The Handmaid's Tale Analysis

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The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood seems like a feminist text which explores gender inequality in the Republic of Gilead. Women’s rights are stripped away in Gilead’s male-dominated society. Feminist movements appear to advocate for women’s rights, but reflect the gender coded foundation of Gilead too. “If you happen to be a man, sometime in the future, and you’ve made it this far,” Offred says, “please remember: you will never be subject to the temptation or feeling you must forgive, a man, as a woman.”(134) Offred has experienced both pre- and Gileadean society and seen female marginalization in both. “Remember that forgiveness too is a power,” she continues, “to beg for it is a power, and to withhold or bestow it is a power, perhaps the greatest.”(135) This powerful message speaks to human behavior no matter the societal construction. Marginalizing women in feminist groups and Gilead is not a matter of controlling power. Instead, Offred believes “it’s about who can do what to whom and be forgiven for it” (135), warning society not to forget how to treat others and learn from past mistakes. Sexual objectification, patriarchal authority, and lack of solidarity are methods to silence women. Women in The Handmaid’s Tale are marginalized to critique utopian feminism.

Gilead systemized sexual objectification to oppress women. By introducing rules to protect women from sexual assault, Gilead incites men to perform the undesired act. Handmaids are ordered to wear dresses that are long, concealing and “the color of blood” that defines their sole purpose of reproduction. The wings are a “prescribed issue” to keep the Handmaids from “seeing, but also from being seen.”(8) The nun-like dresses desexualize women while ma...

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...t to advocating equality, both cultures enhance gender imbalance. This oppressive nature is worsened through the lack of sisterhood and cohesion among women in Gilead and feminist movements. The Handmaid’s Tale in essence supports feminist politics through demonstrating the wrongful exploitation of women. The book hereby satirizes feminism too. Aunt Lydia’s “freedom from” is in many ways a solution to feminist’s problems with “freedom to.”(24) The book highlights social injustice can take many approaches, visible or hidden, by criticizing repressive feminist ideologies. “You wanted a woman’s culture,” Offred says when thinking about her mother’s dreams, “well now there is one. It isn’t what you meant, but it exists. Be thankful for small mercies.”(127) Whether women are oppressed or the oppressor, not all approaches to combat discrimination have the intended effect.
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