Gender Identity Issues in Marjane Satrapi’s The Complete Persepolis
Gender Identity in The Complete Persepolis
In Marjane Satrapi’s The Complete Persepolis, she expresses her own segregated young life in Iran and Austria. Her family opposed the government’s fundamentalism, and Marji was raised to be opinionated and questionable. Her experiences show readers how restricted and unfair life is for an Iranian woman. Satrapi utilizes her upbringing, which consists of government restrictions, family opposition, peer separation, and European societal contrast to emphasize how women are expected to think and act.
The basis of Iranian women’s role is religious perception. The government claimed that their societal policies were based on what God wanted for the world, but Marji believed differently. She wanted to be a prophet, even though she was taught that they were all males. She had conversations with God, and believed her mother did as well. When the government killed Marji’s Uncle Anoosh, she realized that she did not want to talk with God. Perhaps her perception of him changed based on government indoctrinating.
A large aspect of the government’s religious principle was expressed through appearance. Men had a few clothing restrictions, but women were repressed through the veil. From the Muslim point of view, women should not “show off their adornment, except that which is apparent, and draw their veils over their bodies” (Stacey) because they enjoy dressing modestly to please God. This is separate from suppressing women who do not agree with this religious belief. Marji’s family was against the veil and the fundamentalist belief overall, but the women were still were forced to wear veils in public. The modern woman would express “opposition to the regime by letting a few strands of hair show “(Satrapi, Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood 75). Many fundamentalists and government workers were against modern women simply because of the way they wore their veil, since the Western ideology was associated with hair showing. Many women shifted their lifestyle radically with the new government system. Marji and her family witnessed a neighbor who “was wearing a miniskirt, showing off her beefy thighs to the whole neighborhood. And now Madame is wearing a chador.” (Satrapi, Persepolis: the Story of a Childhood 75). She, along with other women, would never oppose the government. They would rather completely change their way of life to suit the new society. To Marji, the veil was a terrible reminder of governmental control. When she moved to Europe, she had no need to wear a veil. She was in a dejected state when she put the veil on after years of European life. “So much for my individual and social liberties… I needed so badly to go home” (Satrapi, Persepolis: The Story of a Return 91), she wrote. Her graphic included Marji looking at her veiled, unhappy self in a mirror. Her re-adjustment to Iranian society emphasized its hostility towards women’s freedom.
The government also separated genders in schools, workplaces, and personal relationships. When Marji was in grade school, she experienced what she called a “cultural revolution. We found ourselves veiled and separated from our friends” (Satrapi, Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood 4). Gender changed who she went to school with, which changed who her friends were. In the new Iranian society, ladies were expected to be married young and have less education. Marji’s European experience was of great contrast, since she was able to not only attend school with men, but date and live with them. She resided with eight homosexual men in a communal apartment in Vienna. Even though her mother considered herself a modern woman, she was shocked to learn about Marji’s roommates. With the men Marji dated, she did not have to pretend she was related to them in public, like in Iranian society. She encountered public displays of affection, along with sexual experiences. If a woman dared to do either in Iran, the government and citizens would be disgusted and turn against her.
Even when men were not present, many Iranian women still followed gender expectations. They had “guardians of the revolution, the women’s branch. This group had been added in 1982, to arrest women who were improperly veiled” (Satrapi, Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood 132). Marji fortunately evaded these women, but she encountered equality opposition in her own friend group as well. They liked dressing like Westerners, giving an aura of liberation; however, when Marji told them about sleeping with men, they insulted her. The government and society of Iran subconsciously influenced women who thought they were liberated. Marji decided to dress nicely, as they did. Even she was influenced to change based on society’s pressure.
Despite that societal influence, Marji was overall against the fundamentalist government. Her family taught her how the government could change, and how her womanhood was not less than manhood. From a young age, she delved into revolutionary books and ideas. Adults in her life told her true stories that revealed the governments true ugly colors, different from what Marji was taught in school. When her father told her that “God did not choose the king,” Marji opposed him, since “It’s written on the first page of our schoolbook” (Satrapi, Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood 19). She was told a lie, and her family constantly corrected the government’s assertions. Her parents, although they were revolutionists, were still hesitant to act confidently. They would not allow Marji to protest, and they acted secretively in their own home by installing curtains and hiding parties. Her parents wanted to protect her, but they also wanted her to get the most out of life. This was an impossible balance under the government’s oppression against women and modernists.
When Marji’s parents sent her to live in Europe, a new world developed that made Marji more liberated. She learned that women were having sex before marriage, and they were fine talking about it to others. Marji’s first party in Vienna changed her perception of life. The party had many public displays of affection and intoxicated teenagers, along with a few naked people. Marji felt uncomfortable, even though these ideas were liberating and equal despite gender. Her experience in Europe also made her realize that even the highly esteemed Western culture has societal flaws. She was working at a restaurant, and a customer pinched her butt. She felt it more effective to put spit in his food rather than report it to someone. She also had issues with racial status. Like being a woman in Iran, being Iranian in Europe brought feelings of insignificance. Nuns at her school believed Iranians were not civilized, and she was expelled based on that reason. Her boyfriend’s mother believed Marji was using her son to become a European citizen, and her landlady assumed that she was a prostitute for bringing home a man. When she moved back to Iran, she realized that she could not give public displays of affection anymore. She was not even supposed to be around men if they were not in her family! This contrast between European and Iranian lifestyle amplified Marji’s struggle in being a woman in her society.
Marji’s life experiences showed how Iranians are restricting women, along with simple freedoms that Westerners take for granted. Her knowledge came from life events such as revolutionary war, family opposition, and European lifestyle. Her diverse knowledge helps readers understand that her culture bound women. They were not free to wear what they wanted, be around who they wanted, or believe what they wanted.
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