The Handmaid’s Tale, a Hulu Original and award winning series, is an adaptation of the classic novel of the same title written by Margaret Atwood and published in 1985. Season 2 of the hit series is eagerly awaited with a release date of April 25th on Hulu.
The story tells of a dystopian future governed by the totalitarian society of Gilead in what was formerly the United States. As the birth rate declines and infertility becomes prominent, this fundamentalist military group takes steps to “return to traditional values” where men are the ultimate rulers and women have returned to the governance and running of their homes. As environmental dangers increase, only some women are left with the ability to still bear children. These women are forced into sexual servitude under the will of the military commanders and their wives. These women are Handmaids.
As we experience the lives of these Handmaids, we witness their abuse. We see the brokenness and pain of losing their loved ones. We witness their slavery. In this totalitarian regime, women have been stripped of their jobs and positions of leadership in the government and society. And as the story unfolds and we begin to understand how this all came about, we see the oppressed become the oppressor. From the start of Gilead’s revolution, it is revealed that men were not the only ones involved in creating this society, there were women also.
The Handmaid’s Tale offers a thought-provoking depiction of the power of oppression, and how that power, one step at a time, allows the oppressed to become the oppressor.
We see this in the behaviors of the wives of the commanders. As we follow the story of the commander’s wife Serena Joy, we begin to understand her part in the creation of this society. We see her as an activist of “traditional” values, so passionately believing in her message that she even writes a book titled “A Woman’s Place” where she argues for the future of domestic feminism. But this book was written before Gilead was actualized since women are no longer allowed to read or write and have been stripped of their intellectual freedoms.
As Serena’s power is continually stripped away from her, she finds ways to assert the power she has left. She abuses her Handmaid Offred and will stop at nothing to ensure that Offred bears her a child. This narrative also extends to the other wives in Gilead, with Handmaids treated as slaves, their only value their fertility.
Though The Handmaid’s Tale depicts a fictional future, the cycle of oppression that is exemplified is very real. This cycle is present in our daily lives on an individual level and an institutional level. Most of us have experienced oppression in our lives, and some of us have experienced much more than others. Whether you are part of a people group that has been institutionally oppressed, or you have experienced oppression from a parent or an authority figure, no form of oppression is justified.
As we see in The Handmaid’s Tale, oppression began as an ideal. The ideal that women are not as capable as men in their intellect and that their only value lies in having and mothering children. Or the ideal that men are not as capable as women in the responsibilities of the home and that their value lies in their success. Their oppression began as a mindset. It began with a thought. It began by believing a lie about other people and themselves.
This is how you and I can begin to break our cycles of oppression, by recognizing the lies we have believed about ourselves and others and replacing those lies with truth.
Maybe you have been told that you will never be able to do a job as well as a man because you are a woman, or you have been taught that you are weak if you display vulnerability and kindness as a man. Perhaps you have believed that your most valuable asset comes from your body and what you look like, or you have been told that nothing you do will ever be good enough.
Recognizing the lies we have been told and believed is not an easy process. It takes time and introspection. It takes looking outside of our worldview and allowing ourselves to be open to believing something new about who we are, and about who others are.
But once we have taken the time and effort to recognize the lies we have believed, we get to begin the beautiful process of learning the truth.
The truth that the ability you have in your job does not depend on gender.
The truth that being vulnerable and kind is part of our human experience and that every man and woman should be able to express themselves in these ways without being judged.
The truth that our value does not come from our bodies and how others perceive it, that there is so much more to us than what we look like.
The truth that our value does not come from comparing ourselves to others or a standard, that what you have to offer to this world, no one else can offer, because no one else is exactly like you.
This is how we can begin to break the cycles of oppression in our own lives. By believing the truth about who we are, and believing that about others.
The Handmaid’s Tale season 2 releases on April 25th on Hulu.