“Nothing changes instantaneously: in a gradually heating bathtub you’d be boiled to death before you knew it.”
The Handmaid's Tale is a Hulu original thriller series based on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel of the same name. It explores what can happen when extreme, fundamentalist Christians take over the United States. Fiction though it may be, is it even remotely possible to happen for real? The short answer: Yes. It's very possible.
The premise of the show is, in the very near future, an extremist Christian group within the United States attacks the Northeast coast and overthrows the government, replacing the United States government in New England with a totalitarian, theonomy--governance based on the strict adherence of the divine law of the Old Testament.
The democracy that was the United States was replaced by the militaristic, totalitarian, theonomy of The Republic of Gilead. Gay and lesbian men and women were murdered, with the exception of women who were able to conceive. Fertile women were forced to become surrogates or “handmaids” - baby-making factories - for those in power who could not reproduce. These women were forced to bear children they did not want - forced to have sex in order to procreate. Raped.
Gilead is a nation where women’s bodies are governed—every inch of their bodies policed. Women wear uniforms, each class having a designated uniform according to their relationship to men: the aunts, wife, handmaid, martha, and unwomen.
How did the the United States become the Republic of Gilead in The Handmaid’s Tale? The never-ending belief in male dominance, women’s complicity in those beliefs, and people not wanting to be bothered with anything that did not immediately affect their lives—that’s how. Offred, the protagonist was guilty of the latter, just as many are guilty of that today.
While policing women’s bodies is not a new concept (Napoleon Bonaparte famously once said, “Women were nothing but machines for producing children”) it is not acceptable, especially in 2019. Why, then, do politicians continue to police women’s bodies according to their religious interpretation or morality when the U.S. Constitution expressly calls for a separation of church and state? They do it for the same reasons boys in gaming spaces like to tell femme gamers to go back in the kitchen or make them a sandwich. There’s a perceived superiority of men over women and an unwillingness to believe women should be the gatekeepers of our own bodies and our own happiness.
Legislators are creating laws that make getting a safe abortion legal based on legislators’ cherry-picked religious beliefs but no laws regulating the male body. Legislators pass laws that would make allow employers to not allow birth control to be covered by insurers, but Viagra and other male libido enhancement medications remain untouched. The governors of both Kentucky and Mississippi recently signed six-week abortion bans and Georigia’s new governor is awaiting Georgia’s 6-week abortion ban to hit his desk so that he can sign it.
Politicians brush off with sexual assault like it’s okay, openly admitting to sexual assault—boys and men threaten women and girls with rape and assault for disagreeing with their opinion or daring to voice their opinion. And when we speak out on it, try to correct their behavior or say “I don’t like this” we’re called sensitive, snowflakes, PC! When we simply say “No, I’m not interested,” we’re harassed. How far is too far?
Anjali Sareen Nowakowski perfectly summed up how similar our reality is to that of the Republic of Gilead. “All it took to build Gilead, though, was the silence of those that would resist and the vast expansion of government power.” While there are similarities between US and Gilead, can we all work together so that “Under his eye” and “Blessed be the fruit” are not the only things we’re allowed to say to each other?
Season 3 of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale premiere’s June 5, 2019.