Women in the Handmaid's Tale: Objectification and Value in Reproductive Qualities

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Margaret Atwood's novel The Handmaid's Tale is a work of speculative
fiction. The Republic of Gilead is a dystopic society, especially for
the women. Women in the novel are stripped of their freedom, while men
are entitled to a portion of their freedom. This novel is one that
illustrates inequality towards women. A focus for the Republic of
Gilead is to increase the declining birth rate. Within the
phallocentric society of the Republic of Gilead, re-population results
in women being objectified and valued for their reproductive

The division of women in the Republic of Gilead is based on their
reproductive qualities and status. Anatomy is destiny in the society
of the Republic of Gilead. Wives are classified as elite and are
typically infertile. These infertile women usually have gardens to
compensate for their lack of child bearing qualities: "many of the
wives have such gardens, it's something for them to order and maintain
and care for" (p. 14). Infertile women that possess leadership
qualities typically are Aunts. Aunts are in charge of schooling
handmaids and enforcing female obedience to the regime. Other
infertile women lacking leadership qualities are Marthas. The Marthas
exist as servants, who cook and clean for the elite. Jezebels, who
serve as prostitutes, are also infertile: "nobody in here with viable
ovaries either, you can see what kind of problems it would cause" (p.
313). Econowives have a lower status than wives, but are fertile. The
role of the Econowives encompasses all functions done by the Wives,
Marthas, and Handmaids. Handmaids are fertile women used by the elite
to produce children. They generally serve as sexual servants to the
elite: "we are for breeding purposes: we...

... middle of paper ...

... her. She's a
flag on a hilltop, showing us what can still be done: we too can be
saved" (p. 33). Offred feels failure every month with menstration:
"each month I watch for blood, fearfully, for when it comes it means
failure" (p. 91). When a Handmaid successfully bears a child, she is
rewarded: "she'll never be sent to the Colonies, she'll never be
declared Unwoman. That is her reward" (p. 159). Handmaids see
pregnancy as their salvation because they will ultimately be rewarded.

The result of re-population in the Republic of Gilead is the
objectification and value of reproductive qualities for women. Women
in the Republic of Gilead live in a male dominated society, which
leads to female inequality. The greatest source of inequality surfaces
from the Republic of Gilead trying to increase the birth rate. The
society of the Republic of Gilead is dystopic.

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