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The Handmaid’s Tale: The Show You Must See If You’re A Woman

If you’ve needed a pick-up from the partiarchy, if you’re feeling squished by the system, or if you’re simply failing to see the feminine strength each and everyone of us ladies holds, then you might just need to start watching The Handmaid’s Tale, a Hulu Original Series. If you haven’t already seen the first five episodes… well then you’d better chatch up before the next episode comes out on Wednesday. Spoiler Alert!!

A little about me: I first read this book as a sophomore in high school for my English class. For those of you who haven’t read the book but have started watching the show, you might be thinking: “You read this in high school?! But there’s so many intense references, bizarre sexual themes and controversial plot points for young teens to be tackling!” And you’d be right. But if you did read the book in high school, or later, and you’re a woman like me, you would have realized that Margaret Atwood’s dystopian tale was more than just a freaky look into a possible future full of harrowingly-relavant political rhetoric, but a wake-up call for girls and women everywhere to realize the full and untapped potential we have.

 

The first episode introduces our protagonist, Offred, a red-clad “handmaiden” in the dystopian city of Gilead, a fundamentalist, theocratic dictatorship in which she, and women like her, must act to sustain the human population in light of extremely low fertility rates. We soon learn that the way they do this is by forced surrogacy on behalf of Commanders (the influential government cronies) and their Wives. This is accomplished via “The Ceremony”- a monthly sex ritual which is not only as creepy and horriffic as it sounds, but must involve the Wives, their husbands and of course the assigned handmaids who sit between the legs of the Wives so that they might both be “impregnated”- literally and spiritually.

WFT. Right?

We already see the religious justifications in the show which references The Old Testament story of Rachel and her handmaid, Bilhah. Before each ceremony, the Commander quotes from Genesis 30:1-3, “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” (King James Bible). The Wives, who are the figurative Rachels of the story, are unfertile, and so must pass off the baby-making rights to their husbands and which ever random, fertile handmaid their house is assigned by the government. 

 

Offred is literally “Of-Fred” so her commander is Fred and his wife is Serena Joy. So far, we’ve seen a nice side of the Commander, who’s asked Offred to his study twice for some games of scrabble. She is of course starved for any sign of literature or text, as she and other handmaids are restricted from reading or writing. They’re not worth much more than their wombs so they, presumably, can’t be sneaking peeks at any revolutionist ideaology or any reference to how the world once used to be. Serena Joy on the other hand is a real piece of work. As a wife, she was fortunate enough to be married to an influential man, yet unfortunate enough to be barren and thus at the mercy of her Handmaid’s success in producing a child. We see her temper rage when Offred’s period comes late, and squashes her hope that they’d become pregnant. 

We also learn throughout the first episodes that the handmaids were basically all tracked down and forcibly captured once the government realized that they still had the ability to bear children despite the fertility crisis. We see a hearbreaking scene where Offred, who’s real name is revealed to be June, and her husband and small child are chased to the borders of the United States where they were all eventually captured. Offred’s daughter was taken away to who-knows-where and her husband, tragically, was shot and killed. This is the scene Offred goes back to time and time again throughout her imprisonment, when she’s trying to mentally block out the ceremonies and during the distrubing public gatherings in which Handmaid’s are allowed for a minute or two to mercillesly bludger any and all offenders of Gilead’s rules (i.e homosexuals, abortion doctors, and other revolutionaries agains the regime.)

Handmaid’s are spared for previously breaking these rules, as we see with Offred’s assigned walking companion, Ofwarren. 

Ofwarren experiences a number of tragedies related to her homosexuality and is bludgered time and time again by the system for deviating from the rules- notably having an affair with a female housekeeper. 

So, while this show covers many themes (many of which I haven’t covered), including abortion, loss of control over women’s own bodies, surrogacy, infertility, rape, forced surgical procedures, conversion therapy and religion, throught these first episodes we’ve also seen a strong bud of resistance. The oppressive regime and the lack of control by many members of this society are proving to be challening to overcome. That’s why this show might just be exaclty what we need to watch- as women and as a state under a new and confusing presidental administration. Offred is, in essence, many of us who feel that our rights have been taken away (or will be soon). The government of Gilead tries to push the handmaid’s down…

But they can’t be stopped. Offred finds a small beacon of hope somewhere along the fourth episode in her closet where a previous handmaid had etched into the wall “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum…” or, “Don’t let the bastards grind you down”. This phrase will end up meaning a multiitude of things throught the season, but at that moment it is the reminder Offred needed to “get her crazy ass up” and keep on trucking. She has to believe there’ll be an end in sight, for her sanity and her future. 

Check out IMDB’s page here

Elle Wagner is a sophmore this year at the Univesity of Denver and is a double major in International Relations and Communication Studies with a minor in French. She works as a model for Wilhelmina International and enjoys to travel, eat lots of cheesecake and spend time with her Dutch Family in Den Haag, Holland. She is super thrilled to be a writer for Her Campus and is always looking forward to the next piece she gets to write! HCXO 
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