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Why I think it’s important to talk about The Handmaid’s Tale !

A couple weeks ago, I went on a binge to watch a show that I’d heard of through so many people online, yet never had the time to watch. Now that I’m on holidays, I’ve had time to do so. But had anyone told me how much caught up in this show I’d be and how quickly I’d binge it, then I’d probably have binged it already over a week end.

Cause that’s all it took. A couple days, not much sleep, a little scare and a lot of attention towards a tv show that honestly to me, felt more like a warning/wake up call than a tv show.

THE HANDMAID’S TALE

First of all, you have to know that this is actually an adaptation from a novel that came out in the mid 80’s, early 90’s. But weirdly, the themes still apply to today’s society. So what does that tell you ?

Did we regress back to a primary behavior or are we heading that way ?

Second of all, you’ll find themes such as feminism, freedom, equality, patriarchal society, rape and sexuality.

Now, let me tell you what I understood from what I saw. Get that this won’t be a wikipedia summary or something that’s elaborated as a complicated sum-up but more like my insight with my own words about something that not only shocked me but also made me wanna act on it and speak up about it. Cause weirdly enough, it reminds me too much of problems and issues coming up these days.

SPOILERS ALERT AHEAD. I’m gonna talk about what happens a bit in the show so if you feel like watching it, just stick to the summary and don’t read further. Otherwise, go ahead !

SUMMARY

Offred (previously known as June) has just been captured and lobotomized to be part of the new society that a religious order put up as a result of them winning internal government’s wars and whatnot. This society has unfortunately become sterile and women who can bare a child have become very rare.

This religious order has decided that it was a result of a terrorist attack and that it was a punishment from God because of society’s sins.

Once the current government has been overthrown, this religious order took control in a civil war, and ended up turning our current society in a controlled, patriarchal society where women have no rights, have to obey to the man in their household and are then divided in the workers, the high-society women, and the handmaids.

The latter are known to be the only fertile women left and by being so, have to allow the men and heads of houses/governors to produce heirs. Once a handmaid’s fulfilled her duty, she then is thrown away to another home to reproduce the same scheme. Until they’ve come of age and cannot complete their duty anymore, they’re thrown from one house to the next.

Such is the life of a handmaid.

This sounds terrible, doesn’t it ?

It is.

I’ve enjoyed the plot of the show, but I was mostly shocked and was tearful more than once. It was hard to watch.

Maybe because I actually have a conscience, or maybe because I relate. Not because I’m a woman, but because I’m a human and I know compassion.

Pointers to everyone out there: you don’t need to be a woman to actually be a feminist. It just takes 5 seconds to acknowledge a woman and not consider her an object but feel compassion to another human being. Think of your mothers, your sisters, and any female person you have in your life and care about.

Here are a few points I wanna talk about here

  1. The Handmaids’ Rape And Women’s Place (and in nowadays society)

What shocked me the most, and I’m sorry but spoilers alert, it’s how this society accepted to have women divided as such.

And this ridiculous tradition that they’re putting up where the wife of the household has to stick through the handmaid of the house being raped by her husband and encourage it as to produce a heir.

Like, WTF IS THAT ? In what society is it considered ok when it comes to rape ?

Cause let’s call it what it really is. IT. IS. RAPE.

In the show, the men decide to use the reproductive factor as a reason on raping the handmaids. And the women watching are just poor excuses for persons who actually accept to witness this and use the « I really want a child » blame to justify it.

There’s one thing that comes to my mind though. The powerful women who are married and assist their husbands raping a handmaid are basically a reflection of our society where it’s easier to blame the victim of a rape, man or woman, and where it’s easy to turn your look away on what it really is and what people go through.

I know a couple of persons who unfortunately have been raped, and I wish I had been there to offer support and not pretend it was « deserved » or something they’d « attracted upon themselves » for the « way they’re dressing » or for whatever reason there is in rape. Cause let me tell you something: NOTHING JUSTIFIES A RAPE.

Maybe in some societies where men are still in charge of what they think they should, like, mormons and southern african societies, or middle eastern societies.

In short, societies where women have no rights or cannot speak up their minds.

But in the 21st century, after having had to fight for the right to vote and for the right to almost be, women shouldn’t have to apologize for being women.

Women shouldn’t have to be afraid to be themselves just because some asshole might rape them or might try to control them.

There’s also a very controversial point in the fact that if a woman’s raped, then the rapist (regular guy, not a house master or commander or whoever important) is to face death sentence (so it’s good) from the hands of other handmaids, but it’s not okay when it’s someone important who does it. That clearly shows how nowadays, important people can get away with whatever bad behavior they have cause it’s always justified and it’s always constantly forgiven through money. We shouldn’t have to be worried about a person’s wealth giving her the right to do whatever the fuck he or she wants to do with those who have less. There is no excuse for doing someone wrong.

As we progress further in the show, you can see that it was over the course of a few « minor » things at first, like, having a paycheck, going for a cup of coffee, working.

Women got stripped of every single right they had just because it was justified as a « necessity » because of terrorists. And it’s sad to think that we’ve come to this point where today, you might have to fear for your rights cause some countries have a government or a president or chief-in-command that actually believe in those doctrines.

They even push the dominance over handmaids as far as actually calling them their properties by including « of » and their names to make up one that’s given to them and that changes according to their houses (example: Offred = of-fred ; ofdaniel = of-daniel ; ofglen = of-glen ). This isn’t ok. A person is not a property !

I refuse to evolve in a society that believes that it’s okay for women to be considered less than men. There isn’t a single issue on which women are at an advantage. Even when it comes to their own safety, to their health, it’s always a man who’s in charge. And I think it’s a shame, and I want to see that change.

  1. The Serena Case

Now let’s move onto a charismatic, yet intriguing, detestable, yet lovable and relatable character at the same time.

Serena Joy is a wife, and in this new society, that’s all she’ll ever be. She surely got the best of it as it is in a society where women are considered to be lesser persons.

A little about Serena’s background without spoiling everything, is that she basically help set up that fucked up society and was a heavily conservative woman. Yet, here she is, contemplating what she helped build and is now facing some remorses. YET AGAIN, she wants a kid so bad, she’s willing to actually close her eyes on some important matters such as the condition of a woman just to get what she wants.

In a way, it’s almost sad for her.

All through the show, you know she’s suffering, you know she’s not okay with how things turned out, but now that they’re set, she also knows that this is the best she’ll ever get, so she’s trapped in that situation that she helped create.

It’s as if karma was screaming « payback’s a bitch ».

What struck me most, is how she’s troubled by the fact that she doesn’t want anybody else to be impregnated by her husband but her, yet she has to go through these sessions with Offred/June just to get what she wants.

That also results in her resenting June even if the latter has nothing to do with what’s done with her. And in some ways, I think she loathes herself a bit for her condition now and therefore, she repress that hatred toward the only person she can hate freely without fear of consequences.

This two-face behavior is strangely given away with how nice she can be to Offred/June and at the same time how she can be such a bitch to her when she sees that she’s getting well along with her husband.

Too much conflict in herself for one person to actually be okay with herself.

But girl, what I’d have to say, is that you chose it yourself ! You chose to be in this situation, you chose to help achieve that society and today, you regret it and I really hope you do and you suffer the consequences of wanting a society that’s entirely controlled by someone who knows nothing about shit and who’s basically just living through some writing that he’s interpreted in his own way.

The religious theme is also widely talked about here and needs to be talked about because Serena did what she did out of religious beliefs and unfortunately, we live in a society who’s also like that nowadays. In a society who’s gonna use religion as any way to justify their choices or their violence to someone else. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen written that you should fight for religion, now, have I ? Or correct me if I’m wrong, but then I’d like to know what fucked up religion tells you to die or kill for her, so that I never come close to it !

Serena believed in her faith and thought that the world needed to be purified and needed more persons like her, religious and respectful. Only to see her get stripped of her rights cause some higher people said she didn’t have any and she should be grateful for the few she actually does have, according to her position. The fact that she’s almost, I said ALMOST, sympathetic to the handmaids results in ALMOST feeling sympathetic for her too. I had no sympathy left for her the minute she offered June to one of the men working in her house so she’d get pregnant faster, supposedly to « help her out ».

Through a lot of sabotaging and strategies, she manages to survive, but what kind of life is it that you’re leading if you’re just surviving ? And even more so when it completely stomps on other’s rights and at someone else’s extent ?

I loved Serena for the complexity of her character and her troubled personality but she wasn’t my favorite… I’m gonna talk about it in the next section

  1. Gender Traitor

Now, being LGBT myself, I didn’t choose my favorite characters according to their sexuality, but I have to admit that it did help to see that there was strong LGBT characters in the show and that homosexuality was indeed talked about.

So sure, there aren’t any gay men in the show, mostly cause all men are supposed to be married and with a wife and a handmaid to rape, but also because any self-assumed gay that used to be has been either deported, serving time in the Colonies or whatever prison they have or worse, being hang for being gay.

Does it remind you of any situation that’s been talked about recently ? (*coughs coughs* Chechnya *coughs coughs*)

It’s important to talk about these issues cause as you can see, they’re happening right now as we speak !

In the show, being « Gender Traitor » is simply being gay and is called so cause in their whacko religious cult, they believe that homosexuality is a sin and can be cured by forcing things in the « natural way they should, which is a man and his women » *eye-roll to the sky*

The show depicts two characters that have a complete different behavior regarding their sexuality in the show.

Moira, strong woman, who takes upon herself to actually « act straight » so she won’t get sent to the Colonies. This isn’t about acting anymore, it’s about survival. And if Serena is surviving in a society she helped create, Moira is REALLY surviving by keeping to herself anyone she was before the whole thing went downhill.

She was about to be sent off to a house, and being forced to have sexual intercourse with a man, so naturally, her rogue nature planned to survive through this by finding an alternate way to not do it, and being a bit of a rebel, plans her escape. And succeeds (with the help of June). But because she got caught, she’s sent to a brothel and has to work there (where she abandons all hope and knows that she’ll have to do this for the rest of her life).

It’s sad to see that she had to give herself up completely in order to live. It’s even sadder to get to the point where even after having run away, she gets to another place which gets her so down that she comes to realize that she’ll never be really able to leave. Will she ever be free ? How so ? Just wait and see people !

The second character that I love, is called Emily/Offglen and is June/Offred’s shopping partner.

Now, in the show, the handmaids all go somewhere as a pair. Almost to keep watch of one another. When Emily started suggesting she was in a rebellious organization, June immediately jumped on the occasion to help out.

Emily, not only being in the resistance, also is part of the LGBT community. This character only stays through 3 episodes, but it was enough for me to see her as a martyr and a hero in the story.

Why ? Not only does she fight for her rights and for everyone’s rights here, but she’s also allowed herself to fall in love with a woman under that regime, then got caught, but because she was able to carry a child got a lesser sentence, but had to witness the woman she loved being killed because she was too a ‘gender traitor’ then had FGM (female genital mutilation). And that’s the end of her story for now. We don’t know any more about her.

But through everything, and through how it’s all filmed and shown, you can feel her pain and feel how much she’s hurt.

I think if you read about everything that happened/see everything that happened to her, and in spite of that is living and is still willing to fight for the resistance, then you can see why she’s considered one of the best character of the show and one of my favorite character of any tv shows really. HER. WIILL.

Even though nowadays we can rejoice in being free and who we want to be, all of this show proves only one point. It won’t take much until someone pushes the boundaries of what’s allowed and convinces everyone that taking one’s freedom at his extent is actually for his own good. And as LGBT people, we fought for many years to get the right to actually be ourselves. So imagine what it must feel like when you’re LGBT AND FEMALE.

  1. Ch-ch-ch-change, turn and face the strange

All through watching this show, it made me feel both uncomfortable yet woke this urge to fight at the same time.

Fight for my rights as an LGBT person, yes, being a little selfish here.

But also fight for every woman I know, every woman I love that is part of my life, every woman that is out there, scared to be ripped off her rights, and mostly, every woman out there, scare that some asshole will take her for granted and think it’s okay to make her feel unsafe.

Some can see only a show in it. But every day, we get one step closer to this becoming our reality. And it’s not once everything will be over and done, and that we’ll realize it’s too late and we did shit, just like Serena, that we’re gonna have to think « um, maybe I should have done something then ! I should have acted out ! ».

Now is the time to stop thinking that being a feminist is being aggressive.

It’s time to be the change we want to see in the world, change, turn and face the strange, and mostly, face the reality of how bad things could turn out.

Being a feminist is believing in human rights and equality.

And now’s the time to fight against those stigmas and fight for each other’s rights to be ourselves, fearless and all together.

Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum, BITCHES. (Don’t let the bastards grind you down)

And because I couldn’t complete this article without asking for the opinion of someone else, someone I hold dear to me because of her fights for feminism and the LGBT community, and mostly cause she knows about these struggles being a woman and being LGBT, here’s a little 4 question interview conducted by me, through mail, to which she’s had the kindness to reply, hoping that if you haven’t been convinced by my words, you’ll be convinced by hers ! Thanks to @_BeckyWanders (on twitter, english lit grad and gender studies postgrad, and becky.wanders on instagram, go follow her ! )

1) Having read the book, was the tv show faithful to it ? 

They tried to keep it as faithful as possible. Of course, the book is not a serie so they had to change some things to keep the plot going for several seasons. Obviously, for me the book is better, because we have more details, but I feel like the producers succeeded in keeping the very special mood and atmosphere of the book.

2) Were the themes of feminism, freedom, equality, patriarchal society, sexuality are also talked about in the book ? Are they as visible ?

I think all of these themes are actually more visible in the TV show. Just simply because the book has a one sided POV (June’s one). Or at least it’s more striking. June has a way stronger personality  in the TV show (once again, it works better this way for a longer plot). As for the sexuality theme, we have LGBT characters in both the book and the TV show, but the fact that they actually /have/ screen time, makes it so much interesting and realistic.

3) Why is it important to talk about these themes and about the show ? 

I think it’s important because it is so so close from reality. As much as we hate to open our eyes on social issue, they did this TV show NOW (and not when the book was released in 1990) because it FEELS so real. The fact that some women in the US dressed-up as handmaids says it all. Today more than ever, women’s rights are in danger. Simone Veil said once “Never forget that one political, economic or religious crisis will be enough for women’s rights to be challenged once again”. And I think that’s why it’s important to have these TV show now, for people, men and women to stay woke about the issues around us.

4) Who’s the character that best represent the spirit of the show ?

That’s a very hard question. In the TV show I’d say Serena Joy, i think as much as we think she is a bad person, she found herself trapped in a society she once fought for. And I think that’s interesting to see the struggle she constantly live with as a person who has once a lot of influence.

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