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A Review of Women’s Oppression in the Works of Marjane Satrapi

A society cannot thrive without its women. The strongest and most developed societies in the world value women and, conversely, the weakest societies in the world do not value women. Nearly every developed nation allows women freedom and protection under law. However, even the strongest societies have sexist values. In Marjane Satrapi’s memoirs Persepolis and Persepolis 2, this social pattern is prevalent in both the Iranian culture that she grew up in and Austria’s society which she is a guest in for several years. In Iran, the government systematically oppresses women through strict laws and policies, and the country is in turmoil. In Austria, women are much more highly valued and the country is peaceful, yet Satrapi’s Austrian female peers still experience sexism. Additionally, a new form of oppression controls Satrapi’s life when she is taken out of her home in which everyone looks like her and moved to a place where her skin color and culture is shameful. While it appears on the surface that women in developed countries do not live under hate and oppression, Persepolis and Persepolis 2 debunk this myth by showing an inside view of a woman’s life in Iran and Austria.

In Persepolis, the veil women were made to wear was highly controversial and covertly oppressive. Marjane, as a 10 year old girl in 1980 during the time of the Islamic Revolution, was forced to wear a veil when in public or school along with the rest of her female classmates. These girls were not explained the significance of this, leading to them not “lik[ing] to wear the veil, especially since [they] didn’t understand why [they] had to.” (Persepolis, page 3). Riots broke out in the streets between Iranian men and women over whether or not wearing the veil was morally correct (Persepolis, page 5). Thus, a divide was created among the Iranian people. There were the fundamentalists, who wore the full veil and long dresses, and the modern people, who “showed their opposition to the regime by letting a few strands of hair show,” (Persepolis, page 75). The oppression of women in Iran runs much deeper than clothing, yet these outfits made a social statement as staunch visual representations of how women should and should not be. A few strands of hair peeking out from underneath a veil shows rebellion and sends a message of negativity to anyone who sees, even though this could easily happen by mistake. But still, the problem is bigger than the veil. One may argue that it is only a piece of cloth and it is not hard to just wear it. However, oppression begins to apply itself when a government dictates what a certain group of people can or cannot wear, and implies that this reflects on the person’s worth to society. Marjane recounts sorrow and a sense of helplessness (Persepolis, page 134) among her people, especially the females, in Persepolis. The Iranian women wore this sadness tied around their chins.

Social values toward women change, though they are not any better or worse, when Marjane goes to Austria in Persepolis 2. Marjane is no longer made to wear a veil when in public, and she notices generally more respect for women. She is allowed to live her definition of a “real independent adult life,” by going out in public without her veil and shopping for herself at the age of 14 (Persepolis 2, page 5), something that she could not have done so nonchalantly when in Iran. In Europe, however, the way women act is extremely different from how they do in Iran. The European women Marjane associates with are promiscuous, a trait that is deeply frowned upon in Iranian culture, and often times inconsiderate of others. The oppression Marjane experiences in Austria is much less physically noticeable than the kind she experiences in Iran, and incorporates race as well as sex. The pressures to conform go further than a veil in Europe. Women wear makeup, smoke marijuana, and attend parties. The social codes for what a respectable woman is in Austria is the opposite of what it is in Iran, though just as powerful and rigid. On the surface, Marjane’s new home appears to be a civil place, yet she finds that she cannot express her true self because she would be ostracized for her culture. Satrapi shows how the oppression of women is very much alive in first world societies despite how they appear on the outside. To conform to European society, Marjane must hide her culture, must try to unlearn the ways in which she was brought up with as an Iranian girl. Microaggressions become an everyday occurrence, like her friends saying people are only nice to her “because [she’s] a girl. If [she] were a boy with frizzy hair and [dark skin], it wouldn’t [be] like that,” (Persepolis 2, page 74) for example. A double edged sword is pointed at her because of her race and her sex. In Iran, Marjane was the same race as everyone else around her, but in Austria, she faces an intersection of oppression. Though Marjane does not miss her veil, she cannot be satisfied with this other terrifying form of oppression.

In Persepolis and Persepolis 2, Satrapi shows that all the same kinds of social codes are in place in Austria and Iran. Only, in Austria, the people are doing it to themselves rather than being forced by the government. It is hard to say which is worse. Strict, unjust governmental laws weaken societies, but social norms turn the people into their own oppressors. Either way, as long as sexism is alive in a society, whether in a developed or an undeveloped country, there cannot be peace or true societal strength.

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