The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is a novel that about a totalitarian government in the Republic of Gilead that takes over the United States because the United States was experiencing low levels of reproduction. Gilead is led by the power of males. Women are oppressed and have no power or say in things. The sole purpose of many females is to reproduce. The novel is told through the eyes of Offred. Offred is a handmaid like many others who are there to reproduce for those of the upper class who are having trouble reproducing on their own. Offred is in the control of the commander and his wife Serena Joy. Serena Joy is an advocate for traditional values and roles. Before Offred was a handmaid, she lived a life that did not necessarily reenact traditional values and roles. Every month, when Offred is in the right stage of her menstrual cycle, she must have sex with the commander while his wife Serena is in the room. Offred like many other women have very restricted freedom and rights. Very seldom is Offred able to leave the house. Offred is constantly watched by the police force of Gilead. Throughout the novel, we can understand women, gender, and sexuality.
In Gilead, women are broken into five main categories: wives, handmaids, aunts, marthas, and econowives. Wives are upper-class women who are married to men who hold power within Gilead. Wives wear blue dresses to indicate the meaning of virgin Mary. Handmaids are those who are fertile and able to reproduce. Handmaid’s are used for one purpose and one purpose only, their body. Handmaid’s are oppressed in many ways within society. Women are not allowed to vote, read, or write. The idea is that women are not to become independent or become rebellious to the state or men. Handmaid’s wear red to indicate their fertility. Red symbolizes menstrual blood and is seen for the color of sin. Aunts are those who train handmaid’s. Aunts are to keep the order of the handmaid’s and are instilled to use force when needed. Aunts wear brown. Marthas are older women who are not married and are infertile. Marthas make great servants to the upper-class because they carry on many of the domestic roles such as cleaning and cooking. Marthas wear green.
Lastly, econowives are those who are married to men who are lower in rank. Econowives do everything such as child bearing, domestic duties, and give comfort to their spouses. Econowives wear blue, red, brown, and green because they do everything. Although these women have different roles within society, at the end of the day, they all share the same burden. Women are restricted to their home and perform the same domestic duties. Ordinary, said Aunt Lydia, is what you are used to. This may not seem ordinary to you now, but after a time it will. It will become ordinary (33). With Gilead being a totalitarian government with strict rules, people forget that there is a possibility of a different life. Instead, people confine to the strict rules of the government and accept what is happening as a new normal. In Gilead, women are not diverse. Women are not powerful, heroes, courageous, intelligent, and brave. Although women could be all those things, they are only seen for one purpose and that is it. Women accept that they have no voice or power within society. Women accept their domestic roles and choose to abide by the rules of society.
Gender plays an important role within the society of Gilead. Men are the only ones with a voice and power. Men are the only ones who can hold jobs and have status within society. The only job of a women is to please her husband or to reproduce. I used to think of my body as an instrument, of pleasure, or a means of transportation, or an implement for the accomplishment of my will . . . Now the flesh arranges itself differently. I’m a cloud, congealed around a central object, the shape of a pear, which is hard and more real than I am and glows red within its translucent wrapping (73).
Women are dehumanized within the society of Gilead. Offred use to be proud of her body. Offred use to enjoy her body and the things it was able to bring her or do for her. Now, unfortunately, Offred no longer enjoys her body as it no longer serves the same purpose as it used to before she went under the regime of Gilead. Offred has accepted the fact that she no longer servers a purpose other than her body. She is now a cloud where people see right through her. The only purpose her body has is to hold the life of a child in her womb. We can see the importance of gender within Gilead. Men are the light of Gilead. Women would be nothing without the man that stand beside them. Men are in power and women are obedient to their masters.
In Gilead, women are taught and brainwashed to believe that any negative thing that happens in relation to sex is their own fault. Women who are infertile of suffer from a miscarriage do not have a disease, instead, they are full of sin. A woman who is raped is not offered sympathy. Janine, a handmaid told her story of being gang raped at the age of 14. Janine learned quickly that she needed to bury and hide the pain she felt from that. But whose fault was it? Aunt Helena says, holding up one plump finger. Her fault, her fault, her fault, we chant in unison. Who led them on? Aunt Helena beams, pleased with us. She did. She did. She did. Why did God allow such a terrible thing to happen? Teach her a lesson. Teach her a lesson. Teach her a lesson (72). A woman who is raped is instilled to believe that it was her fault. Being a victim is not an option. In turn, women are to believe that they were raped for god to teach them some sort of a lesson. Additionally, the women are not to show empathy to other women because society wants the women to turn on each other. There are no relationships. Women have no sexuality in Gilead. Women have no lust or love towards men or anymore. Women learn to have no empathy. Women are stripped of their dignity and must come to terms with the fact that their sole purpose within this society is to please men.
The Handmaid’s Tale givens insight into women, gender, and sexuality. The society of Gilead is very similar to the societal norms that were experienced in past. Women were confined to the home and had little to no rights. Women could not vote, own property, and their voices were not heard. Men were in powerful positions. Men could vote, hold jobs, and have voice and opinions. In Gilead, men and women are ranked within society and are given more opportunities based on their social class. Women are to be seen rather than heard. The duties of women are to care for the home, children, and their husbands. The sole purpose of a women is to reproduce and to be a slave to their state and husband. Women are stripped of their identity, dignity, and image. Gilead carries on the traditional views of women that were seen in our society. Women within Gilead have accepted the societal norms. Women in Gilead help to enforce the societal norms. The Handmaid’s Tale paints a very strict idea of women, gender, and sexuality.
Today, in society, women, gender, and sexuality have many different meanings. Today, when we think of women, we think of strong, independent, brave, intelligent and much more. Women were and always have been amazing, but it is because we broke out of societal norms that people have come to realize that women are more than they get credit for. In the past, gender defined who someone was like in Gilead. However, today, gender is not a way to define someone and their status in the world. Sexuality was not something women in Gilead could experience because they were stripped of their identity and emotion. Today, women have identity and are not taught to ignore their feelings. Gilead shows how life was before today. Gilead also shows how easily we could slip back into traditional norms. It is important that women continue to fight for their rights. It is important for women to stand their ground and prove that they are more than what society believes they are worth.
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