I spent a while racking my brain as to what would be the best example to use for a cultural resource that represents an imagined idea and alternative to our current political, cultural, and social conditions. Some of the examples I was thinking about included the play Hamilton, movies that show class struggle and consciousness like Parasite or recently, The Menu. However, I’ve decided that the most intense and most terrifying example that I could think of is the TV series ‘The Handmaids Tale’.
If you haven’t watched The Handmaid’s Tale this is a clear warning that it can be very triggering and hard to watch at times, so be aware. The premise of the show is that the audience follows the main character, June Osborn, as she tries to survive through a newly dystopian version of America. In this world, the global birth rate is rapidly declining due to infertility that is mainly a cause of an environmental disaster. In season one we watch as the rise of the new totalitarian, patriarchal, and theonomic government, which is named ‘The Republic of Gilead’ takes over as the new government of the United States and by the latest season, they are the sole rulers and have complete rule of law over the country. Gilead’s government is one of religious extremist who’s answer to the low fertility rates is to imprison, rape, and force fertile women to have children for infertile married couples. Gender roles in this world are taken to the most extreme levels where women are back to being caretakers and housewives. Women in this world, even the infertile married women of the powerful men leaders are unable to have a job, get an education, or even read. The men of this world are the soldiers, government officials and leaders, and ultimately the only people with power.
“In a world in which reproduction has become challenging, their primary goal is to reproduce (but do so piously).”
The TV series is based upon the 1985 book by author Margaret Atwood. After hearing the summary of this series, you would hope that this is an entirely reimagined condition rather than one that is reflected in our current conditions, however it isn’t. Margaret Atwood has explained that she was influenced by current events around the world and the increase in religious extremists in the United States. She is on record as stating “As with The Handmaid’s Tale, I didn’t put in anything that we haven’t already done, we’re not already doing, we’re seriously trying to do, coupled with trends that are already in progress… So all of those things are real, and therefore the amount of pure invention is close to nil.”
“In her interviews, Atwood offers up Afghanistan as an example of a religious theocracy forcing women out of the public sphere and into their homes, as in Gilead.” Atwood also referenced history such as the Salem witch trials and Biblical stories.
In recent years, we have seen many human rights abuses globally, specifically against women. This violence and need to control comes from a patriarchal society and an upset over women’s sexuality. We have seen countless examples of violence all over the world including femicide which is a hate crime described as “the intentional killing of women or girls because they are female.” We have recently seen protests and killings in Iran over the refusal to adhere to hijab laws. “Iranian women are burning hijabs and cutting their hair in public as a demonstration to Iran’s government that women do not belong to them, they belong to themselves.” In America, we have seen the threat of our right to our bodies with the overturn of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court.
The Handmaid’s Tale I believe, is an incredible piece of art that’s goal is to caution the world about the danger of religious extremism and the threat of taking away women’s right to bodily autonomy and reproductive rights. The act of controlling women and their bodies is not a new idea, but Margaret Atwood aimed to warn of how far it could go if we continue on an intense rise of gender based exclusionary and misogynistic way of thought.