The Handmaid’s Tale presents a supposedly dystopian society. However, Margaret Atwood reveals alarming yet unsurprising ways in which it actually mirrors reality. Although published decades ago, its takeaways remain tremendously important.
Women are Men’s Property
The dystopian society, Gilead, categorizes women based on their relationships to men as well as their levels of fertility. “Handmaid” refers to a woman “assigned” to a man, who is called the “commander”. The assigned women is ordered to get pregnant- this is her duty and goal in life. An unmarried woman’s value is based solely on her fertility. Furthermore, a married woman has the benefits of companionship, but is still dominated by her husband.
It is no secret that women have long been fighting for reproductive rights. In the last year, Alabama created an abortion ban, confirming that we are fighting a battle that should have ended decades ago.
Women Lack Individual Freedom
As mentioned above, women are subordinate to men. Moreover, the way Atwood presents this dynamic is cleverly sickening. Handmaids are named based off their assigned commander; for instance, the main character, Offred, is assigned to the commander, Fred. Thus, she is of Fred. This custom emphasizes a lack of individual choice and identity, as women hold identities inseparable from their commanders. Thus their individual freedom is greatly limited, if you can even call it freedom. This underlines the horrific yet prevailing power imbalance between men and women.
Infertility is Unwelcome
In Gilead, fertility is at a low. Thus, fertile women are commodities; clear and simple, they are valued for fertility and only fertility. They are enslaved and suppressed, while the men kill the remaining infertile women.
Today, infertility remains a taboo subject. While the number of childless women is rising, many women feel obligated to have children. In addition, media continues to encourage women to devote themselves to settling down with a family. While on the flip-side, men typically have no pressure or expectations like such. Although our world is becoming more accepting and open, there is still an unspoken set of dichotomous gender norms.
The Handmaid’s Tale illustrates how religion can be used for evil when people abuse power. That is, when cruel behavior is justified for religious reasons, abusers tend to get away with it. In Gilead, Puritan fundamentalists are the authority, committing unspeakable acts which are justified by biblical passages. For instance, handmaids are required attend a ceremony where they are brutally raped by their husbands, an event based on a story in the Old Testament.
Today, many people who oppose homosexuality use Bible passages to justify their resistance. They selectively choose dated and inappropriate passages, thus abusing their religious values and in turn, oppressing and discriminating against individuals.
Is The Handmaid’s Tale an alarm bell, or is Atwood encouraging us to look in the mirror at the damage already caused?
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