Woman, Women and Feminism in Selected Works of Marjane Satrapi, bell hooks and Silvia Federici How can a lay person understand and get a clearer picture of the seemingly complicated and yet famous discourse called feminism Taking a look at three contemporary female figures and their distinctive works is very helpful in attaining this.
Each of the female writers sprang from different backgrounds but with common denominator: all are women and they have experienced marginalization – Marjane Satrapi is a Muslim from Iran, bell hooks is a Black American (twice marginalized: woman and black) and Silvia Federici is Italian. I think they all are twice (or more) marginalized in the sense that all three are women and do not belong to the mainstream White American.
Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel Persepolis is an autobiographical account of her life in Iran from age six to fourteen and having experienced the Islamic Revolution in 1979. I find the portion entitled “The Veil” to be most illustrative of female repression. Being obliged to wear a veil is a form of restriction, much so without really knowing why they should wear a covering and that only for girls and women: “We didn’t really like to wear the veil, especially since we didn’t understand why we had to.”
What is admirable though is the freedom they practice inside their household. Her father allowed her and her mother to express their own ideas and even join the demonstrations. Her mother is an epitome of a woman of strength of character as revealed in her statement: “She (Marjane) should start learning to defend her rights as a woman right now!”
However, it was in those demonstrations that she was exposed to the brutality of life when she saw state-sanctioned whippings: “For the first time in my life I saw violence with my own eyes.” Her story shows that not all women in Iran are subjugated by men and by the society. they also experience normal life and a certain degree of democracy amidst the conflict of fundamentalism and democracy.
On the other hand, Silvia Federici’s Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body, and Primitive Accumulation is, for me, a more difficult reading. I think the main gist of using Caliban (a fictional character in William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” a deformed monster who is the slave of Prospero) and the Witch is to emphasize her point that women are regarded as evil and ugly and should not reproduce therefore must be eliminated.
The Witch Hunts were done to elicit fear and terror and to accept capitalism without resistance. The book talks about expropriation to women’s unpaid labor and reproduction. According to a review: “This book is her project to express an understanding of women’s position in our society and the effects of globalisation and imperialism” (http://akpress.org/2004/items/calibanandhewitch).
Federici uses history to prove her point. The witches’ point of view has been commonly neglected in the rendering of history. There was so much violence against women in this situation. If a woman would make money by farming and living alone, she was considered a witch and witches were executed by burning on stakes. Here, religion had also been used by the imperialist to further its goal of eradicating resistance from the poor peasants.
Moreover, bell hooks’ Feminism Is for Everybody: Passionate Politics is a book where feminism is made easier for everybody to understand. Some key points I gleaned from it are: there can be male feminists and that women can be sexists. This means feminism is not extremely anti-male and not synonymous to lesbianism. It plainly aims at ending sexist oppression.
She cites some good effects of the feminist movement in the chapter “Beauty Within and Without.” The benefits she mentioned are freedom from restrictions, concept of what is beautiful, dressing for comfort and ease (shoes included), and medical attention. According to her: “before women’s liberation all females young and old were socialized by sexist thinking to believe that our value rested solely on appearance and whether or not we were perceived to be good-looking, especially by men” (31). Liberation means developing a healthy self-image so the feminists “went directly to the heart of the matter – critically examining how we feel and think about our bodies and offering constructive strategies for change” (31).
She mentioned the restrictive clothing that is symbolic also of female repression such as: “bras, girdles, corsets, garter belts, etc” (31) and “crippling, uncomfortable high heeled shoes” (32). According to her, women have demanded that the fashion industry would produce clothing made for comfort and ease and were successful. Moreover, feminists pushed for “female-centered positive health care” that “provided the greater care, ease and respect for women’s bodies” (33). However, she sadly notes that “while all females reaped the benefits of feminist interventions, more and more females were embracing anew sexist-defined notions of beauty” (33).
Satrapi and hooks both mentioned physical restrictions – that of the veil and clothing, while Federici also spoke of restrictions but in a broader sense – that of being unable for a woman to make money for fear of being executed.
Repression, capitalism and globalization, patriarchy and even religion and politics are threats to feminism and to a woman’s value, worth and dignity. To be a feminist, one (whether male or female) must seek to promote equal rights for women and to end sexist repression.
Federici, Silvia. Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body, and Primitive Accumulation.
hooks, bell. Feminism Is for Everybody: Passionate Politics. Cambridge, MA: South End Press.
Satrapi, Marjane. Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood. Pantheon. 2003.
“Silvia Federici’s Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body, and Primitive Accumulation”, A
Review. 08 October 2007. .