What Is Satrapi Trying to Show when She Shows the Way that Women Are Being Treated by the Government?

Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis is an autobiographical comic book that takes the reader deeper into the author’s upbringing in Iran. The memoir, presented from the first-person point of view, outlines Satrapi’s life as a young, innocent Iranian girl and, later, the typical challenges she had to overcome in an Islamic society where men dominated all aspects of life. Through her tribulations, the author offers a compelling picture of the routine lives of Iranian women and the government’s role in shaping the social dynamics, much to the disadvantage of the female population. Satrapi uses a unique combination of short, simple dialogues as well as black and white drawings to craft a humorous piece whose primary theme is the oppression of women in society. By showing how women are being treated by the government, Satrapi illustrates discrimination, patriarchy, resilience, sexual oppression, strangulation of women’s creative and socio-economic potential, contrasting preservation of identity, and the manipulation of men to become agents of women suppression.

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Satrapi examines the oppression of women in society when she depicts how they are being mistreated. Satrapi’s work presents a vivid, compelling account of how women were suppressed across various societal levels and institutions. In her first chapter “The Veil”, Satrapi shows how women’s dressing was enforced on them, with the veil subsequently becoming a strong symbol of oppression. While she wore the veil at an early age with a certain level of acceptance, the Islamic Revolution of 1979 made such a dress code mandatory even in schools. At her age, Satrapi and her friends disliked wearing the veil, especially as they did not understand its relevance for them. This mandatory dress code imposed by the government was a way of containing and putting them through an oppressive system to the later stages of their growth and development. This type of treatment of women shows systemic oppression, particularly as men were not subjected to any dress code regulations. Hence, the author analyzes the discrimination of women by the government in detail.

Satrapi also depicts the patriarchal nature of the society in her book. By elaborating on how women were treated by the government, the author achieves the broader objective of portraying the male-controlled society. Throughout the plot, Satrapi explores various obstacles created by the patriarchal government against women across different social settings.  She uses the veil to show how women’s identity, freedom, and potential were curtailed by the male-controlled government and traditional social institutions. While Satrapi’s focus is on the lives of women, she simultaneously provides the picture of the patriarchy in Iran.  The men not only control the women’s dress code but also seek to force them to behave in accordance with their fundamentalist ideologies. Women who try to challenge the system are seen as rebels and harassed. For example, the women who took to the streets were brutalized to silence them and ensure that they continue living under the male-controlled system. Therefore, Satrapi attempts to objectively highlight patriarchy when she shows how the government treats women on a daily basis.

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Apart from patriarchy and oppression, Satrapi also tries to explain how she grew in resilience to confront the challenges facing them. While the larger part of the book focuses on the suffering of women in the hands of oppressive systems, Satrapi’s work offers another critical dimension – that of women’s resilience to challenge the status quo. The author’s character is shaped by the challenges she faced at an early age when she was forced to wear the veil. At only ten years of age, the author started to question the essence of the veil amid street protests for and against its legality after the Islamic Revolution. The author notes, “I really didn’t know what to think about the veil” (Satrapi 6).  This excerpt indicates the juncture at which Satrapi began to question the oppressive laws and the entire social set-up discriminating against women. At the same time, women also became active in the streets, protesting against unfair treatment, an indication of the shifting social dynamics. Ultimately, it is the government’s treatment of women that prompted them to champion their identity, freedom, and place in society. Thus, the author shows how women were reawakened to fight for their rights and basic liberties.

Through the government’s treatment of women, Satrapi also tries to show the sexual oppression of women in the hands of men. The stringent government laws for controlling and oppressing women were a culmination of cultural norms and values that misrepresented women as sexual objects. For example, the veil was made mandatory by the appeals to the Islamic religion, yet there was a sexual element attached to it. Satrapi notes that androcentric ideologists believed that “Women’s hair emanates rays that excite men” (74). Subsequently, wearing the veil would prevent women from arousing men’s feelings. This belief depicts how women were sexually oppressed as their mode of dressing was determined by men, with violators facing dire consequences for a long period. For instance, Marji’s mother was harassed by two men who claimed that women like her should be raped and thrown into the garbage (Satrapi 74). The toxicity of such a social environment created an enabling atmosphere for the sexual oppression of women in society. Women were explicitly viewed as objects for satisfying the sexual needs of men without any other inner value. Hence, the author uses the treatment of women to show the advancement of sexual oppression in the country.

Satrapi’s portrayal of women’s treatment also attempts to explain how the government strangled their potential. The author’s work shows how women were oppressed and prevented from unleashing their potential in various aspects, including education. The government’s imposition of tough rules on institutions to oppose imperialism while advancing Islamic religion often put women in a disadvantaged position. Satrapi examines how the dreams and plans of other women (and hers) were shattered by the government’s control over institutions. For example, when the government closed universities over alleged decadence, many women’s career aspirations were strangled. She says, “I wanted to be an educated, liberated woman” (Satrapi  73). This statement underlines her potential, which eventually went up in smoke following the government’s decision. Together with the enforcement of mandatory veil wearing, the government made the environment highly toxic for women to pursue their dreams and change their lives and the country’s socio-economic and political conditions. Therefore, the treatment of women illustrates how they were restrained from exercising their potential and reaching their life goals.

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Satrapi also uses the treatment of women to elaborate on how most of them sought to preserve their identity by remaining submissive to the oppressive system. While the author, her mother, and a few other women were courageous enough to openly oppose oppression in all its forms, most of them remained rooted in their identity as submissive beings. Satrapi’s work shows the two types of women in an attempt to depict what identity really meant for most women. On the one hand, there were those who defied the social order by challenging oppressive laws, such as obligatory veil wearing. These women, including Marji and her mother, were considered as rebels against the prescribed identity and the order established by the male-dominated government. On the other hand, most women were fearful of losing their identity by questioning the existing social order, although it was apparently detrimental to them. For these women, identity was founded on submission regardless of its advantages. Hence, Satrapi tries to show the contrasting meanings of identity through the way the government treated women.

Lastly, Satrapi uses the government’s treatment of women to illustrate how men were brainwashed to become the main agents of oppression. The government’s stringent laws against women sparked widespread suppression as they strengthened the men’s control over women in all aspects of social and family life. An integral part of the government’s scheme was to brainwash men into submitting to every law aimed at curtailing women and, eventually, becoming the champions of oppression. Men were manipulated into agreeing with androcentric ideologies and using their superior position in the social hierarchy to oppress and exercise violence against women.  Satrapi notes that, in addition to the government, the people also changed, with Iranian men buying the ideological lies advanced by those in power (75). The government’s oppression against women thrived on ignorance as men were easily manipulated to systematically suppress women. Even the few men (like Marji’s father) who stood in solidarity with their women eventually toed the line to deepen women’s suffering. Thus, the treatment of women indicates how men were manipulated to oppress women to the maximum degree.

Overall, Satrapi’s portrayal of how women were treated by the government shows the various forms of suppression, including sexual one, male domination, obstruction of potential, and forced submission. The selective treatment of women also results in the contrasting reaction of women to patriarchy, with some of them protesting against the system while others remaining submissive. When the government imposed mandatory veil wearing, it is a form of oppression against women since men were not restricted by socio-political mechanisms. The way women are treated also shows the patriarchal nature of society. The women’s contrasting reactions to oppression are also enhanced by the author’s depiction of how the government treated them.  The government’s treatment of women also brings out sexual oppression, strangulation of potential, and the brainwashing of men to advance the suppression of women. Besides, Satrapi also illustrates women’s perceptions of their identity, with some of them challenging the system while others being submissive.

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