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‘The fear of saying the wrong thing consumes us’: an Iranian-American advertiser’s confession about the industry’s silence on Iranian women’s rights

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The current push for Iranian women’s rights began with Mahsa (Zheena) Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman who died in September in the custody of Iran’s vice squad for wearing a hijab incorrectly. Since then, what began as a gaffe in protest of her death has inspired Iranian women to create what has been dubbed the Women’s Revolution.

Iran’s feminist movement has eclipsed the country’s World Cup performance after Iranian players reportedly failed to sing their national anthem or celebrate their goals. Fans in the stands did the same, in solidarity with the protest. Big brands like Gucci and Balenciaga have taken to social media to show their support.

Meanwhile, US-based marketers and advertisers have remained calm. At least one Iranian-American advertiser is calling on the industry to speak out and deliver on the promises of diversity, equality and inclusion made in 2020 at the height of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“I’ve seen every agency come forward and speak out on Black Lives Matter, [Asian American and Pacific Islander] Hate and feminism,” said the advertiser. “For me, looking at the feminist revolution in Iran is like, ‘Where is everyone? Why isn’t anyone speaking?’”

In this edition of Digiday’s Confessions series, where we trade anonymity for candor, an advertiser at a global advertising agency talks about the industry’s silence on the feminist revolution in Iran and how it is contributing to Iranian abolitionism in America. talk about.

This interview has been slightly edited for clarity.

Why do you think it’s important for American advertising agencies to speak out about the Iranian feminist movement?

We work with the biggest brands in the world, our impact is limitless. We work with brands that dictate culture. And we, as an industry, describe ourselves as culture makers. At the moment, we are actively pursuing the culture. The culture is at a point where Iran’s resistance is highlighted, seen, discussed and supported by brands. But those who supposedly create the culture are not. He made a choice. At this point, the choice seems to have been made to say nothing.

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This can be a touchy subject. Do you think that’s why advertisers haven’t spoken up?

Iran is complicated and the government is very bad. I don’t think anyone would disagree with that. When people think of Iran, they think of negativity. So they are afraid to express solidarity, because in a way you speak against Iran’s enemies. I understand why it’s difficult. I understand why it’s difficult. But we fight against that machine. We are fighting against the Iranian regime, it is an extremist regime. There is a lack of understanding and knowledge that contributed to this.

[Taking] It’s back to June 2020, the fear of saying the wrong thing is eating us alive. It’s a cycle. People want to say something but say nothing because ‘I don’t want to lose my job’. Therefore, if I say nothing and no one says anything, nothing is said. You are left to your own devices and that is scary – there is no one to talk to about it.

This is a feminist revolution. Of course it’s complicated. It’s just women who want equality. This is the baseline of what is happening in Iran. It should not be difficult for anyone to show solidarity with them. It should be easy for all of us, especially those in the West who embrace feminism, to stand up [support women],

What do you think is the difference between what is happening in Iran and the advertisers calling for war in Ukraine?

Because this is a war. There is a clear enemy in Putin. Industries can speak out against it. While in this case it is extremism in Iran. We are fighting an extremist Muslim-Islamic regime and that can be a challenge. I don’t want to downplay that challenge. It is very easy to unite Vladimir Putin’s only enemy [against] Compared to militant Islam.

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How would you like advertisers and brands to use your voice?

Right now it’s about educating, it’s about understanding that the Iranian people don’t have the access they need to get the message across to the world, and brands do. Right now, brands have power and opportunity. We need to see this as an opportunity, as we have historically with other DE&I initiatives. This is an opportunity for feminism to rise in a new way. That part is missing. This is an opportunity that people should seize. By doing this, it opens the door for people like me to feel more welcome in the space, and for people who don’t see themselves in the industry to say, “Oh, there’s support here. There’s a place for that here. If I go there, I will not be seen negatively as the other.

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