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The Physical and Psychological Impact of Misogyny in The Handmaid’s Tale

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Organizations like MeToo and TimesUp have recently become important movements that shed light on sexism and misogyny. In October 2017, the hashtag #MeToo stood out in the news universally, inspiring women from around the world to openly share their experiences with sexual harassment or assault. The movement gained momentum after sexual assault charges were alleged against movie producer Harvey Weinstein. The novel The Handmaid’s Tale, is widely recognized for its potrayal of discrimination against women and the various forms misogyny can take. Atwood unpacks the complicated history of women’s oppression, with particular focus on how women are physically and psychologically abused by misogyny.

The #MeToo movement was created by civil rights activist Tarana Burke, to provide a safe platform that allows victims of sexual harassment to feel comfortable sharing about their expierence. In the novel, Atwood’s portrayal of women is shown as them only being used to procreate with men and are only believed to be useful because they fertile. If a woman cannot procreate they were sent around for men to do as they please. In the novel, Offred the narrator, stated in the novel that she “...used to think of [her] body as an instrument of pleasure…”. Offred and the other handmaids have been objectified immensely that they are no longer proud of their bodies but instead treat them with hate and anger. The handmaids feel inadequate if they are not being used to create new life they feel this is their only purpose in life. Although the women were able to have sex with the commanders, they were denied any physical intimacy from them. They were not allowed to make eye contact with the commanders, or touch them. Offred “...hunger to touch something…to commit the act of touch” because they are not able to feel the physical touch and love that comes with being intimate. They crave the intimacy that should be happening by people who love each other. The effects of sexual harassment are difficult to experience, victims may feel ashamed or fear they may be accused of lying.

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Before MeToo was created survivors of sexual assault didnt have a platform where they are made to feel safe opening up and sharing their struggles with other victims. For many years society has demonstrated that men have superior power over women. When survivors had the courage to speak openly about their struggles they were made to feel ashamed and responsible for the abuse against them. Apparent like in our world, the Gileadean government in The Handmaids Tale the idea that victims of sexual abuse have brought it upon themselves. Offred recalls the time when Janine was “...telling about how she was gang-raped at fourteen…” and how the aunts made the handmaid's chant to Janine about how it was “...her fault, her fault, her fault…” until she actually started to believe it. They tell the women that they are special because they can create new life however if the women are touched without their consent they are made to feel worthless and dirty. Along with being made to feel ashamed, women are also stripped of their basic human rights. They can no longer make decisions for themselves, they cannot choose what they wear, what they eat or where they can go. Offred makes an analogy on how she feels about herself. She compares herself to a rodent as she says how “A rat in a maze is free to go anywhere, as long as it stays inside the maze.' The handmaids they are free to go wherever the government has approved however they are stuck in their own maze, prisoners to discrimination.

The Women’s rights and equality is among the most constant human rights challenges of the last several years; until the world achieves the equality between men and women, gender justice will be a major issue on the to-do list. We all need to come together and let our voices be heard, get involved, and not be afraid to educate others on the effects of sexual harassment.

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The Physical and Psychological Impact of Misogyny in The Handmaid’s Tale. (2022, November 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 2, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-physical-and-psychological-impact-of-misogyny-in-the-handmaids-tale/
“The Physical and Psychological Impact of Misogyny in The Handmaid’s Tale.” Edubirdie, 25 Nov. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/the-physical-and-psychological-impact-of-misogyny-in-the-handmaids-tale/
The Physical and Psychological Impact of Misogyny in The Handmaid’s Tale. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-physical-and-psychological-impact-of-misogyny-in-the-handmaids-tale/> [Accessed 2 Mar. 2024].
The Physical and Psychological Impact of Misogyny in The Handmaid’s Tale [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Nov 25 [cited 2024 Mar 2]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-physical-and-psychological-impact-of-misogyny-in-the-handmaids-tale/
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