The Handmaid’s Tale is a novel written by Canadian author Margaret Atwood, which was originally published in 1985 and subsequently turned in to a TV series in 2017, created by Bruce Miller. In the story, most women have become infertile, and the state has stripped them of all their freedoms.
They’re not allowed to read, listen to music, share their feelings, work, have a bank account, or walk down the street alone. The remaining fertile women become Handmaids, and are forced into sexual servitude in a desperate attempt to repopulate humankind. But could the dramatic events of this story happen in real life? That’s what we’ll find out, in this episode of The Infographics Show: Could The Handmaid’s Tale Really Happen?
Margaret Atwood’s story is set in a near-future New England, in a totalitarian, Christian economy that has overthrown the United States government. The novel focuses on the journey of a handmaid named Offred. She is called Offred as it is made up of the two words ‘of’ and ‘fred’. Handmaids are forbidden to use their real names and must instead use the name of the male master whom they serve, in this case Fred. But as dire as the Handmaid’s life may sound, it’s a luxury compared to some of the women who are unable to bear children.
They are sent to the Colonies, where they work, cleaning up the toxic waste. It’s this pollution that supposedly contributed to the epidemic of infertility, and triggered military rule, and the domination of the female race by the new ruling party, The Republic of Gilead. This authoritarian, theocratic regime runs America following the collapse of the state. But could the terrifying reality of this story ever come true? Well, for some women, it’s been a reality in the past, and for others it’s not too far from their reality today, says Reed Morano, director of the first three episodes of the TV show. We took a look at what some of the reviewers have said about Handmaid’s Tale and how the story relates to life in the 21st century. Here are 5 ways it may reflect reality.
1. Infertility and global food shortages
The world in The Handmaid’s Tale has collapsed. Societal disruption has included mass infertility, food shortages and environmental chaos. Changes such as these are not out of the question in our near future. A 2014 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, attracted worldwide attention for predicting that climate change will result in intense storms, severe droughts, heat waves, coastal flooding, and recurring crop failures, and that all of this will lead to widespread death and deprivation. The report also suggested that global warming would have a devastating impact on the social and political landscape, including economic decline, state collapse, civil strife, and mass migrations. All of which sound very similar to Handmaid’s Tale and Gilead rule.
2. Women’s rights in the US & around the world
If you’re lucky enough to be a wife in Gilead and not dropped at the Colonies, the best you can hope for, is to be slave to a powerful man and to sit quietly at the head of your household. The ruling males dictate rights, and fertile woman are there to ensure the race prevails. A harsh reality, but not completely off track with some of what we’re seeing in recent times.
In the days that followed the most recent presidential inauguration, millions of people around the world took part in women’s marches, to show and voice their concerns about women’s rights being eroded. Only days later, the US government brought back a law that bans US-funded aid groups around the world from discussing abortion. Reed Morano describes her TV series as “a warning” to women in America about their “precarious” rights. “There are a lot of different states that are taking matters into their own hands and making up their own rules”, she said.
And it’s not just in America. The reality is much more bleak for women in other countries around the world. Holly Crocket from Plan International Australia explained in an interview that in parts of Africa and the Middle East, women can’t inherit property, may or may not access their own bank accounts, and might not be able to access their own money. In Saudi Arabia, Women, until VERY recently, were banned from driving, had to wear head-to-toe black coverings in public, and needed permission from a male guardian to study, travel, or marry. As for education, according to Malala Yousafzai’s organization, The Malala Fund, 130 million girls around the world are out of school. This is a massive barrier for women’s rights around the world, explains Holly Crocket.
3. People of color are marginalized
Black people, who are referred to as “Children of Ham” in the novel, are relocated to areas known as the national homelands, an area in the Midwest. Similar racially segregated homelands were set up during Apartheid in South Africa, and there are also parallels to America. Racial tensions within the black community are common, often stemming from altercations between young black men and police officers. Social media has caused these incidents to receive widespread attention, which often exposes a lack of accountability by the arresting officers. One example in 2017 was a Minnesota police officer fatally shooting Philando Castile during a traffic stop. A jury later acquitted the officer of all charges.
4. Christian religious fundamentalism running rampant
When Aunt Lydia is tasked with brainwashing the new Handmaids, so they will perform their government-ordained duties as they are tasked to, she reads a verse from the bible to them, over and over. “Blessed are the meek.” Offred comments that she never finishes the full verse, which goes “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Aunt Lydia uses the Bible passage incompletely, and to her own advantage. Much of the opposition rhetoric to homosexuality that exists in the world today is supported by religious passages. In the case of Christianity, fundamentalists often quote sections of the Bible that oppose homosexuality, but then deliberately forget other sections that forbid divorce or the consumption of shellfish. So, though there certainly seems to be some selective religious fundamentalism within Gilead, that also exists in our world today.
5. Women made to feel responsible for sexual assault.
In Gilead, women are brainwashed into believing that any sexual assault they have been victim of, is their own fault. That the incident likely occurred as a result of their provocative dressing, or because they acted in way that left the man feeling invited to behave as he wished. And in the real world, female survivors of sexual assault are often questioned about what they were wearing or how much they drank, when the assault took place. One very public case in the United States was of Brock Turner, the 20-year-old swimmer convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman.
The woman, who was 22 year old at the time, was cross-examined by Turner’s lawyer about her drinking and partying in college. British newspaper The Guardian reported on the case in 2016, quoting the woman’s statement. She said, “The sexual assault had been so clear, but instead, here I was at the trial, answering questions like: ‘How old are you? How much do you weigh? What did you eat that day? Well what did you have for dinner? Who made dinner?’” So again some similarities to Gilead, where females are persecuted on the reg.
Ultimately, all it took to build Gilead was the silence of those that were tempted to resist, and the vast expansion of government power. Is The Handmaid’s Tale a work of fiction, or a dramatized story, influenced by the real workings of our society? Let us know your thoughts in the comments! Also, be sure to check out our other video called The Truth About The Illuminati Revealed! Thanks for watching, and, as always, don’t forget to like, share, and subscribe. See you next time!