This Is Why 'The Handmaid's Tale' Should Freak You Out

by Joelle Wisler
Originally Published: 

Welcome to the Republic of Gilead, the scary, dystopian, theocratic world that Margaret Atwood created to give us nightmares forever and ever. This world is what we could expect if a patriarchal society ruled by sexist, religious zealots ever came to power. *cough cough* I’m four episodes into Hulu’s adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale, and I’m hooked because I guess I enjoy having the crap freaked out of me in 57 minute increments.

I loved the book, and so far, the show is following the plot for the most part. They have modernized the world in which Offred comes from, and they mention things such as Tinder and Uber. The premise for the United States that Offred now lives in is this: What if infertility in the U.S. rose to such a level that people started to go a little insane? And then what if extreme religious-right fanatics came into power?

Well, pretty terrible shit, if Atwood’s book and the show are any indication.

The story is told by Offred who is a “handmaid” — a woman who is known to be fertile. We hear her thoughts, and they contrast brutally with the wholesome, obedient outer shell that she is forced to show the world. Once, while walking with the female partner that she must always be with, she internally calls the woman “a pious little shit.”

All of the handmaids names begin with “Of” — indicating possession — followed the name of the commander for whom they will bear children. In this case, Offred’s commander’s name is Fred. Fred and his wife can’t have children, and it is assumed that it is the wife’s fault — because men can do no wrong. The theocratic government that comes into power in The Handmaid’s Tale interprets the Bible literally, but conveniently picks the passages that align with their beliefs.

That sounds freakishly familiar, huh?

For example, the theory of the “handmaids” comes from the book of Genesis 30:1-3, from a passage about Rachel, when she offers her “maid” to Jacob after she cannot have children: “And she said, Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her; and she shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her.”

In the series, Offred is a woman who was named June — she went to college, had a career, a husband, and a baby girl. One day, she went to work and learned a law had been enacted that women could no longer hold jobs. When she went to withdraw money from her bank account, she found that —all of a sudden — only her husband or male next of kin could access her account. Offred says, “That’s how we let it happen. Nothing changes instantaneously. In a gradually heating bathtub, you’d be boiled to death before you knew it.” Rights were slowly taken away, in the name of national security or for fighting terrorism. Racism and sexism and homophobia began to be openly accepted.

The changes were gradual, insidious, and who knows, may have started with the election of someone who hates women or some health care bill that defines women as “less than.” Who knows? The parallels are undeniable though.

There are many scenes that are horrifying to watch, and I would add a trigger warning for anyone who has been sexually abused. There is rampant murder. There are the handmaid’s themselves committing heinous crimes or else being punished. There is rape that is shown in a sickeningly pious way.

One particular difficult scene depicts the world “before” as people protested and marched for their rights and law enforcement opened fire on the crowd. I couldn’t help but remember a day in January when I, myself, marched for women’s rights. I passed stoic-faced policemen standing guard. How much would it take for our government to decide that we don’t have rights? That marching and protesting is illegal? And then where does it go from there?

Obviously, this is a fictional show, but it hits a little too close to home when we realize that the world in The Handmaid’s Tale is just intolerance magnified. Racism, homophobia, and very low opinions of women are what make this new world go round, and this, too, sounds familiar. Way too familiar. Our current administration thrives on intolerance of others’ beliefs, after all.

Offred’s entire goal is to get her child back. Everything that she goes through is a testament to what a mother will do for her babies. And this is what I choose to focus on. A mother will do anything.

The main takeaway from the first four episodes? Shit can get real when there is intolerance and misguided fear.

And mothers kick ass, but you already knew that.

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