Female Sexuality in the Epic of Gilgamesh and The Complete Persepolis 

In each work of literature the respective society oppresses women in various ways. As a means of surviving in this environment, the strong female characters in each story show their strength through sexual expression in order to reestablish balance and regain their power.  In the Epic of Gilgamesh, most troubling is the mistreatment of women and use of horrendous sexual acts to gain dominance. Additionally it should be noted that even women of higher status still were mentioned not by name but as a man’s wife. Further perpetuating the idea of women as objects under the control of a man. In The Complete Persepolis, Marjane exemplifies a true feminist in promoting the ideals of an independent woman while not attacking those who chose a more traditional lifestyle. Her whole essence and life purpose is to promote female expression, while living under a religious state that would rather conceal it. This exhibit will provide viewers with visual examples of the struggles of various characters throughout these stories. 

This piece is a courtesan during the Edo period in Japan, she would have had the same status as Shamat, being an individual who was respected, educated in many fields, and entertained men for a living. This cross-cultural comparison shows how widespread these opposing ideas of female sexuality force females in oppressive societies to choose complete submission or complete dominance. Shamat uses authoritative language with Enkidu, stating, “ ‘Come I will lead you…where men are engaged in labors of skill, you, too, like a man, will find a place for yourself.’” She does so in order to try to get him to better understand the nature in which women are treated, as she is acting in a way in which she now has all power and control over the situation and he must follow her lead.
In the poem, this temple is referenced quite a bit as the gods and goddesses had great significance to the Sumerian people. Ishtar played a vital part in the story as she desired Gilgamesh(love/sexually) but when he rejected her, she showed him no mercy (wrath) by sending the Bull of Heaven. Enkidu makes the remark, “Had I caught you too, I’d have treated you likewise, I’d have draped your arms in its guts!” (52 line 156) This example is yet another point where the duo blatantly disrespect women and the gods unlike, ultimately these betrayals lead to the deaths of each character.
.Gilgamesh is shown as hero in our course, however within the first tablet, I, myself, could not see how one could call a serial rapist a hero. The purpose for Enkidu’s creation was so that Gilgamesh would become more in touch with his humanity, after many of the gods were upset with his droit du seigneur. Many rulers throughout time have also used this awful power device in order to control their people, more importantly women have no choice in this sexual act. This directly affects all women in the kingdom and I feel as though this detail was glossed over in discussion and made fun of with the use of the word “rapey”. In any case, this depiction of rape was the least graphic that I could find and that is why I have chosen it.
Although Uta-napishti’s wife offers that her husband “touch the man and make him awake!” (96, line 216) by giving him the gift of the “Old Man Grown Young” plant, she still goes unnamed. This suggestion is a key event in the story as the husband did not want to give Gilgamesh this immortality so easily and his wife suggests this even knowing Gilgamesh’s awful past showing her compassion. Uta-napishti follows this offer with “men are deceitful” but gives the plant to him anyway. This photo contains a dogrose, which the magical plant has the thorns of.
This silk carpet shares the same pattern that is depicted in a panel from The Complete Persepolis on page 6, when a young Marjane is already being faced with the difficult struggle of wanting to be progressive in a country that is traditional. At this point in her life she is limited to wearing the veil and following the orders of the authority figures in her life. Yet, from this young age she still wants to express herself in a different manner.
This photo represents the punk phase which Marjane experienced in Vienna. Page 190 represents this transformation through a series of panels in which she is shedding the identity that she had in Iran for this newfound freedom of expression in Austria. This look and new environment aids her journey in coping with being a sex positive supporter in an oppressive nation.
This photo represents yet another transformation in identity that Marjane experiences after her suicide attempt. On page 274, she “got rid of her old clothes and replaced with a modern wardrobe.” At this point she also has met her future husband and is starting to change her mind about wanting to be fully independent. This shows how she again is torn, in fully rejecting the traditional mandated attire while having thoughts of a traditional relationship.
Although this piece is an example of what an Afghan woman must wear, it best represents the full coverage of a woman’s body that is mandated under Islamic nations. On page 302, Marjane states, “ The regime had understood that one person leaving her house while asking herself:is my veil in place? (etc.) … no longer asking herself, where is my freedom of speech?” In this way, she shows how the veil is not used to protect a woman’s purity but rather prevents a woman from expressing herself and being a natural sexual being with thoughts and feelings.
On the following page, Marjane refuses to “confess her sins” in that she is proud that she sleeps with her boyfriend, stating, “Can you explain to me what’s indecent about making love with you boyfriend? Shut up yourself! My body is my own! I give it to whomever I want! Its nobody else’s business!” This was extremely brave of her, as in her country she could be prosecuted for being seen with him let alone premarital sex.
In the closing of the novel, on page 337 , Marjane talks to Gila who is equally as upset over the gender equality situation in Iran. The quote thoroughly explains their discontent, “If a guy kills ten women in the presence of fifteen others, no one can condemn him because in a murder case, we women, we can’t even testify! He’s also the one who has the right to divorce and even if he gives it to you, he nonetheless has custody of the children! I heard a religious man justify this law by saying that man was the grain and woman, the earth in which the grain grew, therefore the child naturally belonged to his father! Do you realize?? I CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE. I WANT TO LEAVE THIS COUNTRY!”
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