From abortion rights to defunding Planned Parenthood to limiting healthcare, could we be regressing to a more sexist view of women?
(Spoilers ahead! Content warning: rape and abuse)
The TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood's novel has become immensely popular and watched by people from all over the country. Set in a dystopian future named Gilead, June has now become Offred and resides with a Commander's family in what used to be Boston. The totalitarian government came to be due to a decreasing birth rate in which a new group of militants rose up and reversed social progress about a hundred years.
Despite the environmental concerns and foreign relations, women are the focus of the TV show. Race and gender identity have not yet been mentioned, but queer people are deemed as gender betrayers. Fertile women are now used only to have children — thus "handmaids." They go from family to family in which the man of the house rapes them every month in hopes of impregnation.
We follow Offred in the Waterford household — one of the leading commanders in the overthrowing the US government — and the abuse she suffers at the hands of the Commander and his wife, Serena Joy. Everyday, we see her interactions with Ofglen — both of them, Nick the chauffeur, Rita the Martha — or housekeeper — and the other handmaids.
Over the entirety of the season, we see tension brewing below the surface of the calm, controlling society. 'The Handmaid's Tale' came at exactly the right time — Trump's presidency and its policies. From abortion rights to defunding Planned Parenthood to limiting healthcare, could we be regressing to a more sexist view of women?
When Ofglen/Emily and Offred start revealing their true selves, we learn that Ofglen herself is a lesbian and narrowly escaped the persecution on queer people unlike her wife. She ultimately gets put on trial for a relationship with a Martha, but is saved by her fertility. Here, we see the discrimination against queer people — of course exaggerated — and the impact it may have if more outdated views come out through government policies such as Trump weakening LGBTQ worker protection.
Ofglen also undergoes genital mutilation in which doctors remove her clitoris. For me, this scene closely resembled a picture that was going around a couple weeks ago of a room of male lawmakers deciding on women's rights. Her bodily decisions were made for her as these laws are being made for women by men. Ofglen then proceeds to run over a guard with a car — quite a satisfying scene, IMHO.
Another important development was Serena Joy's — we learn that she was a women's rights activist before the regime. She advocated for the family and championed domesticity which in itself is very postfeminist-y and problematic, but we won't get to that now. The audience sees that she gave up her ENTIRE career — a successful one at that — to support her husband who certainly does not support her in return.
What I want to touch on is the fact that Serena Joy is the perfect example of how women who support misogynistic views are just as dangerous if not more than the men with these views. Not only does she support these men, but validates them in the sense that women must be okay with these laws and learn to live with them.
In the last episode, we find out that Serena Joy knows where Offred's daughter is and leaves Offred in the car while she agonizingly screams for her daughter. Mrs. Waterford is the perfect villain — a member of the oppressed that supports the oppressor.
Another huge moment in the series is Offred's reveal to the Mexican ambassador — and the fact that she can't do anything. Mrs. Castillo still lives in a society that does not have laws to rape their women — hence her job — but she does have a dying country. Despite being told that the handmaids are basically sex slaves used for breeding, Mrs. Castillo refuses to help Offred.
The horror of the realization lies within the fact that even a woman in power cannot help these handmaids. Rather than using science and reason to cope with the world's problems, these leaders have resulted to oppression and abuse.
'The Handmaid's Tale' came at just the right time in our political and social climate — this season and its controversial scenes are proof enough. In the future, I'd really like the show to dive further into LGBTQ issues and race relations inside Gilead. Season One was a good starting point and if you haven't watched it, be sure to catch up!