The release of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, based on Margaret Atwood’s book of the same title, has the internet alive with discussions about how the show relates to current events when it comes to class, gender, sexuality, race and more. Reading 2017 headlines in the age of Trump’s presidential reign of humanitarian fails makes you think you’re living in Gilead.
In the Republic of Gilead, religious fundamentalists successfully have successfully taken over the U.S. government. In this dystopian world, most of society has become infertile, and some women are forced to dutifully serve sterile families by bearing children. The novel is based on the story of Rachel and Leah from the Old Testament, where “handmaidens” served as sexual surrogates.
In the Handmaid's Tale, women’s rights are banished virtually overnight. The story is told to readers in the first person by the handmaid Offred — a name that is literally “Of Fred." Offred is stripped of an identity separate from Fred, the master of the house where she is forced to live. Her real name is never explicitly revealed in the book.
Though Atwood’s novel was released roughly thirty years ago, the comparison of Gilead to 2017 keeps showing up in news articles and opinion pieces. The series' recent release on Hulu certainly is one reason why, but certain similarities between Gilead and some U.S. philosophies are startling.
Take a look at three times 2017 bore an eerie resemblance to the totalitarian Republic of Gilead:
1. Laughing at a man gets you jail time.
In Gilead, you may be beaten, have your eyesight taken, or get a body part chopped off as a punishment for minor transgressions. In Trumptopia, laughing at a man gets you jail time. Desiree Fairooz, 61, faces up to a year of jail time after for laughing at Attorney General Jeff Sessions at his confirmation hearing.
Privilege will cause some to laugh this charge off at first glance, but when you look at the hypocrisy of the legal system, the tale turns darker. Remember Brock Turner, who was initially charged with raping an intoxicated and unconscious woman? He was convicted of sexual assault and given a sentence of six months in jail, but he was released after only serving half his sentence. A man’s veneer of respect shouldn’t be more important than a woman being violently sexually assaulted. In Trumptopia, apparently, it is.
2. Any sexuality or gender identity besides cis and straight is "wrong."
When Trump took over the White House, people panicked as official government webpages about LGBTQ+ rights and civil rights seemed to disappear too quickly, though they were backed up. Quick changes to institutions of help and inclusion feel similar to when Offred explains how the world suddenly changed around her before she became Offred.
North Carolina’s “bathroom bill,” requiring transgender individuals to use the corresponding bathroom to the gender on their birth certificate, was notorious in many discussions last year, and only 18 states, adding Washington, D.C., affirm transgender bathroom access by law. An Equality Law introduced in 2015 by the Obama administration would have opened up the Civil Rights Act to encompass LGBTQ+ folks, but that’s not happening anytime soon in Trumptopia. Trump also recently put forth a "religious freedom" executive order draft that would allow LGBTQ+ discrimination nationwide, giving religious organizations and Americans freedom to judge and express their anti-LGBTQ+ beliefs without “adverse treatment” from the government. In the Handmaid's Tale, LBTQ+ folks are deemed "gender traitors," a fate punishable by death.
3. Women are born to breed, and the unfit can just die.
In Gilead, women who are able to bear children are given a station in wealthy homes in which the wives have become sterile. They are often mistreated when they show any form of independence. In Gilead, fertile gay women are also given this “blessed” opportunity to provide for the Republic, as are disabled women - even if the Republic caused a handmaid’s disability. Yet, when it comes to any unsightly appearance, the woman is shooed out of sight at major events. Combine that with any show of activism or independence, and you’re banished to the dangerous Colonies or put to death. Joy.
In the U.S., there are some scary parallels. Women are meant to breed — pregnancy and rape are preexisting conditions, right? They shouldn’t need the essential services provided by Planned Parenthood — a recent Trump proposal will completely defund Planned Parenthood. Other abortion providers would not receive federal funds. Of course, once those babies are here, they are the complete responsibility of the women who bore them. No food stamps, no children’s lunch program, and absolutely no healthcare. Simple conditions and more complex ones, from asthma to cancer, are all considered pre-existing conditions. The unfit are left to die, and the “utopian” society will be left to thrive.
The comparisons between future U.S. policy and Gilead aren’t lost on those trying to make a change. People at the Women’s March in January held up signs that read: “Make Margaret Atwood Fiction Again” and “The Handmaiden’s Tale Is Not an Instruction Manual.”
But the book is a story of resilience. And people who read it feel empowered. In fact, Texas women dressed in Handmaid costumes to protest measures against abortion recently. The novel has also hit the bestseller list again — for a book that was written 30 years ago, that’s impressive.
This book’s recent skyrocketing popularity means that a change is coming. People reading this book are the ones marching, writing letters to Congresspeople, and staying on the frontlines of the battle to protect women from aggressive government mandates. Don’t be fooled into thinking you’re too old, too male, or too privileged to feel the effects. These changes will hurt us all.
Many of the legislative proposals, laws, and statements made in 2017 give you a sinking feeling deep in the pit of your stomach, much like Offred may have experienced before the Land of the Free became the Republic of Gilead. Her tale disturbs many, but her perseverance is something that can inspire everyone to stand up for themselves.
Photos via Hulu
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