The Role of Women in Iran Before and After the Revolution

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The topic of gender roles and inequality is a long-term debate that started many years ago. Traditionally, gender roles were dictated by norms and believed that each community upheld. However, due to revolutions and changes in our communities, few societies currently practice traditional standards. Gender roles and the position of a woman in society has thus been left for debate among many countries. The European Institute of gender equity defines gender as “Differences in women's and men's access to resources, status, and well-being, which usually favor men and are often institutionalized through law, justice, and social norms."( Kabeer, 17)  Gender disparities have been experienced in Iran for many years. Women in Iran, however, have tried against all the odds to free themselves from the slavery of gender inequality. The latest event being that happened this year where three women took off their veils in Iran on the highway becoming news headlines across the world. This action initiated a movement against compulsory wearing if the headscarf or hijab in the country (BBC News n.p). The struggle for women empowerment and fight for women oppression in Iran stated years before the revolution and continued even after the revolution. In the depiction of Gender disparity in Iran, Marjane Satrapi wrote the novel Persepolis. Gender disparity is among the main themes covered in this novel with the primary character being Marji who constantly rebels against women oppression bringing out the themeclearly. The author additionally uses different events within the book, imagery, as well as other characters to display gender disparity in Iran before and after the revolution. However, from the way the author presents a shift in gender disparity in the novel, it is evident that it is possible for women to fight against mall treatment by society and achieve their freedom.

Persepolis is a book narrated on a true story of a young girl's life in Iran during the Islamic revolution which is one of the crucial times in the history of the country.  The girl Marji was ten years during the time of the revolution, and she changed from her westernized liberal lifestyle that they used to live just like others to hiding for her safety due to her rebellious behavior against the revolutionary laws. Although she is rebellious, she still ends up alive in spite of tuff laws that women be executed if they are found uncovering their vials. Marji presents women in the novel as being courageous and able to fight against oppression in society briefly. Although she does not attain the freedom she needs within the story, it is evident that it is possible for women to fight briefly achieving independence.

The novel starts by showing gender roles before the revolution. During this period, women roles within the community were differently separated from that of men. Women were supposed to wear their chadors while in public to cover their heads or in a case unrelated men visited their households. Besides, they were confined by traditions to domestic’s works as caregivers and mothers whereas men were involved in politics and other professions to provide for the family. However, during this period, women were in some cases treated similarly to men. For instances, they had the opportunity for education just as men had although the schools were grouped according to gender. Additionally, they were allowed to wear pants, tops, and skirts with veils not being necessary. Besides, from Marji’s mother, we find that despite men being the head of the house, women still had a say as well. For instance, when there is an argument on whether Marji should join the protest, despite Marji’s father unwillingness, her mother argues against the father and the mother wins the case. “She should start learning to defend her rights as a woman right now!”(Satrapi 34). This quote shows that women still had the position to make decisions in the family.  Also, the fact that Marji's mother is also involved in the protest against revolution implies that women were strong and had a prominent position in the society just as men did.

Consequently, before the revolution, women are considered to be educators of their children which is part of caregiving as men are involved in other activities. From the novel, Marji’s mother teaches her how to rebel and remain safe. Thus women are shown as strong who had the responsibility of keeping their households, kids, and they also had jobs within the country. On the other hand, men were also depicted as strong as well. From the novel, Marji shows her uncle and father finding ways to unite the Iranian people from the Islamic revolution by taking politics. Additionally, her father is seen protesting taking pictures of Shah’s atrocities.

Furthermore, before the revolution, women are treated differently according to their social class within society. We see Marji’s home maid who is not allowed to eat at the same table with Marji’s family. She eats at a separate room away from them. This separationsimply shows great division in the society that some women are not worth taking mean at the same table as the others; implying women were treated differently according to the classes in the community that they belonged. Within the upper and middle classes, women were more secularized and westernized. There were efforts even to get rid of the chadors they traditionally used to wear with some occupying professional jobs. Such indicates that there appeared a slight difference between the way mane were treated and how women were treated within the society.

During the revolution, men and women were also considered to be equal concerning the position they held within the society and to the revolution. A good example is Khomeni who fought to overthrow Shah. She appealed women to support the new Islamic republic, rise against the monarchy, and take up jobs to send their husband and sons to the military.  

However, after the revolution, gender disparities are said to erupt with laws and regulations put in place to oppress women and deny them some of their rights while empowering men. For example, it was a mandatory for women to wear veils cover their heads. According to Hodge, Altaf, and Tarek “the hijab called for women to be modest and to be modest, women must dress modestly”(p.247).  Additionally, according to Iranian constitution article 102, women are to be subjected to 74 lashes for not obeying the hijab. The main issue was not all about wearing the veil, but the punishment enforced for not wearing the veil.  “You know that it’s against the law to kill a virgin, so a guardian of the revolution marries her and takes her virginity before executing her” (Satrapi 145). They were to wear the veil even when they did not neither like it nor understand why wear it. Meaning they were not even taught as to why they had to wear it in the first places. During her time in Iran, Marji among other young girls was subjected to those laws.

Men were put above the law after the revolution with there was no single freedom left for women to do things out of free will. A simple action like not placing the veil to the right position saw women being raped and killed. It meant that now women were being taken as property with set laws without choices of what to do and not to do.  

Besides, women were meant to be rebellious to the law and thus always in danger of the punishment they would face if caught. For example, thought the novel, Marji and her mother are depicted as rebellious to the new set laws governing in women. Marji’s mother brings her a present that partially exposes her hair, and although it is against the law, she encourages her to wear. Marji rebels against wearing Hijab, modest dressing through putting on a Michael Jackson’s pin, and buying illegal music tapes which on being caught makes her lie her way out. The new regulation thus brought down women freedom that was experienced before, changing women lifestyles and character into rebels and liars.  

Throughout the novel Persepolis, the author has depicted gender disparities intensively. From pre-revolution to post-revolution, women are seen as oppressed and men being favored in most aspects especially the period after the revolution. Even in the current, in Iran women are not considered equal to men. However, women are still fighting against gender disparities with protests in the country through several movements.

Works cited

Hatam, Nassim. "Iranian Women Threw Off The Hijab - Then What?". BBC News, 2018, Accessed 6 Dec 2018.

Hodge, David R., Altaf Husain, and Tarek Zidan. "Hijab and Depression: Does the Islamic Practice of Veiling Predict Higher Levels of Depressive Symptoms?."Social work 62.3 (2017): 243-250.

Kabeer, Naila. "Gender equality and women's empowerment: A critical analysis of the third-millennium development goal 1."Gender & Development

13.1 (2005): 13-24.

Satrapi, Marjane. Persepolis 2: The story of a return. Vol. 2. Pantheon, 2004.

Shirazi, Faegheh. The veil unveiled: The hijab in modern culture. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2001.

November 24, 2023




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