Free Handmaid's Tale Essays: Men Will be Men

Free Handmaid's Tale Essays: Men Will be Men

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Men Will be Men in The Handmaid's Tale

Perhaps the most frightening aspect of Offred's world is not even its proximity, but its occasional attractiveness. The idea that women need strict protection from harm is not one espoused solely by the likes of Rush Limbaugh or Pat Buchanan, but also by women like Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon. This protectionist variety of feminism is incorporated in the character of Offred's mother, and to a certain degree in Aunt Lydia. Offred's mother is just as harsh in her censorship of pornography as any James Dobson. By burning the works which offend her, she too is contributing to the notion that women's safety is contingent on squelching the Bill of Rights. The restriction of sexually explicit pictures places the blame for sex crimes on women, again -- the women in the photographs who supposedly drive men to rape. Where have we heard this before? Who else refuses to hold rapists responsible for their own actions, choosing instead to restrict the behavior of those they consider the catalysts?

Aunt Lydia is depicted as being mildly psychotic, but the "freedom from" that she offers seems oftentimes almost soothing. To be free of fear of rape would be a wonderful thing. To force men to act respectful seems not too bad. We can observe this attitude on our own campus, where the student government holds a "nightwalk" every few years. On these walks, dangerous areas are marked out and reported to the Physical Plant and the campus police. In response, bushes and trees next to walkways are demolished to discourage possible attackers who might conceal themselves in them. More halogen lamps are installed. More foot patrol officers walk potential problem spots. Every year the campus looks less like a university and more like an armed camp, but we accept these ugly alterations on our environment in the name of safety. It doesn't seem like such a high price to pay.

In a way, many women already live in a sort of Gilead. They would not dream of going out alone. They feel unfulfilled without children. They do not read (they don't have the time.) They occupy little more than a servant's position in their own homes. Their access to abortion is denied. They already live under so many unreasonable restrictions and expectations -- what's a little more, if it comes with a guarantee of safety?

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And the handmaids' lives, for the most part, are not so very horrifying as they might be. As long as they produce children, there is not much demanded of them. They are not expected to compete with one another or with men, to be good mothers to the children that they bear, to take part in hard labor, to study, to think at all. They are protected and well-fed. Isn't this, at some childish level, appealing?

The government in this book is not one entirely perpetuated by men. It could not succeed without the Aunt Lydias who make this handmaid's life so palatable to so many women. It could not succeed without the frustration of so many women who are so tired: tired of living in fear, tired of being harrassed on the streets, tired of working full-time for half-pay, tired of trying to raise their children alone, tired of taking the blame for everything that goes wrong with the family. If every woman fought back tooth and nail, Gilead could not exist. But perhaps these women did not see their lives, our lives, as things worth fighting for.

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