How The Handmaid's Tale Isn't Too Far-Fetched
And why that should be terrifying
I've only recently become obsessed with Hulu's latest series The Handmaid's Tale. The season finale has landed, and I couldn't be even more ravenous for the next episode. If you're not familiar with this dystopian masterpiece that came from Margaret Atwood's genius mind, I highly recommend you watch it or read the novel itself. For someone that has only watched instead of read (guilty as charged), I can only base this article on the way the world of Gilead is portrayed with the help of Elizabeth Moss as Offred (or Joan, if you decide to remember she was once a free human being at one point.)
So, you would think a world where feminism is thought of as a sin would be categorized as a world that could never happen here in the twenty-first century, right? Not really. We've come a long way from the days when the women folk were segregated to the kitchens and wearing pants was avant-garde, but just like The Handmaid's Tale, the wrong circumstances can pivot everything back to the middle-ages, except with laptops and big, black vans prowling the streets.
The flashbacks offer a huge insight into how such an impossible world became real to the majority of the United States of America. It began with a worldwide epidemic that threatened the future of humankind itself. You see, when the world's population is in free-fall for an unknown reason, it frightens us to such a degree that we take drastic, inhumane measures to right it. Women that used to be able to conceive are now infertile, and it's not only the female population that is having trouble with fertility; most of the men are sterile, but it's such a taboo that the word itself is forbidden. In essence, they're faced with a problem that can't even be properly discussed, and it's either the handmaid way or nothing. To me, that already sounds horribly familiar in today's world when we talk about just sex-ed in schools.
How did they even get to this point? How could anyone allow this to happen, especially women who had all of their rights stripped from them? The answer lies in the parallels between this fictional work and our reality.
Fear Mongering Propaganda
Personally, I have no intention of having children. If someone told me that the world's population was going to take a nose-dive tomorrow I'd probably say "golly" and move on. Understandably, not everyone shares my opinion, and they would fall victim to the worry that Earth would no longer have its most problematic favorite residing on its surface in a matter of decades. Of course, we don't have that type of weight hanging above our heads, but what we do have is a smorgasbord of other issues. For this topic, the separation of state and religion was the aptest to use, especially when it concerns abortion, LGBTQ rights, rape, and even climate change. Saying that what you're doing is "God's work" is a useful tool to use to get what you want, and it's also (paradoxically) sacrilegious at the same time. People that employ this tactic, however, believe that they're on a moral high-ground, which in essence gives them a license to do whatever they desire.
In The Handmaid's Tale, that's never been truer. A handmaid-to-be formerly named Janine was humiliated and shamed when it was revealed in her past that she had been gang-raped. The other handmaids-in-training formed a circle around her and were made to chant "your fault" in unison until the poor girl absorbed it into her belief system. There was also Ofglen who in the past had a wife, but since she was seen as fertile, they forgave her until they grew suspicious of her having a girlfriend. Spoiler alert: a particularly cruel punishment followed for both of them, ending in one being hanged and the other having her genitals mutilated just enough so she would no longer experience pleasure.
Have you ever heard the term mass hysteria? In a lot of ways, it's like an extreme case of conformity. In the latter's case, we may agree with social norms consciously or unconsciously just to fit in and not rock the boat. For the majority of human beings, that's exactly our goal: to blend in, make friends, don't question. We fall in line pathetically because it's the easy choice and sometimes even the safest. How many times have you gone on an online chat room and been swept up with the tide of the popular opinion? Maybe you say things that you don't really mean, but in the moment it sounds good and you're rewarded for it. In my experience, I'll go to the same site and find a crap ton of "jokes" that involve rape or misogyny in general. This is precisely where a slippery slope starts; when we can easily pass off a person getting brutally victimized as some type of fun and games.
At the start of where things get bad in The Handmaid's Tale universe, Joan and her friend Moira walk into a coffee shop. They put in their order to a male barista, and all he does is berate them simply because they're women. Joan's boss also begins the day by apologizing, before telling them that the company is no longer employing any females, making them box up all their possessions and letting them walk. Even Joan's husband tries to calm her down when her bank account is frozen instead of being livid that such a change is happening before their eyes. Some people just go through the motion, especially when they're not getting impacted, and that's what we all see day-to-day.
Abortion has always been a hot topic. I've always found it funny, though, how the same individuals that are "pro-life" can also be for death sentences. In America, there has always been a threat to women that if they do decide to have an abortion, they could face criminal charges. Hell, let's even expand this topic to the fact that if you don't comply completely with the police, chances are you'll be facing either a taser or perhaps a bullet. Or let's talk about how just being outspoken against political actions can get you harassed, even if it was just on Twitter.
In Gilead, the rules are keep your head down and shut up, particularly if you're a woman. The irony is that in spite of needing these "revered" handmaids to perform the miracle of life, it doesn't save them from being beaten, tasered, or mutilated. It's already a given that they'll be raped by their commanders, but if the commander actually enjoys it and it's not part of the ceremony, he could lose an arm like Commander Putnam. If you're even more hated, you'll either get hanged by the wall or taken to Salvage, where all the handmaids get a chance to beat the living daylights out of you with their bare hands or with stones. Even the simplest act of reading and writing by a woman is outlawed to the extent that if you're caught, you could lose an eye or a hand. Apparently, these are the techniques needed in the case that innocent conformity doesn't work.
Did you know that in some places soda is being taxed and in certain schools it's also banned? Sure, it's supposedly for a health concern, but don't you believe in free choice? Well, free choice is slowly being penalized in all sorts of creative ways. Instead of working with the companies that produce the future contraband, it's all passed directly down to the end-user. Seven years ago in southern California, dictionaries were banned from schools because they shockingly had entries pertaining to sex, and if that isn't a parallel view to The Handmaid's Tale when it comes to education, I don't know what is.
Things could always get worse, though. We're talking about banning make-up, magazines, most reading material in general, words like "gay" and "sterile," games, religion that doesn't conform to the Gilead ways, being gay or being suspected of being gay, and so much more. Actually, if you go outside of a strict dress-code, you'll get punished. Do you know the most hilarious ban? Pregnancy tests. Because in a world where it's a real miracle to have a kid, we surely wouldn't want to know whether or not a woman was pregnant.
In short, if there ever happens to be a problem in the world where we suddenly are unable to conceive, my advice is to head to Canada. You'll get free healthcare, money, and a cell phone paid up to a year when things all go down the toilet.