Handmaid’s Tale Reflects US In Dark Mirror 

The Handmaid’s Tale, published in 1985, reflects us today.

The disturbing Handmaid’s Tale (April 26 on Hulu) holds a dark mirror up to America and other societies in the world today.

I’ll write more later on the parallels I see. What do you see?

Use terrorism to limit rights

In this tale zealous Christian “Sons of Jacob” attack Washington, killing the President and most of Congress. They blame Islamist terrorists for the coup, which they use as a ruse to “restore order” by removing rights and installing dictatorship. A wall is built to keep terrorists out.

Some wonder if the wall was built to keep the people of Gilead in.

The government strips away women’s rights

The new republic — modeled on Old Testament patriarchal theocracy — now rises from the ashes of what was once the United States…

…And gradually strips away most rights for women, who are treated according to Old Testament dictates. And worse.

Women are now property and subordinate to their husbands and fathers. They cannot be involved in politics, hold a job, read, write, possess money, or own anything. Women dress according to caste and are not allowed to choose their own clothing. A red robe hides the faces of handmaids.

Here are the castes women are divided into:

  • Fertile women called “handmaidens” are given to high status men to bear their children since environmental degradation has left most people barren. (The toxic environment is deemed “God’s punishment” for sin.)
  • Infertile women serve as domestics or prostitutes.
  • Political enemies are sent to clean up hazardous waste. Or they might get their hands chopped off.
  • More powerful “aunts” brainwash less powerful “handmaids” into a sense of profound inferiority.
  • The luckiest are wives of high status men, but even they have quite limited rights.

This story is told by a handmaid called Offred, so called because she now “belongs to” a commander of the regime named Fred — so she is literally Of-Fred. She has no identity outside the man she serves. Her name also conjures the word “offered” — a sacrifice, an offering.

Women accept double standards… and it’s always “her fault”

“Handmaids” are brainwashed to hold themselves in low esteem. They are taught that if they are raped it is their fault. More powerful women force less powerful women to slut-shame those who have been assaulted. Women are encouraged to pull the rope that hangs other women accused of adultery. In fact, generally speaking women are taught to punish each other for “sins” against the regime that oppresses them.

Hypocrisy within the regime

The elite often fail to follow the doctrines they preach. Fred disobeys all sorts of rules with Offred. He is only supposed to have sex with her with his wife present. To please or bribe Offred he allows her to read and gives her presents (one of his better infringements of the law). And he takes Offred to a night club.

The commander’s wife also disobeys dictates of the religion as she chooses, even though she was once an outspoken proponent of the pre-Gilead regime. She smokes black market cigarettes, expresses the forbidden idea that men may be infertile (remember: everything is officially women’s fault), and she schemes to get Offred impregnated by her driver.

Do you see parallels between this world and ours?

I’ll write more on parallels I see between this world and ours. If you see any, let me know what you think.

Unfortunately, all of the major events of this tale have already happened. I’ll write more about that next time.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on April 10, 2017, in feminism, reproductive rights and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 31 Comments.

  1. I’m a really big fan of the show and the novel but what’s really unnerving is how some of these things are slowly coming into fruition with our current government. “In this tale zealous Christian “Sons of Jacob” attack Washington, killing the President and most of Congress. They blame Islamist terrorists for the coup, which they use as a ruse to “restore order” by removing rights and installing dictatorship. A wall is built to keep terrorists out.” really stands out because we’re basically doing the same thing right now. We refuse to accept any acts of white-american terrorists as terrorism and constant scapegoat those of color or blame “radical islam” when there is no connection. The Sons of Jacob enforced the wall to keep terrorists out, Trump wants to build a wall to keep “illegals” out but really it’s to keep us all trapped in. The recent news with immigrant children being ripped away from their families and put into camps is far too similar to how children are ripped from their families in Handmaid’s Tale. Those aren’t the only two similarities though sadly, women’s rights are slowly being ripped away from us by the government, they want to get rid of planned parenthood, they want to get rid of preventatives and and basically any say a woman has over her body. We’re going back to the thought that women should only be baby makers and to do anything other than produce is wrong.

    • When I first read this book and saw the movie version I couldn’t relate it to my life at the time. I sure can today, Though.

      On the hopeful side they say forewarned is forearmed. I’m Hopeful, seeing a lot of political activism rising up to defeat this.

    • Israel built a wall and terrorist attacks fell 90%. Yes, Islamist terrorists do want to kill you and yes walls work. The idea that Trump wants a wall to keep you in is absurd.

      • Israel is a much smaller country than the United States so it’s not nearly as expensive to build a wall. We would have to have someone armed every few yards. Hugely expensive and not very efficient compared with much cheaper technologies that would work better.

        Trumps authoritarian tendencies do make me worry that he wants a wall to keep us in. The Russians once have an “iron curtain.” Now Trump wants a “concrete wall.”

      • Israel is small, but Europe isn’t. Have you forgotten the was a physical iron curtain wall between west and east Europe? Seemed to work pretty well. What is this supposed technology that is better than a wall??

        What are Trump’s “authoritarian tendencies”, I haven’t noticed them. Did you complain when Obama issued 50% more administrative regulations than Bush and more unilateral directives in his first 100 days than any president since Franklin Roosevelt? Were you decrying the tyrannical Obama as a budding Stalin? Or are you suffering Trump Derangement Syndrome?

      • Issuing executive orders it’s not it’s self assigned of authoritarianism. All presidents have done that. Including Trump.

        Trump goes much further.

        Two Harvard professors of government have been studying how democracies turn into dictatorships for years and they wrote a book called “how democracies die.”

        Other than Nixon we have never had a president who fits authoritarian behavior in all four quadrants. And I don’t think Nixon even fit all four of them. But typically they don’t fit any of them.

        Here’s how Trump is the authoritarian model:

        One. Rejects democratic rules of the game. For example, tries to undermine the legitimacy of elections. Trump said he would refuse to accept the election results if he didn’t win.

        Two. Denying the legitimacy of political opponents. Do they describe their opponents as criminals who should be jailed? Yes, Trump did.

        Three. Tolerate or encourage violence. Trump encouraged people to be violent during his campaign rallies. He was also accepting of the KKK/Nazi‘s who also promote violence.

        Four. Ready to curtail civil liberties of opponents, including media. Have they tried to re-strict laws that allow protest of the government? Do they try to discredit the media so that people only listen to State media — which FOXNews had has effectively become, at least in the evening broadcast. (FOX actually has a couple people who tell the news straight in the mornings like Shepard Smith and Neil Kavuto.

        I don’t know why so many people want to be manipulated with lies. It won’t do them any good in the long run.

  2. One likes to think that in times of great struggle or strife, people will come together and support each other in a healthy manner. Certainly in the case of The Handmaiden, and our society itself, women would be stronger if they sought to help each other. Unfortunately this is not the case, and for no fault of the women in the system, simply because they are a part of the system. Those in power know that there is strength and support in numbers, so the strategy becomes “divide and conquer”, or sometimes “distract and conquer”. In our society, magazines and media present idols that women are supposed to look up to. There’s an idea that women need to compete with each other in order to reach that same goal, and no two women can be equally as beautiful–i.e. worthy–as each other at the same time. It’s a cruel game, and like in the case of the handmaiden, women feel the need to tear each other down because society has told them that’s the only way they can achieve their goals. People like to point and shout, “See! Women degrade other women, it’s their own fault they are seen as less!” As The Handmaiden beautifully points out, women lash out at each other instead of offer support because they believe that’s what they need to do to survive in a society that hates them.

  3. I feel as though things haven’t really changed in our society. Women are still being slut-shamed for sleeping with a bunch of men, but the men aren’t being called names. It seems perfectly fine for them to see how many women they can sleep with but our society automatically calls women sluts for sleeping with more than one man. And even today, the media is shaming young women for not being skinny or pretty enough. Telling them that if they aren’t skinny or pretty that they aren’t sexy.

  4. In my view, what you mention about “Handmaids” being “brainwashed to hold themselves in low esteem” – is exactly what has been and still is the rule in Western societies. There are so many women hating their bodies because the values of what is considered beautiful don’t fit with a normal female body.

  5. Definitely, the incidents described in Margaret Atwood’s famous book, have some similarities with the modern world!

  6. And the author is from what country?

  7. Most of the tales originate from realities around us!

  8. Georgia, you really need to give some thought to the shows you watched. I heard about the “Handmaid’s Tale” and refused to watch it. Instead, I watched “Supergirl” on CW. Or if you like re-runs, my favorite all time show is “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” – I watched it from the very beginning. I hope you have also seen that show too. Just trying to help with your viewing pleasure. 🙂

    • Right now Trump is trying to get rid of the National Endowment for the Arts. That is common with dictatorships, which try to stop us from hearing information whether in the arts or the news. He’s also trying to defund PBS and NPR, which are less dependent on corporate money/corporate interests than other news sources. Next will be book banning. Some of us choose to ban these things for ourselves.

      It’s all an attempt to limit our thought.

      The arts clarify our vision and shed light on things that threaten us. We ignore the arts at our peril.

      • The only group that consistently seeks to ban anything are people on the Left.

        So, what if NPR and PBS are defunded? They are not the only organizations who advocate free speech in America.

        I find it amazing that people like you have more allegiance to Islam along with all of its anti woman themes than to your own Christianity. Whom do you think are happier? Women living under Islam or women in the West living in Christian society?

        Maybe what women need here and in the West is to live under Islamic laws. Most Muslim men I know regard American women as little more than whores. Very few would dare marry an American woman or Western woman. But, somehow in your vitrol towards White Christian men this is all forgotten.

        You and people like you are just so hell bent on hating everything Christian and patriarchal that nothing else matters. Why? Because people on the Left are driven by emotion and not by reason and facts.

        Just my two cents….

      • You completely misunderstand.

        Liberal Muslims — and several are in my classes — are just fine. The religion isn’t the problem. Fundamentalism of all stripes is. Women are hugely threatened by Christian fundamentalism that seeks to control women’s bodies, and which will leave many desperate girls and women dead: No birth control + no legal abortion.

        True that NPR and PBS are not the only organizations who advocate free speech in America. But they are the most trusted media. And they are not as tied to corporate interests since they get mostly public funding.

        Not all liberals squelch free speech and I disagree with those who do.

        But I’ve never met a liberal who self-bans thought by refusing to listen to mainstream media, and will only listen to left-wing stuff. Which manipulates.

    • @ Wm, Surely you jest!

  9. So in other words… a cautionary tale of what will happen if you let lots of Muslims into the country. So you voted Trump right?

    • Muslims aren’t the problem. Fundamentalists of all stripes are the problem, whether Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim… Right now Christian fundamentalists within the GOP (Republicans) are waging a war on women. But I will talk about all this later.

      It’s not about keeping groups out. It’s about ensuring that all of us, of every religion, gender, race, class… are recognized as having equal worth, equal dignity, and are given equal opportunity.

      • Christianity has it’s faults and I come from catholic background. But even with that said, even though there are conservative evangelists and still people of christianity of the bible belt who want to restrict women’s rights or have views like that. It seems like more christians are looser on their views and still christian but less on the bible and more open with their views and women’s rights and respect. Whereas, it seems like still more muslims and many who are decent and obviously not radical. They still have more sexist or more sexist culture. For example and it bothers me maybe more than others. But like many places, you can have citiies with a decent muslim population and such. I think there’a decent amount in my city apparently. But working at my company, I see women and nice couples who are muslin shopping. But the last two times it kind of bothered me, because I saw a man and I assume his gf or wife shopping. Guess what he’s wearing? A nice tee shit, jeans, you know clothes like we wear, nice comfortable stuff. What was she wearing?

        A hijab, over her body, head and a little over her face. And another time another couple, a similar thing. I know women that are muslim in america may say they don’t have to but choose to. But I feel that’s just ingrained sexism that they just learned to accepted and internalize. I know it’s their culture, but I’d have less of a problem if the men wore it too or felt it’s culturally approriate or religious appropriate to just like the women, but apparently not. These dick heads can and will wear regular clothes while their wives or gfs are wearing all those layers which has to be a hassle just putting all that on, but warm as hell. This assholes like the guys I see, who otheriwse carried themselves like decent guys, should be wearing hijabs too. If their gf or wives are then they should. If the guys are wearing their jeans and regular clothes then the women should too. That’s sexist to me. It seems likre their is still more ingrained sexism in muslim culture even in america, with more muslims even many, which many are decennt people like us who have this internalized. I don’t know it kind of annoyed me seeing this.

      • Christians may be less likely to be fundamentalist but even the smaller numbers who are are in places of power and working hard to limit women’s rights. More on that later…

  10. There are some simlarities, but thankfully, many people in our culture don’t have views like the early days. Many do unfortunately like you see. But this tale sounds like the early century and definitley how women were seen in early history The dark ages and medieval times especially let alone during the old testament period in such countries But if our leaders and country tried making women not be able to vote and be servants to men. I and many men would be coming to washington DC to shut things down with Orange face and his clan off impotent clowns and the rest of those leaders and one’s behind the scene trying this shit. Thank God, even with all this shit, people have a better mindset. If this were the pre 1950s or even around that time. Nobody would blink an eye or care if any rights were taken from women. Back then though, women couldn’t vote yet. But I’m just saying we’ve come along way, Still more to come, but that’s because people, men and such have evolved some to see women deserve more respect and to be treated more equally.

    It’s still not equal. But unlike before, I think things can only go so far to where even men who didn’t see things or were fine with some things being stripped from women, even then would not have it. The abortion thing is tricky. Even though I dont think it’s right the way it’s put on women. I can see how men and even women can not be bothed by that stuff that may affect women just because it involved religious belief but more importantly a baby and life. Like it’s not individually something that only effects her. There’s another component too, which is why abortion and such has always been controversial and tricky for people. But other things I think, even though we are see plenty of bigoted conseravtive show up, I’ll have to say things are still a hell of a lot better now than they were 20 years ago as far as views by the general population. It still needs plenty of work but still..

    • Yes, things are much better in the United States now than in the past, or than they are in other countries right now. But I worry about increasing attempt to limit women’s rights in our government right now. In the Republic of Gilead women’s rights were removed gradually, and we are seeing attempts at that right now. More later!

      Importantly, many of us — women and men alike — are fighting back.

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