A Feminist Modernist Dystopia Feminism began in the mid 1960's as the First Wave of Feminism hit. It is the idea that women should be capable of doing and should be allowed to do anything men can do. Feminists believe that neither sex is naturally superior and stand behind the idea that women are inherently just as powerful and scholarly as men are.The Handmaid's Tale, is set in a dystopian fictional, our protagonist and supposed narrator, Offred tells us about this society her everyday life under the tyrannical system of a male-ruled theocracy governed by men known as Commanders. The society has undergone many traditional changes from what was there in the past that have extreme psychological consequences on individuals, especially Offred ,who is separated from her family and set to be a Handmaid.
Margaret Atwood sets out to investigate the concerns that come from setting back women's rights in a society named Republic of Gilead in The Handmaid's Tale. Atwood wrote this novel to warn us against misogyny and sexism that exists when women are not granted the same rights as men, when women are restricted their freedoms and when appreciated predominantly for their functions rather than their ability and personality.
Atwood's novel envisions a future where men have took over society and made women inferior to them. The protagonist in The Handmaid's Tale is known only by 'Offred' and her real name was never revealed. This is because Atwood did not want that character to be just another character, she wanted the readers to step into the protagonist's shoes and feel how she is sensation and the anguish that she experienced in the Gileadean Society. It is apparent that the women in Gilead are not individuals at all but rather socio-political tools and possessions that men use to boost their standing in society and repopulate the Caucasian race, though the suffering of females.
Margaret Atwood seemingly aligns herself more with Liberal Feminism, which was more encouraged by First Wave Feminism than with the Second Wave. First-Wave Feminism 'from the mid-nineteenth century to the early twentieth century saw tremendous activity for the women's movement. Key concerns included improvements in education, employment, and marriage laws'. Margret Atwood reflects as a liberal feminist because her ideas of how women should be treated are not too far-fetched but they are rather appropriate and justifiable. Liberal feminists are considered the more ordinary ones of the bunch. They think that there are differences between males and females, but they believe 'social, legal, and economic opportunities should be equal for men and women. Liberal feminists are concerned with individual rights and promoting change through legal and legislative means while still operating within the current patriarchal structure'. In forty years, from 1920s, to the resurfacing of the movement in the 1960s, women's matters and worries were hardly considered to have any superior social significance or importance. Considering on this quiet period, women were projected to have a steady marriage and create a family with her husband and he would control her activities to domestic concerns, volunteer work, and social interests in many ways. However, the recurrence of the women's movement raised an understanding about their discrete deficiency of prospects—mainly social. In The Handmaid's Tale , 'Offred's mother warns of the dangers of complacency and prophetically tells her daughter, 'History will absolve me. Offred’s mom is seen as a radical feminist who has hatred towards men and even warns her daughter about them.
In The Handmaid's Tale, men tend to be very similar because of their dominant traits. An example of this is that 'both Luke and the commander share a penchant for the ways of the past' and also explains that they have very similar ideas associated with their love of old language and 'women being incapable of abstract thought'. Even though most would not like to associate the father of Offred's child with those ideologies, it is very prevalent for him to express sexist thoughts even with his wife. Luke's sexism reveals that even before the Gileadean regime was formed, sexism existed predominately among men.
In Atwood's novel, women were told that this society was made for their benefit, but, in fact, they had not benefitted one bit from the Gileadean society. Out of all the females, Handmaids are treated the worse and ranked the worse even though they might be the most important because they insure the survival of the human race by being child bearers. Handmaids would not last long, second generation Handmaids would be daughters of the Commanders. The commanders would not accept such social status and for their daughters to be 'baby machines'. Essentially, Gileadean women are stripped of their names and identities in this unique society and are named after their commanders such as 'Of Fred,' 'Of Glen,' 'Of Warren,' 'Of Charles,' etc. because they are the property of this individual from now on. It was through the use of the centers, such as the Red Center, that the Handmaids were driven into their contemporary characters as semi-brainwashed obedient breeding-slaves. This loss of identity is one of the many unjust practices that women have to deal with in the Gileadean society. Many of the ideologies that Atwood presents in her novel about men is also presented in countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia. In Iran, the 1979 Islamic Revolution led to oppression of women's rights and the return to fundamentalist theocracy. Women's hair in Iran is viewed as suggestive and so is the female form so they are asked to cover it on the basic modesty standards. Handmaids uniforms are very similar to the Iranian dress code of chador, which is basically a dark cloth wrapped around the body to cover a women's figure. The only difference is color between these uniforms; Handmaids wear red while Iranian women were dark, usually black cloths. The color red is the color of energy, passion, action, ambition and determination. It is also the color of adultery and sexual passion. The color description of red perfectly describes Handmaids, who are committing adultery by the intersexual nature of their relationship with Commanders and their Wives. Whereas, black is the color of the hidden, the secretive and the unknown, creating an air of mystery. That color is also a seamless portrayal of the Iranian women because you cannot view their body forms. Offred in the novel says this after she witness the first glimpse of the outside world after United States turned into Gilead:
It's been a long time since I've seen skirts that short on women. The skirts reach just below the knee and the legs come out from beneath them, nearly naked in their thin stockings, blatant, the high-heeled shoes with their straps attached to the feet like delicate instruments of torture. The women teeter on their spiked feet as if on stilts, but off balance; their backs arch at the waist, thrusting the buttocks out. Their heads are uncovered and their hair too is exposed, in all its darkness and sexuality. They wear lipstick, red, outlining the damp cavities of their mouths, like scrawls on a washroom wall, of the time before... Then I think: I used to dress like that. That was freedom.
This scene in the novel shows that the people of Gilead live repressed lives in fear of government retaliation. By using the Japanese tourist, Atwood reminds us that the entire world has not become this dystopia, but that the others are powerless to help. They remain ignorant of the mayhems that are occurring in this new land. We understand if change is to occur, it will have to come from within. The outside world is not aware of the dilemmas of the people of Gilead. They just assume the culture of the Americans changed to be more conservative.
Traditionally in Saudi Arabia, men and women do not interact if they aren't married or relatives. Public places are segregated based on gender. The same goes for the Gileadean society. Men in Saudi Arabia are allowed to have four wives (women they do not know) at a time as long as they can treat them equally, but polygamy is uncommon in most of the population. Similarly, in The Handmaid's Tale, the marriages are predetermined and you do not get to meet your spouse ahead of time. Men are also allowed to have multiple 'wives' to be able to conceive as many children as possible. The society structures in Iran and Saudi Arabia are similar to that of the Republic of Gilead by dress and division of genders.
In The Handmaid's Tale, the detachment of women in the Republic of Gilead is based on their reproductive qualities and status. Wives are categorized as leading (for women) and are usually childless, these infertile women commonly have gardens to reward for their lack of child bearing merits: 'many of the wives have such gardens, it's something for them to order and maintain and care for'. Econowives are a lot like wives except they are lower in society and less affluent. Marthas come in next followed by Handmaids. Marthas are usually older and infertile whereas Handmaids are typically young and are expected to be fertile. Women deprived of the aptitude to effectively reproduce were deprived of their gender-identity by being branded as unwomen.
Atwood ponders that women are being viewed as nothing more than baby machines. In the Gileadean civilization, women that cannot have children are not considered women at all; they are considered unwomen in this theocracy. They are sent to clean deadly waste disposal site, where they end up not surviving for very long. Men in power in Gilead used the decreasing rate of Caucasian babies as a method of attaining power. Ecological welfare is revealed to have noteworthy concerns for the general condition of women in the Gileadean society. The fact that the 'chances [of having a healthy baby] are one in four' shows how concerning this was for the Caucasian race in United States. The air itself was so packed with perilous chemicals led to a severe degeneration in birth rates; in addition, there were 'exploding atomic power plants', water that 'swarmed with toxic chemicals', a 'mutant strain of syphilis' that caused a necessity for treatment but the disease eventually became resistant to all types of medication they tried. This disease gave the Republic of Gilead a sustainable justification to dominate and control the reproductive rights of its residents, especially the females among them.
The Aunts in the Red Center directed women against themselves and their own beliefs. The Red Center restricted the Handmaids in that their daily lives were strictly scheduled and their ability to talk, walk, read, and even use the bathroom was limited so disorder would not occur. That idea is established when Offred reveals the fact that the propaganda meetings appeared to be succeeding when she said 'already we were losing the taste for freedom; already we were finding these walls secure'. This is demonstrated when Offred reflects that the habits and traditions of her former life seemed 'lavish, decadent almost; immoral, like the orgies of barbarian regiments'. That is predominantly heartbreaking because the previous habit that inspired that thought was simply the ability to store books and pens in a desk. Although such a small fluke of life is outwardly insignificant at first, it is actually revealing of something deeper.
Even though Offred regularly ponders these indoctrination sittings and demonstrate that they have had a significant influence on her thoughts and behavior, as explained above, there are occasions when she reveals that she does not completely have faith in in the new system under which she lives; for example, when Aunt Lydia labels Offred and the other Handmaids as the front line soldiers of the new way of life (first generation), Offred writes it off as 'phony courage' and afterwards says that she wants to choke her. Her derision for the propaganda is also obvious in the fact that she is only truthfully blissful during the secretive bathroom encounters with Moira, her top-secret friend for whom she frequently aches for. Additional indication of the indoctrination's failure to totally convert her is when she sneaks into the Commander's room to join him at night even though she recognizes that doing such a thing is obviously prohibited. As she put it, 'I should have felt evil; by Aunt Lydia's lights, I was evil. But I didn't feel evil'. From a feminist perception, it can be seen that Offred is a bright and somewhat sovereign woman, as opposed to the superficial mockery that the Republic of Gilead appears to grip as its foremost vision of females.
Though it appears to have been effectual in applying its new system of proceeding a society, one main setback with the Republic of Gilead is the unfeasibility of its endurance. Granted its practice of driving women into performing as Handmaids, it would have to deliver Handmaids for each succeeding generation. The Commanders and Aunts recognize that the Handmaids of upcoming generations will be more effortlessly instructed, yet they flop to take into account the fact that those Handmaids will most likely have to come from the descendants of the Commanders and their Wives. Even taking into thought the rigid religious fundamentalist mindset of the Commanders, it is unlikely that they would be willing to hand over their daughters to a status of sexual slavery. Maybe the Handmaids would be disappear once the birth rate reached an acceptable level; however, it is plausible to advance that numerous of the men will be grudging to submit the absolute power and control they exercise over the lives, brains, and sexuality of the dominated women underneath them; indeed, the point that the Republic was eventually destined to fail is proven at the end of the book in the Historical Notes.
After the aforesaid indication is taken into thought, it is basic to see that the Republic of Gilead is undeniably a dystopian vision. From the standpoint of cultural feminism, it has harnessed a variety of tools such as propaganda, religion, and psychological indoctrination in order to dominate its female populace. Women in that society are not people at all; instead, they are simply walking wombs. Everything that happens in The Handmaid's Tale has a practice in past or has initiated to arise as an inclination in social history; therefore, this story should serve as a threatening cautionary tale to the perils to which our civilization might fall target in the near future.
When this novel was distributed, Atwood was profoundly critiqued but the bookworms admitted the fact that it was a severe dispute at the period because of what was going on in the 1980s and what occurred before. With that in cognizance, the visualization of the Gileadean Society seems to be dangerous and somewhat improbable at that time period. Modern readers, however, finds this fictional narrative oddly worrying because we some of the pieces of this novel still occur in countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia. In the western realm, this novel seems like it is nearly impractical to take place but with even particular fundamentalists viewing philosophies like individuals presented in the book, we can never be undisruptive.