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Was The Handmaid's Tale written from a feminist or anti-feminist perspective?

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Was The Handmaid's Tale written from a feminist or anti-feminist perspective? The Handmaid's tale was written in 1985 during the rise of the opposition to the feminist movement. This novel portrays what might happen if the anti-feminist messages given to women by the fundamentalist New Right in the 1980's were followed through. It details the virtual enslavement of women and their reduction to mere functions. The purpose of this novel 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. The Handmaid's Tale, as a whole, is a critic of patriarchal extremism though the content is anti-feminist in that the subject is the Republic of Gilead and its ideals. In 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. The regime effectively robs women of their individual identities. In society today there exists a patriarchal system. It is quietly upheld by those at the top of the hierarchy but is under constant threat of reform. ...read more.


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. The Handmaid's red, nunlike uniform symbolises their imprisonment in that role. 'Everything except the wings around my face is red: the colour of blood, which defines us.'(Attwood,1985:18). The red colour of the costumes worn by the Handmaids symbolises fertility, which is the primary function of the Handmaid's. Red suggests the blood of the menstrual cycle and of childbirth. But although the Handmaid's role is one of the most important in this patriarchal society, they are treated as the lowest class especially by other women. In the beginning, at the centre, the women are told that they are different and more intelligent than men but that men cannot control themselves around women. They still have to fear for their lives and their bodies and tiptoe around men. Aunt Lydia states "Men are sex machines...They only want one thing. You must learn to manipulate them, for your own good"(Attwood,1985:153). 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 is a man or a woman, is taken away, the strength of the individual is lost. ...read more.


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 exercises 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. Feminism is prevalent in this novel The Handmaid's Tale. This dystopic novel isolated 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. ...read more.

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