I’m so gutted that The Handmaid’s Tale has finished, I really enjoyed snuggling up to it of an evening (granted I rarely caught it live on TV and most often watched it on catch up), even when it did make me feel uncomfortable. Which was often.
For anyone who’s not seen it, it’s about a terrifying, repressive society called Gilead in which fertile women are rounded up and forced to breed to repopulate. The alternative is hanging or being sent to work in radioactive colonies. It’s based on a book by Margaret Atwood published in 1985, which I haven’t read – so I can’t comment on the likeness between the book and the programme, but the TV series is cinematically beautiful and yet chilling. It’s been an amazing watch and I’m pleased to hear there will be a second series.
WARNING: It’s worth bearing in mind that this post discusses some of the plot, and presumes the reader has watched the series too, so naturally contains spoilers.
So without any further ado, here are a few things that The Handmaid’s Tale has taught me.
1. Women are badass
In the penultimate episode, Moira was close to giving up and accepting her fate as a Jezebel (essentially a prostitute working at a bar for the wealthy). But Offred gave her hope. She made her see that they needed to keep fighting to survive – and that spurred Moira on to attack one of her clients – and escape.
Women contain such incredible inner strength – we’re built to deal with childbirth (and don’t I know it, mine is looming…) and statistically, women tend to survive the same diseases that kill men (I read this in a recent issue of Marie Claire). And we know the life expectancy of women is higher than that of men: studies from 2013-2015 show the life expectancy of men in the UK to be 79.1 years old and for women it’s 82.8 years. Nice one, ladies.
2. Everything contained within the story is based on something in history
I remember reading this before starting to watch the series and in a piece written for The Guardian in 2012, author Margaret Atwood said:
“I made a rule for myself: I would not include anything that human beings had not already done in some other place or time, or for which the technology did not already exist. I did not wish to be accused of dark, twisted inventions, or of misrepresenting the human potential for deplorable behaviour. The group-activated hangings, the tearing apart of human beings, the clothing specific to castes and classes, the forced childbearing and the appropriation of the results, the children stolen by regimes and placed for upbringing with high-ranking officials, the forbidding of literacy, the denial of property rights: all had precedents, and many were to be found not in other cultures and religions, but within western society, and within the ‘Christian’ tradition, itself.”
It’s scary but a harsh reminder of what could happen – and indeed what has happened in the past. And this takes me nicely on to my next point…
3. Equality still has a long way to go
The society depicted in The Handmaid’s Tale is not necessarily a feminist dystopia because not all men are equal among other men and the same goes for women. For example, The Commander has a higher authority than Nick, his driver does. It’s about the elite and the wealthy vs the poor and the ‘valuable’ where a woman’s fertility is considered a quality.
Although I’d argue that in real life men and women aren’t equal, there’s still also an equality gap between the rich and the poor – and between white and people of colour. When you consider how the body you’re born into combined with privilege and opportunity impact everyday life, there’s still a lot of work to do.
4. Nothing’s as strong as the bond between mother and child
Everything that Offred is going through is to one day see her daughter again – it’s that thought that is keeping her going. She is determined that she will get through this one way or another and hold her daughter in her arms again.
Mothers and their children have a special connection, and nothing, not even Gilead, can break it.
5. A little bit of power can go to your head
Wow, do people like a bit of authority! Aunt Lydia, who trains handmaids to be sexual servants for their household, is a prime example of this and it makes me wonder what she did in her old life, whether she was treated badly and looked down upon and it’s that which is now spurring her on. She seems to have no empathy for the handmaids and doesn’t hesitate at ‘punishing’ them brutally.
Equally, the Commander seems to genuinely believe that he should be respected and obeyed by all, no questions asked. Power changes some people for the better and others for the worse – I can’t think of any characters in the show who have been improved by the power bestowed upon them.
6. We are each other’s allies
We need to remember to always support and care for one another – when times are good and when times get tough. Congratulate your friends and your peers on their achievements rather than berating yourself for not achieving the same.
Be a kind shoulder to cry on when required and don’t judge others – we can only really empathise based on our own experiences and you often don’t know how tough someone has got it.