How is “The Handmaid’s Tale” still relevant today ?

By: Hilda Afisllari

“The Handmaid’s Tale” might not seem very unfamiliar to you like the book with the same title by Margret Atwood was on top of the critics and hit the highest selling numbers in 1985 when it was originally published. Later on, a film adaptation was released, even though not as successful as the book. After a long time, now Hulu is releasing the third season of the TV series first made public in 2017. This drama features a time in New England where fertility rates collapse as a result of environmental pollution and sexually transmitted diseases and the remaining fertile women are forced to have intimate relationships with the elite men and bear children for them and their wives.

The show itself is violent, scary to watch, it has a lot of tension and might look like it belongs to a time very far and distant from the world we are living now, but as you go deeper in the episodes it starts feeling like what is happening is in front of us. This dystopic reality seems like something that might collapse sooner or later in our society. What makes it so timely is the election of Donald Trump as a president and all the political drama about abortion and female rights that this election brought with him. The changes in the immigration law after Islamic attacks, the anti-gay declaration of the vice president Mike Pence and a government that tries to subjugate women with the abortion law, all this seem to have contributed in the ratings and relevancy.

A lot of discussions have been circulating about the new immigration law and families being separated, such a situation is depicted very similarly in the Tv Show.  In Episode 1 we see Elizabeth a fertile woman who, now that the United States collapsed and were replaced by Gilead a totalitarian theocracy, is called Offred by her commander’s name Fred. As she tells the story of the life that she is now forced to live she has some flashbacks of the family days with her husband Luke and daughter Hannah. They were driving the car fast to reach the Canadian border and the car gets off the road, they are trying to escape and save themselves until they hear the gunshots from Gilead officials who reach them and separate Offred by her daughter and take them back to the core of the hell they were trying to escape.

It is heartbreaking to see a mother and a daughter separated from each other forcefully as it is heartbreaking to see today immigrants who are dragged from their houses in the middle of the night, in the middle of a meal and separated from the children who are not able to take care of themselves. With the change in immigration law a lot of families live separated in two different parts of the globe and the natural right of a lot of children to be able to grow up with a parent has been denied as it has been denied their right to be happy, to run a normal life without being scared of deportation.

In today’s society judging people for who they are is not as important as judging them for whom they chose to love. There is still discrimination for people of LGBT community and its not hard to notice it.  Not as far as the first four episodes we understand that being gay is not fully accepted in a society that is fighting for fertility and more children, even worse it is punishable by death. Such fate has Offred’s best friend Moira who is gay but not fertile while the Offred’s shopping partner and secret resistance member, Bledel’s Ofglen is sentenced to rehabilitation where her intimate part is being removed. Her life is obviously saved as she is a fertile woman and can be useful in bearing children for a commander. This portrayal of gay characters shows how some people feel about this community and also how some countries treat them. After all the progress that the world has made in accepting diverse sexual preferences, it is hurtful and hard to say that there are still countries out there who still have these evil laws against homosexuality and there are still people who don’t accept diversity. For example, Mike Pence, as head of the Republican Study Committee, a group of the 100 most-conservative House members, rose in support of a constitutional amendment that would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman. Citing a Harvard researcher, Pence said in his speech, “societal collapse was always brought about following an advent of the deterioration of marriage and family.” Pence also called being gay a choice and said keeping gays from marrying was not discrimination, but an enforcement of “God’s idea.”

Aside from the politics and their declarations, there are a lot of social cases where women are being as we today call it “slut shamed”. In a lot of cases, women and their character have been attacked as they press charges for sexual assault. They have been called guilty as they have provoked the assaulter themselves with their feminine behavior or by the way they dress themselves showing to much of skin. For example a judge in Canada Jean-Paul Braun old a victim that was assaulted by a taxi driver that she was a little overweight and must have been flattered by the attention that the driver had given her, or the famous Jian Ghomeshi trial where the victim was judged because of a picture of her in a bikini. In the show, we see that each woman wears a different color to represent her contribute. For example, housemaids are in red, wives in blue and the wives of poor households are in stripes. The women are covered as much as possible as not to attract the opposite sex. In all cases of rape women are the ones who have to take responsibility for their actions and not men.

With everything that is acclaimed for women by the opposite sex and all kind of declarations towards them, there is a big rise in feminist movements and this TV show is doing it’s best job to make every woman aware of the risks of submitting the orders that are given to them. In the first episode, Offred says: “Now I’m awake to the world. I was asleep before. That’s how we let it happen.” Even their costumes have hidden feminist meanings, in an interview for i-D Ane Crabtree,the costume designer for the TV show says:” I got very depressed, at times, while creating these clothes designed by men to oppress women. The only way I got around it was by creating visual jokes and visual “FUs” for the women. The Aunts’ jacket-and-dress combination actually looks a bit like an inverted vagina. They can only see it when they look down, so it’s more for the handmaids, who have to look at them all the time. I don’t know if people will see it, but I do.”  The Handmaid’s Tale’s most quoted phrase has been the one scratched, presumably by Offred’s handmaid predecessor, in the wall of her room’s cupboard: Nolite te bastards carborundum or don’t let the bastards grind you down. A lot of women even have tattooed this phrase. “Revellers dress up as Handmaids on Hallowe’en and also for protest marches – these two uses of its costumes mirroring its doubleness,” Atwood wrote for the Guardian.

James Poniewozik wrote in the New York Times that “The Handmaid’s Tale,” in which a theocratic coup transforms America in the wake of a terror attack, is about “the way people will themselves to believe the abnormal is normal, until one day they look around and realize that these are the bad old days.” The Handmaid’s Tale is a series that shows that different roads might lead you to the same destination. Such message means that if women’s rights are reverted or taken away again, our society will be all masculine and twisted. You might find yourself shaking, crying or wanting to stop watching and then realizing that it’s just fiction. Anyways there is no doubt that if we continue to put women down and to disrespect minorities, sexual preferences or create laws against abortion and undesired sexual relationships or pregnancies it will all come down to a collapse and this will be the future we soon have to live in.  

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