Explore the issues concerning women and feminism raised in the novel The Handmaid's tale.
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Explore the issues concerning women and feminism raised in the novel The Handmaid's tale was written in 1986 during the rise of the opposition to the feminist movement. Atwood, a Native American, was a supporter of this movement. In this novel, which reflects on the antifeminist messages given to women by the fundamentalist New Right in the 1980's, Atwood portrays in detail just what might follow: the virtual enslavement of women, their reduction to mere functions. Her purpose in writing this serious satire is to warn women of what the female gender stands to lose if the feminist movement were to fail. In this essay, I am going to look at the issues concerning women and feminism in The Handmaid's Tale. In the Republic of Gilead, the masculine code is carried to the extreme in the regime's assignment of women to various classes - the wives, the Handmaids, the Martha's, the Econo-wives, and the Aunts - according to their functions. As a result of the sexual freedom, free abortion and high increase of venereal diseases at the end of the twentieth century, many women are sterile. The women who are still fertile are recruited as Handmaids, and their only mission in life is to give birth to the offspring of their Commander, whose wife is infertile.
Another feminist in the novel is Offred's mother. A 'wiry, spunky' feminist, Offred's mother disappears soon after the Gileadean Coup; branded an Unwoman, she is shipped to the Colonies where she is forced to sweep up toxic wastes - a certain death sentence. Complacency in a totalitarian state, as Atwood suggests, is that people will endure oppression willingly as long as they receive some slight amount of power or freedom. Offred remembers her mother saying that it is 'truly amazing, what people can get used to, as long as there are a few compensations.' Women in general support Gilead's existence by willingly participating in it. While a woman like Serena Joy has no power in the world of men, she excersises authority within her own household and seems to delight in tyrannising over Offred. She jealously guards what little power she has and wields it eagerly. In a similar way, the women known as Aunts, especially Aunt Lydia, act as willing agents of the Gileadean State. They indoctrinate other women into ruling ideology, keep a close eye out for rebellion, and generally serve the same function for Gilead that the Jewish police did under the Nazi rule. As for feminism in The Handmaid's Tale, there are two separate opinions. One opinion is that it is a feminist novel, and the opposing opinion is that it is not.
They still have to fear for their lives and their bodies and tiptoe around men. Aunt Lydia states that "Men are sex machines...They only want one thing. You must learn to manipulate them, for your own good." Just as in present day society, the Handmaid's Tale still keeps women oppressed through their body images and fear for their safety. When love for oneself, whether it be a man or a woman, is taken away, the strength of the individual is lost. In a society where both genders are truly equal, men and women would work together on creating a safe space for everyone, not just the women. Therefore, there are many issues in The Handmaid's Tale concerning women and feminism, which are mostly didactic. . The dystopic novel that Atwood created isolates certain social trends in real communities and exaggerated them to make clear their most negative qualities. Instead of proclaiming her feelings out loud, Offred suppresses them. The result is a series of recordings, which describes her life, and the things she wishes she could change. Through these examples, it is apparent that women in Gilead cannot resolve their problems because of outside circumstances. This then links back to what the female gender would have to lose if the feminist movement failed, because once in a situation like Gilead, it would be extremely hard to escape. Therefore, Atwood's message is that women should not be complacent within their society and should try to change it for the benefit of future generations.
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