I love dystopian fiction! From A Brave New World, 1984, The Hunger Games, The Giver, Delirium and of course, The Handmaid’s Tale. However, this last one is a woman’s worse nightmare. Though the 1985 novel by Margaret Atwood never went out of print, it is now, in the era of Trump’s America that this tale is eerily becoming a reality. However, the women to women dynamics are already in place for this to happen. Can we stop it?
SPOILER ALERT: The following contains information from both the HULU adaptation and the original story
Everything in Gilead is a power play. Like most dystopian societies it thrives on power and control: who has it and who wants it more. In Gilead however, this is essential when it comes to women relationships with each other. The whole society centers around women and their “biological destiny.” Having this ability, though highly coveted, makes you a complete and total object, a tool, an apparatus used to ” save humanity.”
So, how are women supposed to interact with each other when this is the only aspect about them that matters?
It’s an overall lose, lose situation. You’re caught between continuous physical and mental violation. You’re pinned against one another and in this divide and conquer strategy, the only ones winning are the men. Sounds familiar? Aren’t we living this today and always? Even within our own feminist community, aren’t we segregated and pointing out who’s more feminist than other and forgetting about the intersectionalities that make us who we are? Aren’t we already body shaming, slut shaming and envying each other’s successes?
Gilead is built on fear, suspicion, and distrust especially between women. It’s evident that each main character: June, Moira, Serena Joy and Lydia are all alone together.
June and Serena Joy:
The most important relationship in the story is that between June and Serena Joy: the Handmaid, the fertile prisoner, and the Wife, privileged yet rendered useless by the very society she helped create. In the book, the characters have a big age gap, and their relationship is simple: resentment. Serena resents that she can’t bear children and participates in a disgusting ritual in which her husband rapes June. June resents that Serena Joy essentially lets this happen.
However, through the magic of television, the characters are now a bit closer in age, and the third person point of view lets us in on their inner turmoil. Serena Joy was one of the architects of Gilead and on Season 1 Episode 6: A Woman’s Place, we get a glimpse of her life as an author and public speaker. How she threw all that away for the possibility of being a mother. Though her intentions on being environmentally conscious and having a much more “moral” society are all valid, she miscalculated the power of patriarchy; that this moral society would forbid women, even women like her, from reading, writing and speaking unless spoken too. The June in this television adaption is sassy, a risk-taker and much more of a rebel. Even in her limitations, she defies Serena Joy as evident when she tricks Fred into letting her out of the confinement Serena put her in. The third person point of view also allows for us to see that this relationship is not all black and white. If looks could kill these ladies would be in a high noon situation everytime they see each other, but they know that to survive they need each other.
The third person point of view also allows for us to see that this relationship is not all black and white. If looks could kill these ladies would be in a high noon situation everytime they see each other. They know however that to survive they need one another and the most bizarre thing here is that they also need to trust each other. During the “ceremony,” from the position they are in, the intimacy they are forced to have, they need to trust each other. This trust comes from each women’s desperation: Serena’s desperation for a child of her own and June to save her actual child Hannah.
I couldn’t help but draw parallels between this particular relationship and our very own relationship with women in our society. Yes, the tale takes the whole cattiness to an extreme but to be fair, as participants of a patriarchal society, we are all in a June-Serena relationship with one another. We fight for limited resources that being: job opportunities and (hate to admit) men. We are put in a situation where we automatically mistrust one another and create a hostile environment of envy and resentment.
Even before going to school our parents, the media and society pin us against each other. We are programmed to compete, scheme and manipulate one another. We compare: “what does she have that I don’t.” We envy one another not really knowing the power we hold. Like Serena Joy, she is jealous of the way her husband touches (rapes) June when she’s the one holding her down like a punishment.
Every time we say, “I’m not like other girls” or “She’s a slut” or “look at how she’s dressed, totally asking for it,” we are playing right into the patriarchy. We are committing microaggressions against each other brought on by our own internalized misogyny. This self-hatred may be covered up by religion like Serena or lust like June but its always there. This is evident when we police each other’s bodies, our significant others, what we eat and how we dress. Even in the feminist community, we do this by questioning each other’s commitment to the cause forgetting that we also have religious, cultural and individual values and influences intersecting.
Could you image the world where the Serena Joy, Junes and everyone in between (I’m talking about the other women we forget about in the feminist community, like the queer, transgender, disabled and women of color) actually got over this bull shit? We would be unstoppable, too powerful and that’s the patriarchy’s worse fear which is why this nightmare was created in the first place.
Now in Trump’s America, when our nation, especially women, are divided more than ever, now, when we can’t even agree on one thing without getting too sensitive and derailing the conversation, now is when we need to stay focus.
Gilead was not built in a day. This dystopian society was built little by little with such acts as defunding plan parenthood (women’s health only seen through the state of fertility), and defunding public education (if you can’t read you won’t know who/what to resists ). Don’t forget the ridiculous notion that our menstruation is a pre-existing condition that allows us to stay home from work during this time of the month (seriously? this is barbaric, like when women had to remain in a cave 5 days out of the month because of their periods).
We fight against each other for what we think is power and control but in reality, just like Serena and June, aren’t we just letting the patriarchy screw us all?
Stay tuned for more on The Handmaid’s Tale discussion (we haven’t even gotten to the race part yet ! )