The Handmaid’s Tale The handmaid’s tale is a narration about a dystopian

The Handmaid’s Tale
The handmaid’s tale is a narration about a dystopian future where women are policed and controlled by men. This literature describes a patriarchal society that allows husbands and men to dominate women and society (Atwood & Nault, 2018). In this society named Gilead, women are denied their freedom and are reduced into performing gender roles such as giving birth, cooking, and being a wife. In Gilead, husbands and fathers are regarded highly while women are tortured to maintain their servitude state. The text is centered on gender, sex, oppression, and sexuality. The dystopic society uses male superiority and women’s subordination to create a totalitarian society that is considered “righteous.” According to Atwood & Nault (2018), Gilead was facing a low population count due to infertility caused by being “unrighteous.” To counter this problem, Gilead formed surrogacy institutions that reduced fertile women to “two-legged wombs.” Thus this paper reviews how the feminist approach of this text raises questions on sexuality and gender by showcasing women as victims in Gilead.
In the text, the authors approach the concept of gender and sexuality through the creation of a patriarchal world. In their attempt to represent gender, Atwood & Nault (2018) divulges the sexual exploitation that was sustained by the ascribed gender roles in Gilead. Female characters such as Offred and Moira were confined in their female roles of reproduction. Offred and Moira were among the numerous fertile women that Gilead had institutionalized to serve as surrogates or “Handmaids.” The role of handmaids included bearing children for the wives of commanders. Notably, other women served as wives and participated in the “ceremony” (Atwood & Nault, 2018). The ceremony was a monthly event that entailed the commander engaging in sexual acts with a handmaid during her ovulation period in the presence of his wife. Other women were categorized were placed in the slavery status and working as maids, cooks, and cleaners.
The feminist approach used in this text is effective because it portrayed the position of women in a patriarchal society. The authors have also used the position of men in Gilead to highlight gender and sexuality. According to Butler (1988), gender is a societal construct that not only defines an individual but also assigned them a form of expectation. Society expects individuals to fulfill their gender roles through interacting with others. Similarly, in Gilead, the gender roles ascribed to men defined their individuality and their interaction with other members of society. Men occupy places of authority such as commanders, guardians, angels, and government posts. Notably, only men are allowed to work, read, make decisions and are the sole providers. Men such as Commander Fred were expected by society to participate in the “ceremony” to fulfill Gilead’s goal of increasing the population (Atwood & Nault, 2018). The patriarchal society in Gilead exempted men from rules and allowed them to use violence to exert dominance. The portrayal of violence on women in this text is an effective approach because it portrays the oppression that women face in a patriarchal society.
In this dystopian society, I was astounded by how gender has been institutionalized. Institutional gender can be described as the organized and established patterns that permeate into society through institutions. The institutions include schools, churches, and government systems. In Gilead, gender was institutionalized through various systems which ensured that gender inequality, oppression, and submission persisted. The institutional gender present in Gilead was reinforced by the dominant group which is men and the complicity of women due to lack of alternatives (Atwood & Nault, 2018). Since the gender inequality and sexual violence emits from institutions and the government in Gilead, a lot of people accepted their new reality. It also made it hard for people to resist it. The surrogacy program and the colony in Gilead are an example of gendered institutions that perpetuated gender inequality and sexual violence. Handmaids were systematically groomed by older women such as Aunt Lydia and raped by commanders during ceremonies. Notably, the practices derived power from the set of rules. Before the ceremony started, the commanders followed a certain procedure and prayer. Other institutionalized gender practices include the way handmaids dress (Atwood & Nault, 2018). The dressing entailed a red long flowing dress with red shoes and a white cape which as referred to as “wings.” The choice of dressing denotes their role in society which is reproducing. Additionally, the wings were used to limit their seeing ability of handmaids and their interaction with others.
The demonstration of the exploitation and oppression of women is one of the challenging things about this text. Atwood’s narration in this text evokes uncomfortable and unsettling feelings because she exposes a reality that no one wants but could see the possibility of it. The way women are oppressed and repressed in this text makes readers realize that such as dystopian society is not far off. In Gilead, women are not considered autonomous beings but in relation to a man (Atwood & Nault, 2018). Every woman in that society has an identity attached to a male figure. For instance, the handmaids were required to denounce their previous names and adopt one that was attached to their commanders. Offred’s initial name is June but since she was attached to the commander’s Fred household, she was required to be known as Offred. The depiction of women as “two-legged wombs” was thought-provoking since it exposed how society views women.
Hale (1996) redefines the concept of a woman in an attempt to disagree with the notion that lesbians are not women. The idea that lesbians are not women comes from Wittig’s argument that “one is not born a woman.” Similarly, in Gilead, lesbians such as Moira are not considered to be a woman. Wittig’s argument on the nature of lesbians is a reflection of society. A lot of people tend to separate a lesbian from the woman identity because they feel that by being lesbian they are refusing to be a woman. Moira faces a hard time in Gilead and with Aunt Lydia because she identifies as a lesbian. She goes against the values set by Gilead such as maintaining female-male relationships (Atwood & Nault, 2018). Moira is not considered a woman because of her sexual preferences and she is sent to Jezebel to work as a prostitute before she escapes Gilead. She is also judged harshly for being a lesbian during her pre-Gilead days by Aunt Lydia.
The text by Atwood is heavily rooted in sexuality and gender themes. The feminist approach used in this literature has made me think differently when it comes to sexuality and gender. My perspective has changed after this vivid depiction of the reality that awaits most women after the war. In this dystopian future, Gilead sits where the United States used to be before a nuclear war which resulted in population decrease and infertility. In war, women and children are the most affected. Gilead was formed after the war and the government set rules and created a new reality for women and children.
The text has exposed the inhumane treatment that women are subjected to when reduced to their gender roles and sexuality. The women were divided into different categories depending on the gender roles they performed (Atwood & Nault, 2018). The wives were sterile women who were married to the commanders and become mothers through their handmaids. The Aunts were older women who were in charge of training and punishing the handmaids. The Marthas were women who performed household chores such as cooking, cleaning, and washing in the commanders’ house. The rest of the women who were deemed impure to bear children were sent to the colonies to work in the fields or at Jebel’s to entertain men. The vivid portrayal of how women are categorized, exploited, stripped of their identity, and denied their rights brings attention to some of the events in our society today. The policing of women’s bodies has become too familiar recently and draws some similarities from Atwood’s texts. Gilead reflects how society limits the expression of sexuality for women. In Gilead, it is considered a great honor for a woman to bear children. However, they chose to rape the handmaids to achieve this goal.
One thing I differ about in this text is how vivid the depiction of emotional, sexual, and physical violence is. The text is full of pain, suffering, sadness, and heavy emotions. Physical abuse is has been often depicted and women executed on “The Wall” for petty crimes. The text is not easy to consume due to its graphic. Following the story of Offred as she is torn apart from her daughter and husband to her daughter Nicole being taken away is heart-wrenching. The text has used grim symbolism to portray the position of women in a patriarchal society. Nonetheless, I would recommend this text to others because it is eye-opening. The text is raw and showcases how far people are willing to go to get what they want. Atwood’s work is a masterpiece that brings about different perspectives about gender and sexuality. Additionally, I would recommend this text because it has a feminist point of view. The text makes one unsettled by evoking thoughts that one would rather not have but hold some truths.
In conclusion, the text depicts a patriarchal society known as Gilead where women are reduced to their gender roles. The women in Gilead perform gender roles such as cooking, sex, cleaning, and giving birth. Conversely, they are denied their rights such as working, identity, reading, and freedom of speech. The text has strong themes on sexuality and gender. The patriarchal society highlights the sexual exploitation, physical and emotional violence that women go through. The feminist approach in this text has evoked different debates about gender roles and expectations. In Gilead, men are expected to lead while women were expected to be meek. The government of Gilead is an example of institutionalized gender because it placed systems and rules that subordinate and exploit women. Markedly, the text may be uncomfortable to consume due to the physical, sexual, and emotional violence that women go through. The text has changed my perspective on gender and sexuality. Some of the events that occur in Gilead reflect our current society and this is why I would recommend it. The text evokes intense emotions as one follows the story of Offred/June.
Atwood, M., & Nault, R. (2018). The handmaid’s tale graphic novel: Margaret Atwood, Renee Nault: Free download, borrow, and streaming: Internet archive. Internet Archive.
Butler, J. (1988). Performing acts and gender constitution: An essay in phenomenology and feminist theory. Theater Journal, 40, 519-531.
Hale, J. (1996). Are lesbians women?. Hypatia, 11(2), 94-121.