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Emancipation in Persepolis

EmmaBE's picture

While reading Persepolis, I struggled with the term “emancipation”. A religious man tells Satrapi that the veil she is forced to wear is emancipation – from the male gaze, leaving her free to worry about other things. But some women rebel against this ‘emancipation’ with things that attract the male gaze – makeup, hairstyles, tighter clothing, etc. It made me wonder: is it still rebellion if the women are rebelling by playing into their roles in a patriarchy? (to be more feminine, to please men, etc.) However, I have come to realize that emancipation is about freedom of choice and that these women were choosing to attract men when/because their society refused to let them do so, and that this is an act of rebellion.


vhiggins's picture

What a cruel male-dominated culture!

These posts bring to mind a cartoon I've recently seen and discussed with a few of my peers. 

This image directly relates to the postings of EmmaBE and shainarobin because, like them, the women in the cartoon also are confused about the "emancipation" that women gain by wearing different types of dress. The woman on the right is told that her being fully clothed gains her emancipation from the male gaze, while the woman on the left believes that by freely showing her skin, she is emancipated from the restrictions of how women "should" dress.

Relating to a current struggle I am dealing with, I cannot find a medium between the views of these two women when it comes to my own dress. I recently experienced a situation in which, on a very hot day, I wore a strapless floral dress that stopped a few inches above my knees. I felt very comfortable and beautiful in the dress. However, when getting my food in Erdman, a few (about six) of the male workers starting making kissing noises and other remarks as I walked past their table. My mood and level of comfortability immediately deflated, and not sure of how to respond, I said nothing. Instead, when I got back to my table I hastily grabbed my denim jacket and put it on; I no longer wanted to get up/ walk around in the same dress I once felt lovely in (no matter how badly I needed ketchup for my fries). 

On one hand, I would love to show as much skin as I feel comfortable in, but I know that I would be subjecting myself to numerous (and often disgusting) male glances. On the other hand, I feel like covering myself up more would eliminate that issue, but then I'd be forcibly muffling my own identity by dressing in a way that I would not usually prefer. With that said, I am not at all sure of how free or "emancipated" I am when I get dressed every morning, because I am either subjecting myself to self-restriction, or unrestricted (and quite frankly, gross) male responses. Not quite sure of which is worse. 

shainarobin's picture

A Fine Line

Like Emma, I'm also having trouble defining the word "emancipation" when it pertains to female sexuality. In the U.S. today, many young women are told through the media (among other things) that they should dress like strippers and not think too much because it's empowering and they're emancipating themselves from the restrictions our society like to put on a woman's body. "Even though scantily clad or bare-breasted women may seem to be objectified, they're really on top, because now they have chosen to be sex objects." Right? Not really. I think Susan J. Douglas, the author of the novel The Rise of Englightened Sexism, says it best when she explains why objectification isn't really all that it's cracked up to be. The message being sent to young American women right now is that "being decorative is the highest form of power - when, of course, if it were, Dick Cheney would have gone to work everyday in a sequined tutu." So while we don't want to body/slut shame women who choose to express their freedom through dress and expression, there's a fine line between being empowered and being objectified. This line can be hard to see sometimes which makes it difficult for people, including ourselves, to determine whether our freedom of choice is really just that.