Persepolis is a graphic autobiography written by Marjane Satrapi that depicts her childhood and adulthood in Iran, during the Iranian Revolution, among other places around the world. Throughout Marjane’s story, we are introduced to many of the topics that were introduced to us during our class. Because of this, I was able to understand her story and why she did the things that she did. She did them because she had to. She did them to survive.
Gender and its sub concepts play a major role in the story. Persepolis begins during a time period where women were highly restricted in what they could and could not do. In particular, the use of a veil to cover one’s head became required for all women. For most of the women in the story, (as well as us, the reader) they could recognize that there seemed to be an unfair gender dynamic between men and women. Women had to cover their heads, as well as the rest of their bodies, while men were only required to cover their arms and not wear a necktie. This must have been and still is frustrating to these women. Marjane is very optimistic as a child. She wants to be a prophet but she soon realizes that if she continues to go on the way society wants her to, she will never amount to anything other than any other housewife in Iran. She doesn’t want to tend to the home and pump out children for her husband. She wants to be the next Marie Curie but she understands that to be a woman in Iran puts you at a severe disadvantage in many ways. The revolution took away so much from these women, and especially Marjane who understands that her goals became that much harder and she even says that, at the age that Marie Curie first went to France to study, I’ll probably have ten children. (Satrapi, 73)
Marjane soon realizes that the amount of success she could possibly have will be determined by how the Iranian government decides to handle the debate of women’s freedom. She witnesses many events during the course of the story that shape her idea of how the government and its citizens will deal with people who do not obey the rules of the veil. For example, her mother is assaulted for not wearing a veil and later on when she attends a demonstration against the use of veils, she sees many woman being assaulted and stabbed for even being in attendance at the demonstration. At this point, even though she is vehemently against the use of the veil, she understands that she cannot fully disobey the government. She’s seen, first hand, how dire the consequences can be. She decides that she will disobey the rules in small, not as noticeable ways, to get away with her disobedience. This includes not wearing the veil properly. Marjane does not stop there though, as she continues to speak up against the Iranian regime she feels put down by. This gets her kicked out of school and puts a target on her back. Her parents realizing this, decide that it is too dangerous to keep her in Iran, and so they ship her out to Vienna, Austria. She finally got her wish at a chance to learn and make a name for herself, but the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.
In Vienna, Marjane experiences an existential crisis of sorts. While she enjoys the idea of her newfound freedom and ability to do what she pleases, she feels like she doesn’t belong in this world either. She is caught off guard by the clothing and sexuality that her peers in Europe possess. She unexpectedly sees the man her housemate had just had sex with walking around the house almost fully naked. She is also taken back by some of the radical ideas that she hears from other students. She takes pride in being Iranian and felt that even though the regime was strict and oppressive, it made her different and it gave her something to attach to herself. This brings up the topic of intersectionality. According to the Oxford dictionary, Intersectionality is the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage. While Marjane thinks of herself as strictly Iranian, she actually belongs to many different categories for which she can connect with others. Besides being Iranian, she is also a woman. Intersectionality’s main purpose is to understand the complexity of the prejudices each section may face. There is a portion of the story where Marjane’s parents read that radicals took over the United States embassy and were holding the employees hostage. Her parents know this will make the relation between the two countries very tense, and will most likely impede with emigrating overseas to the U.S. This along with how women are treated throughout Iran gives some insight into how intersectionality would look at Marjane. After a brief period in Europe, she does eventually head back to Iran because she feels that is where she is needed and belongs.
Throughout Marjane’s story, gender socialization was featured prominently and can be seen in all of the different institutions she was involved in. The society she lived in taught her many things while growing up, which after reading, contrast so strongly with what I am used to in my own life. The schools, the state (otherwise known as the Irainian Government), and religion all pointed her in the direction of what society thinks and wanted from her, but they all had the same overarching messages. Religion sits at the top and so the state would follow what their religious beliefs taught them, and the state controls the schools so you would learn about the religious beliefs in school too.
Marjane’s schooling was broken up into three different sections, and each of these sections taught her many different things. She starts out in Iran, and then she moves to Austria during her teenage years, only to come full circle and travel back to Iran, where she attends a University majoring in graphic design during the beginnings of her adulthood. During the first act of the book, we get to see Marjane during her time in grade school. During this time, it became a rule that everyone must wear a veil at school. Now, the veil can be viewed as a religious piece of clothing, but this is only one of the many overlaps between the different institutions. The veil is very pertinent in Marjane’s story, because it appears very often and represents the oppression that women had to face in Iranian culture.
The second act features Marjane during her time at a school in Austria. This school was very different in comparison to what she was used to in Iran and it taught her more about gender socialization. Marjane, who was just beginning her teenage years, notices that her body is changing. Due to many different factors including, the age she was and being in an environment that she was unfamiliar with, she molded her style to fit in to what her adopted society was doing. She changed the way her hair looked so that she would appear to be more beautiful in the eyes of men and to try to become more noticeable. This was also where she was first introduced to learning about sex in school. Due to the religious beliefs held in Iran, you were forbiden to engage in sex before marriage, and you were looked down upon harshly if you did. Life was different in Austria though, as most of her friends and classmates were having sex, but also were very open to talking about it. Marjane at one point even says, And then I was turned off by all these public displays of affection, what do you expect, I came from a traditionalist country (Satrapi 185). This showed me that Marjane really felt like a fish out of water in her adoptive country but it also starts her on a path of learning about the different dynamics of social life. It was at this time that Marjane had her first experience with love. She meets a boy at school and they become an item. She also expereinces sorrow, when the relationship ended unexpectedly. The relationship would go onto affect her marriage in the future. Most of the men in the story thought that they could overpower a woman through manipulation. This happens to Marjane a few times throughout her life, including her marriage. Most of the women do not resist the manipulation, and it upset me. Luckily, Marjane never saw any serious consequences from this, but that’s not to say that she never dealt with minor things within this area. This was, and still is, a problem of socialization that many females do not resist, and it can lead to female abuse from their partners. Abuse, whether that be physical or mental, is not okay under any circumstance.
Marjane enjoyed some time with freedom, but when she returns to Iran she notices that the veil became more inbedded in the people of Iran’s lives than ever before. You even still had to wear one at University. Marjane was not shy about her distaste for these new rules after being free for so long, and she verbally spoke her mind against it, which was enough to her put in front of the Islamic Commission. While she wasn’t imprisoned, or even punished, the Islamic Commision had her design a new clothing rules for schools and the government to use. The clothing had to be functional for the artists to move around in. Another challenge she faced was to draw stills of men but because she was a woman, she, as well as her classmates, could not look at the men they were drawing. Due to their religious beliefs, it was seen as a sign of disrespect.
During the 3 sections of the story, Marjane learns that her birth country, Iran, is very strict with what they say women can and cannot do, while their seems to be much more leeway for men. The obvious example is that all women must wear a veil, a religious piece, at all times or they could be arrested. After many years of experiencing this, Marjane finally realizes that being a woman was to be viewed as a lesser. They were viewed as objects for their husbands, and they could be nothing more. This was explored in the first chapter of the book when Marjane says, I’ll be a prophet (Satrapi, 8) and her entire class thought she was crazy. No one gave women the respect they deserved in Iran, and she learned that very early on in the schooling system.
Meanwhile in Austria, Marjane learned what it meant to be free, however she learned that with her new found freedom, she would expereience a whole new set of inconveniences as a woman. She had to deal with her emotions, as well as how to handle herself in a foreign country. She quickly learned the social genderization for women in Austria. She learned how to dress, how to look, and many other things all in her school. She tried to replicate what some of the other individuals in her classes were doing to seem more like them and fit in.
The religious beliefs between Iran and Austria were on two opposite ends of the spectrum, and they each taught Marjane about being a woman in very different ways.
In Iran, Marjane learned a lot about being a woman through religion. Religion was most important to the Iranians and it influenced the state and the schools. Wearing the veil was seen as a religious symbol, and it was seen as respect for their higher power and a respect for their religion in general. The institution of making the veil be worn at all times, as well as covering their entire bodies left very little room for interpretation. This showed Marjane that in Iran, you were walking on a very thin line, and she knew the consequences for disobeying the rules. Another aspect of the culture of religion was that you were forbidden from having sex prior to marriage. You would be seen as a whore”” in the eyes of the public. Marjane did not have sex until she met her husband, who she would go on to divorce later in the story.
What Marjane learned in Austria was very different in comparison to Iran. While there was only one religion in Iran, Austria followed multiple religions and they were all separete from the state and the schools. Marjane was exposed to many different people during her time in Austria; all with different beliefs and values. One night while hanging out with a friend, Marjane learns that her friends has had sex with 18 different guys. This blew Marjane’s mind because she didn’t know anyone like this in Iran. Her time in Austria became a learning experience for her in more ways than just school. Since she was raised on traditional beliefs, the thought of someone having sex with that many people was obscene to her. She began to learn that it was okay to have sex before marriage, and in Austria, there were no real consequences for it, unlike Iran.
Lastly the state also played a role in her life, in regards to gender socialization. Iran was more involved because the state pushed things like the mandatory use of a veil and also religious laws Marjane had to follow. The state borrowed from religion and added it to the laws of the land,which was then added to what the schools would teach. Besides the veil, schools would also teach topics such as drinking and smoking, sex before marriage, or even walking on a street with a man who is your husband. What Marjane learned about being a woman from the state, was essentially the same thing that religion was teaching her. She slowly realized that women were being treated horribly and put down by her government, and it really pushed the idea that males were the dominant sex. This allowed men to be able to get away with severe crimes, such as rape, with little to no consequences for the man. It is sad to think about how such minor things like resisting unfair rules, could get you into a terrible situaution, but that was life in Iran. This isn’t something that just happens in Iran though, but something that happens all over the world, including the United States. Marjane lightly touched upon this subject in the story, but it is a gender socialization issue that demands our attention.
The state in Austria is a whole different story. It did not have as large a role in Marjane’s life as it did in Iran. Austria was very lax with their laws. Austria’s state encouraged freedom and individuality, instead of just how to be a woman. It was interesting to see that the differences between Iran and Austria. All three sections in Iran were controlled by religion, whereas in Austria, they were all separated.
Throughout the story, Marjane was fond of challenging, as well as resisting, gender socialization, especially as a youth in Iran. At the same token, there were many different moments where she did not resist, whether that be for her own safety, or any other slew of reasons. Even as a youth, Marjane rejected what society told her to do. In the beginning of the story, she told us that she never really took the veil seriously. She would take it off during recess and run around with it, as well as poke fun at it. Marjane may have not understoodd the full impact, including the potential consequences she could have faced, but she was still resisting gender socialization by not following the rules, and she didn’t really care. Another example of some of little resistances Marjane would pull off was when she would walk down the street with the man she was dating, even though it was illegal for a woman to walk down the street with a man you were not married to. She would also walk down the street with lipstick on even though it was illegal for a woman to wear make up out of the house. This specific event became a problem when the Guardians of the Revolution showed up one day for a raid and she still had lipstick on. She faced inner turmoil as she didn’t know if she should take her chances or direct their attention to something else. She lied about a man saying indecent things to her and the Guardians never noticed the lipstick, but instead arrested that man. Marjane now had the guilt of doing this looming over her.
While Marjane did a consistenly good job at resisting gender socialization throughout her life, there were also some times that she did not resist at all. For example, when Marjane first started attendding university she continued to wear the veil every day. She did this so she wouldn’t get arrested or potentially have something worse happen to her. She also fought for a uniform change at University, but she fought against the veil because she knew that she would be removed from the school if she did.
The creation of mandatory veil laws should never have been implemented in the first place, because it is not right to force people to wear anything. Also, we recently watched a video in class about how people in France are upset because the French government is trying to implement a policy where you cannot wear the veil in a school setting. This raises problems in itself because when you are free to wear the veil, a piece of clothing that you feel represents you, and it’s suddenly taken away, it’s the same idea but backwards as saying that you must wear something like the veil at all times against your will. Marjane dealt with this problem her entire life while in Iran, and I’m sure it’s something she would want to see the Iranian government make strides in to better their policies in the future.
In conclusion, I believe that we can begin to learn about gender socialization and individual resistance from the graphic novel, Persepolis, and specifically from Marjane’s life. It’s a topic that I feel would be interesting to see how it affects different people around the world. Using what we’ve learned in class and from this story, I feel that we now have a pretty good idea of how gender socialization affects both Iranians and Austrians, and even how it differs from our culture in the United States. As for individual resistance, I believe that it comes down to the person that is being affected. Marjane was brought up in an environment that resisted, and her parents instilled in her the tools to resist herself, but who knows what another person with a different upbringing would have done in these situations. Overall, Marjane is a great example of someone young people, especially women, from all over can look up to. She didn’t gloss over anything in her story to make it seem like she had all the answers. She was figuring it out as she went, just like the rest of us.
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