Are women the face of this movement?” Engaging with this transnational curiosity of Iranian women’s political participation, this study examines the nature of women’s participation in the Iranian Green Movement. In what capacity are women seen participating in movement actions? What participatory methods are women seen employing in support of the movement? Do gendered methods of participation contribute to the construction of a gendered aesthetic? Are women participating in the movement in ways that are absent from this dominant gendered aesthetic?

To answer these questions, this study incorporates 6-months of transnational fieldwork across 5 sites and 190 randomly selected 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. 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.

The dominant gendered aesthetic of the movement is composed of thin, young, well-made up women who are often seen alone deploying movement symbols like green adornments or a V-ictory sign. This dominant aesthetic is a commercialized aesthetic fashioned by its marketability in the global North. Emphasizing a white capitalist patriarchal lens, this commercialized aesthetic prioritizes women’s physical appearance over their participatory methods. Despite the dominance of the commercialized aesthetic, the local street aesthetic provides a more complete representation of women’s participation including the role of the “Mourning Mothers” and all mothers in the movement. These findings serve as an example of how a global South movement can lose control of its aesthetic image when pursuing transnational support.