A Feminist Perspective
Marjane Satrapi says in multiple interviews that she does not subscribe to feminism; instead, she describes herself as a humanist. However, her graphic novel memoir, Persepolis, has several themes at its core that convey feminist ideals. Throughout the novel, Marjane constantly expresses frustration with Iran’s strict regulations on women. She also grows up with strong female relationships in her family; these women help shape Marjane into the woman she is today, a woman who won’t stand for inequality. Marjane has two influential female role models: her mother and her grandmother.
Both women are outspoken, independent, and progressive. They always encourage Marjane to be herself and to never lose touch with who she is and where she comes from. Marjane, her mother, and her grandmother all unite under the shared experience of Iranian women – they must all suffer through their country’s systemized oppression together. Marjane is incredibly close with her grandmother. Throughout the novel, she approaches her grandmother for advice and always seeks her approval. When Marjane wishes to get a divorce, her grandmother encourages her independence: “…the day you don’t want it anymore, you leave him!
When a tooth is rotten, you have to pull it out! ” (335) Marjane’s grandmother is a strong representation of female independence and identity; she supports Marjane’s romantic relationships, but does not want her to rely on men for happiness. She gives Marjane advice even during her childhood: “In life you’ll meet a lot of jerks. If they hurt you, tell yourself that it’s because they’re stupid… Always keep your dignity and be true to yourself” (150). In many ways, Marjane idolizes her grandmother; she serves as Marjane’s moral compass and scolds her when she acts without “Integrity! ” (293).
She always reminds Marjane of the sacrifices made in Iran’s fight for human rights and justice. Marjane’s mother also greatly influences her life, shaping her beliefs and ideals. Like most mothers, she wants the best for her daughter; she places a heavy importance on education in the hopes that Marjane will understand what it means to be an educated woman in such a misogynistic society. When she sends Marjane away from Iran, she assures her: “I know how I brought you up. Above all, I trust your education” (147). Marjane’s mother doesn’t want her daughter to live in such an oppressive time.
When the veils become mandatory, Marjane’s mother wishes to take her to an opposition demonstration: “She should start learning to defend her rights as a woman right now! ” (76) In growing up with such strong female role models, Marjane learns to express her opinion and always stand by her beliefs. They taught her to stand up for herself as a woman, and in doing so, introduced her to a feminist perspective on life. 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.
While Marjane accepts the veil as part of her life, she rebels against the ideology it represents. When Iran begins to enforce stricter dress codes to ensure modesty, Marjane sees that the veil is a form of controlling the female population, a form of suppression. She rejects the double standard that allows Iranian men more freedom: “You don’t hesitate to comment on us, but our brothers present here have all shapes and sizes of haircuts and clothes. Sometimes, they wear clothes so tight that we can see everything” (299).
Marjane must experience the misogynistic nature of the fundamentalist Islamic regime that took power after the revolution. When a group of men assaults her mother for not wearing the typical conservative dress, her mother cries: “They insulted me. They said that women like me should be pushed up against a wall and fucked. And then thrown in the garbage. … And that if I didn’t want that to happen, I should wear the veil… ” (74). Marjane of course finds the treatment of her mother to be degrading, dehumanizing.
She sees this kind of misogyny as a method of depriving women of their individuality and their identities. To avoid punishment, Marjane wears the veil in public; however, she refuses to let the veil confine her. In one instance, she expresses her individuality by wearing a denim jacket, Nikes, and a Michael Jackson button – along with her veil of course. (131) Reading Marjane’s experience as a woman in Iran allows us to explore an unfamiliar perspective on women’s issues. In our nation, where the same identities and voices dominate the media, expanding our perspective on the world brings several issues to light. By becoming aware of global women’s rights issues, we can all stand in solidarity together against male supremacy and the injustices that accompany it. Persepolis is incredibly relevant to the feminist and womanist movements and strongly relates to the material we’ve covered in class. In focusing on women’s roles in Iran’s society, supporting social equality for both sexes, and incorporating strong female role models, Persepolis can easily be read through a feminist perspective.