The Representation of Gender in Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis

Gender plays a huge role within society. This varies repeatedly because of culture and religion differences. Persepolis is a typical example of an insight on the emotions felt during the hard period of Satrapi’s childhood in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. As well as, the period where women were limited from their rights and freedom. This graphic autobiography shows, reflects the main principles of the revolution bringing segregation between genders and causing a corruption for women being detained from their rights.

Majority of cultures hold a grudge against women having the key to freedom. They believe they should be a home, looking after the children, playing the housewife role. The men usually are the more dominant person, working and financially providing for the family. They can do what they want, but the women could not. Being forced to cover up, and wearing the veil when outside, and having segregated classrooms was a living off a survival during the time the Revolution occurred in Iran during the 1980s. Satrapi's life experience in this comic novel illustrates the extremism on religion and war against women. Her journey through politics, and emotions demonstrates the equality she yearns for. The enforced pressures that were used on women, started her reason to fight back using politics. Whilst the Revolution was happening, it was encouraged that the men should be included within the revolution, this meant that the rules and laws made ordered the women forcefully and used as defence. Satrapi’s unusual performance and actions demonstrated the falseness of the state’s principles, which she was harassed by the followers of the revolution. She hugely disagreed and argued on the burdens that were put on citizens, especially women but she never left or misused her individuality of being an Iranian. This was a tough time during this period, as many individuals found it hard to discover their self as they were separated with the idea from having an emotion attachment with their heritage and culture, as well as the political and religious burden forced by the Islamic State. The upsetting, and challenges caused because of the pressure received was created on the certainty that the Islamic state dominates women when it controls their appearance and orders their principles. The policies run by the government have the power to detain any authorities which have not followed the rules and regulations. This gave and showed the example of entrapment, and enforcement was used for the people.

Persepolis illustrates the enforcement upon women, which caused the segregation and dominating power towards men. In the Iranian history, it was at a time when be started to be compulsory for women to be fully covered and wear the veil, as well as the classrooms at their schools were divided between the sexes. When the Revolution was introduced, the rules that were created by the government were directed on women and men based on their clothing, such as covering of their hair, skin, etc. This started to be a clearer vision that women were being dominated from men, to a role that was not substantially important, neither powerful. Satrapi demonstrated view fond of being a prophet, even knowing the fact that all the prophets mentioned and created were all men. She showed a huge aspiration of completing her studies, and her knowledge to seek further. This was all taken away and destroyed when the Revolution was started. Her destiny was changed, and all relied on the regulations that were created by the state. She sees all sorts of things which held her back to not to wear the veil, as her own mother was violated as she refused to wear the veil when required. Soon, she started to defend her freedom and rights as a woman. Such as, speaking in school till she got sent off the premises. She starts learning how the state can have the authority to order and the right to a woman, they owe them. They will come up with bizarre rules, which created an arouse of anger and frustration as it was not right. Some men of course disagree, mostly fathers who would not see their wives being treated like this. They believed that it was wrong. The only way to fight this was to be educated, hence why Satrapi was sent away to be independent as there were no space for further education for women and no jobs as they were being considered as housewives. It would have been ‘unthinkable’ in the belief system of the time even to consider the part women might play, other than as nursing sisters, who had earlier become recognised for their important ‘feminine’ work. This was suited as the only female job, as the males would be at war. It would be a shock, a surprise to see a woman earning money for a living whilst looking after the family. They either had one role, one position in the society at that time.

The representation of the veil in Persepolis has been shown to take down the Western views on how the veils is being a sign of oppression. The views are of course tested in the first chapter, where there are drawings of the girls during playtime, but wearing the veils. This imply on the encounter that the Western concept of women who are wearing the veil are abandoned and sufferers of a brutal social domination. The Veil played as an object which changed lives in the Satrapi’s autobiography. “We found ourselves veiled and separated from our friends.” This illustrated the confusion running through an innocent child’s mind. At this age, they all grew up playing together. Then suddenly, all the teachers are dramatically changed and forced into following what they must teach from now on. Teaching differently and having different teachers all being changed overnight can have a massive impact on a child. Either they follow what they are being shown, and forcefully accept that it will never be the same and that they will have to sacrifice their friendship and hobbies. Or, rebel back and fight for it. But as a young child you are most likely to follow other and what you are being taught in schools. This made a huge impact on parents, as they are in a vulnerable position where they cannot change their child’s mind with all these thoughts on oppression and dominating. The children had no choice, they were put in this position that it looked normal to them but misunderstanding. “I really didn’t know what to think about the veil. Deep down I was very religious but as a family we were very modern and avant-garde.” The confusion and upsetting tone in this novel symbolised the children, youthful innocent girls who always forced being covered up and have the veil on. The separation caused between both genders, made the boys feel arrogant and powerful; they are being treated like royalty compared to girls. Even though, they have the same mindset and girls can do just as the same as boys, the rules would still stay the same and divide the classes. The women had no choice or say in these rules, they decided and changed within days without any permission or even if it will affect any of their people. The selfish state ended up being in a position where they were forcing women to act good and covered up. But this did not change their hearts, they did not feel devoted to religion as they were obliged harshly to follow the book and rules. The women were smart enough to know that this oppression they have is not the way religion, or society would want.

The representation of gender has been shown as an oppression during the war in Iran, especially on women. The division caused between the sexes has introduced a fall out and disagreement with the people. However, only some individuals spoke out. Mixing culture and religion together is like mixing poison with water, a huge difference. This graphic novel symbolised the domination and power being represented on men and limited on women. The journey shown implies on the emotion felt, as well as the difficulty of living in a world where you are not appreciated and wanted for your achievements and hard work.


  • Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood and The Story of a Return (France, Paris: Pantheon Books, 2003), p. 3-343. 
07 July 2022
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