For her latest Our Shared Shelf book club choice, Emma Watson chats with author Marjane Satrapi about her groundbreaking autobiographical graphic novel, Persepolis.
Emma Watson: In Persepolis you show the relative freedom that women experienced in Iran in the 1970s compared to the strict laws that governed their behavior after the revolution. Do you think life is any easier for women now than it was when you were a child?
Marjane Satrapi: According to the law, we had much more freedom because women could, for example, ask for a divorce. But when a woman is uneducated and is not actually economically independent, you can have all the rights to divorce that you want and it doesn’t make a huge difference. At the end of the day, you know, if you have three kids, no education, no job—what do you do? You don’t divorce; you have to stay with the same asshole all your life!
Today the thing is that the laws are much more anti-women. However, at the same time, it seems that repeating over and over to women “you’re worth half of men, you’re worth half of men” has meant all these women actually go and study much more. So that today two-thirds—70 percent!—of students in Iran are girls.
And so they’re playing a role in all of these domains. In the end, this means that when these girls and women marry, they will be more educated than their own father, their own husband, their own brother—and then they cannot give them shit! They can no longer tell them “You’re worth half of men,” you know?
So if women have the possibility of working for a living, they could actually manage to get a divorce. First you have to have economic independence of women, and then we can talk about the freedom of women. If women are educated, they will be economically independent and they will just accept less shit. That is the first step toward democracy.
The enemy of democracy isn’t one person. The enemy of democracy is patriarchal culture. As with the family, where the father of the family decides and has the last word, so a dictator is the father of the nation.
If we have more educated women, then we have more educated societies. This is without any “feminist prejudice”—it’s fact.
I have to tell you that when I was a child, my mum used to tell me all the time: “Oh, you should never count on your face; count on your intelligence. I don’t care if you get married or not. I want you to study and to be economically independent.”
Now, as a child I thought she was actually telling me: “You are extremely ugly, you are never going to make it. You shouldn’t even try to be cute . . . the cause is lost and no matter what, nobody is going to marry you so at least try to be bright!”
EW: That’s how you interpreted it?!
MS: Yes, absolutely. I talked to her about it when I was 28 and she, of course, told me I was very stupid to think like that.