Anyone who’s read, watched, or even heard of The Handmaid’s Tale knows how horrifying Gilead is for the Handmaids. These women had a normal life before, but suddenly they are thrust into this new world in which so much progress is gone, society reverted to a place even worse than the past.
It’s almost impossible to believe that this show takes place in the present. We view progress in human rights as upwardly linear, even exponential, but The Handmaid’s Tale expresses how easily fear and misuse of power can take everything away from women and other minorities. Although the whole structure of society has been redesigned in Gilead, the cause and effect of this change is due to women’s supposed infertility. Birth rates dropped steeply in the past, causing fear that led to men blaming the women and creating the concept of Handmaids.
Gender plays a big role in our world today, but in Gilead, it dictates everything. Most of the men are Guardians, Commanders, or Econopeople. They form the backbone of society and pick what the women’s roles are. They own property, basically including women, have jobs, and are able to live relatively peaceful lives. However, the women are Marthas, Handmaids, Aunts, Wives, Econowives, or Unwomen. Although some are more pleasant than others, none are happy. They lead lives decided by other people and suffer through both pain and boredom. Since this is the first generation of Gilead, these women live every day remembering the past but have to deal with the present. In Season 2, Episode 11, June goes into labor and remembers her past experience with her first child. An experience in which she was surrounded by those who loved her, doctors, and good conditions. Now, she has to give birth alone with no drugs, doctors, and without any emotional support. However, she uses the memory of her past with her first birth and numerous Handmaid’s births to get her through it. These paralleled experiences show the new reality these women have to face with no way out- not even a quick death is guaranteed.
Even though the Handmaids go through day after day of emotional and physical abuse, in Gilead, they are seen as those who have been given a second chance. Aunts try to brainwash them into believing that they this providing for the world is a privilege and that they should be grateful. Men, like priests and homosexuals, who didn’t fit Gilead’s rules were executed while fertile women involved with religion or lesbians were given this second chance. Although many factors influence one’s experience in Gilead, gender plays as the most major role, with neither outcome being favorable. Which outcome is better? Debatable.