Perception of Women:
In Persepolis, despite the fortune that Marjane has two strong female role models in her life (as well as strong male ones) she depicts mixed perceptions of both Iranian and Western women, as artificial and genuine, as rebellious and conformist, as unique and indistinguishable.
As the two main female influences in Marjane’s youth, both her mother and her grandmother present fair representations of female independence and identity. Marjane has an almost romanticised view of her grandmother, and views her as the moral compass in her life, encouraging her independence when she decides to divorce, and reminding her of the sacrifices made to fight for rights and justice in Iran when Marjane acts without “Integrity!”(Persepolis, p.293). Her mother also encourages her to “become independent, educated, cultured,” and to value the importance of education for a woman in such a misogynistic society.
Satrapi also explores the theme of female companionship, as Marjane first becomes distanced to other Iranian women upon her return from the West, yet regains this sense of unity once she distinguishes those who still attempt to sustain a sense of personal identity beneath the veil.
Perception of Men:
Similarly to her perception of women, Marjane’s view on men is supported positively by both her father and her uncle Anoosh; both men are politically liberal and seem to strongly support women’s rights and education. However, her depiction of Iranian men in general is a much less favourable one, as they are often perceived as arrogant and threatening. Although not accurate of Iranian men as a whole, the fact that men are being brought up to believe that they are superior to women and have a right to control and demand obedience from them, would undoubtedly influence a certain amount of egotism within them, as Marjane’s friend Farnaz argues that “from men’s point of view,… their dicks are irresistible” (Persepolis p.334).
In contrast to her favourable perception of men as a child, romantically, Marjane is much less fortunate, and she initially suffers from “a great lack of affection” (p.219). From her first boyfriend coming out as gay, to walking in on her boyfriend cheating on her on her birthday, to divorcing her first husband 3 years into the marriage, much of Marjane’s encounters with men appear to be extremely unlucky.
Some critics may argue that by focusing much of the book around her romantic relationships and breakups, Satrapi is trivialising the horror of the Iran-Iraqi war and of the importance of the struggle for political and cultural freedom for both women and Iranians as a whole. The fact that she becomes suicidal over breaking up with her boyfriend, having survived both war and revolution, could make her account of the impact of Iran’s political turmoil less effective.
However, there are many responses to this claim, including the argument that Satrapi’s novel is both self-reflective and self-critical, that as an honest and accurate account of her experiences, she must retell her youth as it was. By illustrating her awareness of the triviality of her experiences, she is able to critique them justly:
In addition, it may be argued that having been brought up in a society where women are valued in relation to men: as a virgin daughter, a married woman, a mother to a man’s children. The battle between the desire to become an “educated, liberated woman”, as valued by her mother and grandmother, and the desire to have a male counterpart in her life, as valued by Islamic society, provokes and internal conflict of desires and expectations. Her depression following Markus’ ‘betrayal’ seems far more justified when we take into consideration her sense of abandonment and isolation by the rejection of the first man she depended on, but also, the disappointment in herself at having betrayed her own independence by allowing a man to dictate her life so much so that he may bring it to a standstill.
Satrapi's View on Feminism:
Considering the fact that Persepolis explores some highly feminist themes and strongly critiques both patriarchal society as well as sexism towards women in general, it would seem easy to assume that Satrapi is herself an adamant feminist. However, in many interviews, she appears strongly reluctant to associate herself with feminism or claim any feminist intentions within Persepolis. In an interview with ABC News, Satrapi claims that:
“I am absolutely not a feminist, I am against stupidity, and if it comes from males or females it doesn't change anything. If it means that women and men, they are equal, then OK, certainly I am a feminist. It happens that I am a woman, so it becomes a "woman coming of age story." I think if I was a man it wouldn't change so much, they never call it a "man coming of age story." It is a human coming of age story, let's go for the humanity and humanism”(ABC News)
Here, many critics may argue that Satrapi is contradicting herself, since, by definition, feminism is the belief that women deserve an equal place in society to men, a belief which she appears to strongly argue for throughout her novel. This attitude towards feminism is possibly a product of feminism as portrayed as a Westernised belief that women are better than men. In an interview by Annie Tulley, Satrapi answers the question “Do you think the definition of feminism is to define that women are better than men?” with:
“That is what I feel. When they talk about “The men ruined this, the men did that,” it is a person, and their sex comes after what they’ve done. I believe that we say too much “We the women” and “We the men,” but should say “We the human beings.””(Annie Tulley, Bookslut, 2004)
Many women, may in fact, agree with Satrapi’s definition of feminism, viewing many feminist arguments and viewpoints as overcompensating for sexism, and instead of campaigning for equal rights of men and women as human beings, are unjustly focusing on the rights of women.
In Persepolis, the Islamic state makes the wearing of veils compulsory, under the assertion that it is a symbol of both Iranian culture and Islamic religious law. However, although many believe that the Koran promotes the veiling of women, the origin of this custom in fact dates back to “ancient Middle East, veiling was introduced as a practice by the lawmaker Hammurabi of Babylon, who required that women who were the property of individual men in marriage should be veiled in the streets to show their respectability, while those who were held in common by men, -prostituted women- should remain bareheaded to show their lowly status” (Lerner, 1987). This evidence supports the argument that rather than religious motivation, the desire of the state to cover its women is more accurately based in the primitive desire of men to control women as possessions.
“To prove that you have politically dominated other groups, you either raise your flag on top of your building or even better the flag is the black cloth that women are wearing and they are walking all over the streets of that city… If every single woman of that neighbourhood is totally veiled, you have both social and political flags and you have proven that you have dominated” (AWID, 2009, P.13)
Satrapi, Marjane. 'Persepolis'. Published by Vintage 2008. Copyright Marjane Satrapi 1998. Print.
AWID (2009) 'New Insights on religious Fundamentalisms. Research Highlights.' Toronto, Mexico City, Capetow.
Cook, Miriam. 'Women Claim Islam: Creatiing Islamic Feminism through Literature'. Published by Routledge 2001 Great Britain. Copyright 2001 by Routledge. Print.
Heath, Jennifer. 'The Veil: Women writers on its History, Lore and Politics