After binge watching 10 straight hours of the critically acclaimed Hulu series “The Handmaid’s Tale,” I found myself incredibly emotional and somewhat fearful for my future as a woman. As farfetched as some might find it, the show is far more realistic and plausible than it initially seems, especially considering the current political atmosphere in America.
Set in the future, dystopian world of “Gilead,” which has replaced the former United States, violent religious extremists have stripped women of their rights and imposed a male-dominated dictatorship, rounding up women and forcing them in to a life of sexual servitude and surrogacy. After an unknown disaster has left most of the population sterile, the few remaining fertile women are captured and given to high-ranking, powerful men as ‘handmaid’s’ to bear their children.
The handmaids are brainwashed and beaten, forced in to a life of ritualistic rape each month when they are ovulating, and any child that they bear is immediately taken away to be raised by the household patriarch and his barren wife. The monthly “ceremony” involves the handmaid lying in the lap of the Commander’s wife, her arms pinned down while the Commander rapes her. The Commander reads a passage from the Old Testament in King James Bible to justify his actions, citing Genesis 30:1 – “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.”
Although the premise of the story might sound unrealistic to some, I was unbelievably blown away by how similar many of the situations were to the issues that women around the world currently face. Human trafficking is absolutely real and isn’t something that might happen someday; it is happening right now. According to the Sex Trafficking Fact Sheet, women and girls make up 96 percent of victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation. There are over 20 million people bought and sold in the sex trade worldwide, and an estimated two million are children.
The sex trade isn’t the only issue facing women in the show. When the Gilead soldiers overthrew the government, they started small – shutting down women’s bank accounts, forcing women out of their jobs, passing a law that wouldn’t allow women to work anymore. This paved the way for Gilead to pass laws prohibiting women from reading any sort of literature, forbidding gay relationships and banning sex for pleasure. A particularly horrifying scene shows the handmaid’s being forced to slut-shame another handmaid for being gang-raped in her previous life (before the war). They are stripped of their names, ripped away from their families and forced in to a life of servitude, all because they are women.
If none of this sounds frightening, it should be. Everything in The Handmaid’s Tale was based off real events. Margaret Atwood – who wrote the book on which the show is based – took everything that happens in the book from real life. Speaking to the Guardian, Atwood said, “when I wrote it I was making sure I wasn’t putting anything into it that human beings had not already done somewhere at some time.” The horrifying scene of a woman being lynched because she is a “gender traitor” (gay), of another woman being subjected to genital mutilation (as a punishment for being gay), and the idea of women being forced to carry children that they don’t want, after being raped; these are all very real issues already happening today across the globe.
Here in the U.S., women are still faced with having little to no rights over their own bodies. Politicians are regularly trying to rip away our rights by passing laws that limit access to birth control, enforcing stricter laws on abortion, trying to outlaw abortion completely, and by limiting our access to reproductive healthcare. These are just a few of the issues women in America still face today. That might not sound as serious as public hangings and ceremonial rape, but it doesn’t take much to create a domino effect. The Holocaust didn’t happen overnight. It happened over a series of years that involved stripping away the rights of Jewish people, removing their identity, rounding them up, stuffing them in concentration camps and inevitably killing millions.
I cried watching this show. I cried in nearly every single episode. It is an incredibly difficult show to watch knowing that the horrors displayed on screen are really happening to women all around the world as we speak. It’s easy for people to shrug off the horrors of the world and claim “that would never happen here,” and comforting to hope that it never would, but it is happening here. It’s frighteningly realistic, and it challenges us to stand up and speak out against lawmakers and politicians who are so quick to strip away our human rights, claiming it will make the world a ‘better place.’ As Commander Waterford points out, “better never means better for everyone. It always means worse for some.”
“I was asleep before. That’s how we let it happen. When they slaughtered Congress, we didn’t wake up. When they blamed terrorists and suspended the constitution, we didn’t wake up then either. Now I’m awake.” – Offred