The Handmaid’s Tale is a show based on 1985 novel of the same name by Canadian writer Margaret Atwood. The book has been pegged as science-fiction, because, I assume, Margaret Atwood never imagined we would live in the reality we’re in, now.
It follows Offred (that’s Of-Fred), played by Elisabeth Moss, a woman who lives in America (now Gilead), forced to bear children for Commander Fred Waterford and his wife, Mrs Waterford. Why? Well, a few years ago, a plague struck the States, rendering the whole country infertile, with many women barren, and many men sterile. So, this led to a shift in power, where the United States of America became Gilead, a totalitarian and purportedly Christian fundamentalist government ruled by men known as Commanders. The women are their wives, along with the Handmaids to birth their children, and Marthas, for household work. Everyone has a designation, and they’re all watched by a shadow pseudo-military organisation known as the Eye, so they’d all better be on their best behaviour.
This is a slow show. Purposely, agonisingly, and painstakingly slow. This is a show about women, and the horrors they face in a world not-so-far into the future. In fact, the term ‘five minutes from now’, which is often used to describe the show Black Mirror (2011), can be used to describe The Handmaid’s Tale as well. Although honestly, themes and scenes explored in the show aren’t five minutes from now, they are the now.
There are so many injustices in this world, targeting women. Women in Saudi Arabia can’t drive cars, compete in sports (without major resistance), or even speak to men. They aren’t allowed to try on clothing while shopping, and they aren’t allowed to use public pools – instead they have a space allotted for them.
Women in Afghanistan aren’t allowed to wear what they want, and instead, have to wear specific outfits. They are not allowed to go out in public without a male representative, nor are they allowed to work without a male presence. Afghanistan is nothing more than a patriarchal prison. They, along with China, India, Pakistan, Russia and Saudi Arabia still haven’t outlawed domestic violence and marital rape. It’s not a crime.
Speaking of things that aren’t crimes in the east, female foeticide is still a common trend in India. Girls, when deemed as financial burdens, are disposed of. (Here’s a fascinating article on female foeticide in Rajasthan.)
Women serve no purpose save for completing their biological purpose, says Commander Waterford, yet, while harems and brothels are supposedly illegal, they turn a blind eye to it as it allows them to “have their fun”.
This hypocrisy of men is explored to full extent in this show, that only gets better over the course of its ten-episode run, with dazzling cinematography and excellent writing bringing the whole show to life. It’s a bleak reality, but it isn’t a bleak show. It never loses the spark of hope that runs from the first episode all the way to the end. I hope to see resolution and liberation in the seasons to come.
This is a show for both men and women, feminist or otherwise, to educate themselves on the things that can happen to women, and how they correlate to things that are happening to women as we speak, and maybe, just maybe change someone’s views for the better, and the make the world a slightly better place.