A reflection: How Iranian women have been excluded from the revolutionary narrative
Upon 17 year- old Mahsa Amini’s death, after being held in police custody on Sept. 16, women’s rights protests broke out across Iran. Western coverage of Iranian revolutions have historically minimized women’s influence over the movements. This continues today. The focus of media coverage is rapidly shifting as international reporters compete for eye-catching headlines.
The most egregious way I’ve seen reporters mine this story’s punchy headlines is by comparing Amini’s death to the murder of George Floyd. British-Iranian actor, Nazanin Boniadi, evoked Floyd’s name during an interview with PBS saying, “when George Floyd was killed by police in America, there was global solidarity… The least we can do in the West is to show solidarity to the people inside Iran.” After this comparison, media coverage has continuously conflated these two protests. A Christian Science Monitor reporter even went as far as to label these protests “Iran’s George Floyd Moment.”In several ways, this comparison by reporters is disgusting, completely misunderstanding the point of their respective protests. Though both groups of protesters attack systemic issues which caused the death of two innocent people, that is where the similarities end. These protests for Amini are a continuation of the 1979 women’s rights movements and attempted revolution in Iran. By conflating the deaths of Amini and Floyd, reporters are trivializing both movements. This almost insinuates that their deaths are part of the news cycle that covers a different global protest every few years. This type of coverage also increases the likelihood that nothing will come of the protests as governments begin seeing the public outrage as another trend. I also fear this allows room for the point of public outrage to be lost. This is similar to how the Iranian Revolution of March 8, 1979, which began as a women’s rights protest (beginning on International Women’s Day), was distorted by western media to be a criticism of Islamic belief, which was further used to justify widespread Islamophobia.
Some American reporters have also been taking the Iranian protests as an opportunity to reflect on how the United States has been dealing with women’s gender equality issues. One headline from the Portland Press Herald pointed out how American media and government officials are using this to distance themselves, saying, “Let’s not be too smug about how Iran oppresses women. Men have an understanding that women’s bodies are ours to regulate, approve, criticize and use as we see fit.” Another reporter from The Salt Lake Tribune went further, saying that, unlike Iran, American women don’t fear death or imprisonment from dressing immodestly but “may face that fate if she has an abortion, thanks to a recent Supreme Court ruling that robbed women of that right.” The criticism in these two pieces is fair and necessary; however, the speed at which it was presented seems inappropriate, especially while the reason for the Iranian protests in Amini’s name isn’t widely understood or covered. Reporters are making her and the protests share the spotlight with older stories.
Something else I’ve noticed in the American coverage of these protests is how reporters dub these protests as a result of Gen Z’s efforts, turning this current movement into one that is generational, though it is a continuation of previous Iranian revolutions. This also somewhat insinuates that older Iranian women have been complacent this whole time. This may be a result of reporters throughout the 1980s and 2000s not highlighting the influence female protesters had over the movements. Reporters during these times talk more about Iranian women than to them, reducing them to bystanders or victims of twisted regimes, as opposed to activists fighting for their rights.
Similar to the beginnings of the Arab Spring, which was Iran’s second revolution that took place throughout the 2010s, young Iranian protesters have been using Twitter and other social media to raise awareness for the situation in Iran, though this is increasingly difficult as the Iranian government attempts to remove local and international access to the internet and Wi-Fi. The majority of these activists are young women who created somber trends like cutting their hair in an act of rebellion or TikTok videos labeled “Get Ready With Me: To Be Killed/Imprisoned in Iran.” I believe that due to this, more Iranian women are able to give themselves a voice to raise awareness. Unlike previous protests, Iranian women are being centered and spoken to by reporters.
In closing, I’d like to reflect on how the coverage over the past two months of the 2022 Iranian Revolution parallels and diverges from previous coverage of other running revolutions since 1979. One major difference that I’m seeing is that this time around, reporters are actively seeking out protesters, particularly women, to interview and report on their perspective on the story. Also, with the advent of social media and the internet, Iranian women are able to easily share their perspectives on a global scale. However, I’m also seeing that the evolution of media coverage is expedited by the 24-hour news cycle, and the narrative has shifted so much in just two months. During the protest in 1979, 1988, and the early 2000s, it took weeks or months for the story to devolve in certain ways. One major similarity that I’ve seen, though unfortunately, is that the main subject of these protests, being the egregious women’s rights issues that Iran has violated, is sort of taking a backseat to other more click-bait headlines, especially with the conflation of Mahsa Amini’s death and George Floyd’s. Coverage like this seems to trivialize the systemic issues of these protests and reduce them to somewhat trendy recurrences.
I’d also like to ask what the role of the media has been during this coverage of the past couple of months. As I mentioned before, these clickbait titles help reporters get attention in the 24-hour news stream. But it is our duty as reporters to investigate world events, and the goal should be to eventually make change while raising awareness.Yet it seems like the media hasn’t really been doing this as of late. It seems like reporters are mostly competing for clicks and engagement online more than trying to investigate the root cause of the tragic events that create change.