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The Handmaid’s Tale: Warning or Reality

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A dystopian fiction novel set in a totalitarian theocracy in future New England, The Handmaid’s Tale explores the subjugation of women after a revolution suspending the US constitution and consolidating a new regime that ignores women’s rights. Written in the perspective of a handmaid called Offred (of-fred), the novel describes the life in Gilead society, and the different classes of some non the theocracy. Reading this novel myself, I didn’t think for a second that events even similar to those featured in the novel could possibly be reality, but after further investigation I have come to realise that maybe they are. 

The issues discussed in The Handmaids Tale are reappearing in society today since the election in which Donald Trump became the president of the US for the next four years. Since the win, sales of the novel have spiked. Even Atwood herself has admitted to agreeing with the concern about the regressive attitude towards women. The Handmaid’s Tale is categorised as a work of speculative fiction, and Atwood states that everything she writes is based off of truth and real events. 

Since Trump’s election, he has recently put into affect a federal law that bars the use of US funds to pay for any family planning, and mainly abortion. This is a clear act of violation against women and their individual choice and relates to the rules and restrictions put on women in the Gilead society of The Handmaid’s Tale. Although this is obviously on a much smaller scale, the regressive attitude in terms of women’s rights is extremely worrying.

 However, as well as the recent Western connection to the Gilead society, the extreme subjugation of women is something that is evident in many less developed regions. One of the most disturbing scenes for me personally in the novel was in the Red Centre, where women were being encouraged by the ‘aunts’ to chant blame at a fellow woman in society for her sexual abuse experience. Janine was a gang-rape victim, and instead of her receiving support, she was being chanted at by a large group of women that she provoked the attack, and that it was her fault. The chanting continued until she herself admitted to being the cause of the assault. Such a scene seems to be completely disgusting and unrealistic, but it something that happens in many countries in the world. 

For example, a young girl in Southern India was sexually assaulted by a stranger during her daily work through town. She fought back, resulting in the attacker fleeing and leaving her bleeding on the ground. When a group of men came to help her, they immediately starting asking her ‘why didn’t you scream’, ‘why didn’t you ask for help’. When she went to the police to report the attack, she was told that she was to blame. Through rejecting the man, she had given him motive and provoked the assault, and therefore the police went through no further attempts to find the attacker. This is something that happened recently, and no doubt happens everyday around the world. Living in a Western society we are less exposed to such conditions, however reading this novel has made me realise what it is like for women in some societies. 

The Handmaid’s Tale in my opinion, is both a representation of reality in some cultures, but also a warning for ours, in that we need to take action against the regressive attitudes and continue to fight for gender equality and women’s rights. So, over the break, pick up a copy and give it a read!

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