What does "You are now given freedom from, don't underate it" mean?

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susan3smith eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood distinguishes between "freedom from" and "freedom to." 

There is more than one kind of freedom, said Aunt Lydia.  Freedom to and freedom from.  In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to.  Now you ae being given freedom from.  Don't underrate it. 

Gilead is unlike the past that Offred knew.  This past was the United States during the 1980s.  Then, the women had "freedom to."  They could wear "shorts, jeans, jogging pants."  They had their own money.  They could socialize with whom they chose.  They could choose their marriage partners; they could divorce.  Yet these freedoms had a price:

Women weren't protected then.

Women had to be careful.  They were vulnerable to rape, other acts of violence, obscenities. 

In the present, at Gilead women are protected:

Now we walk along the same street, in red pairs, and no man shouts obscenities at us, speaks to us, touches us.  No one whistles. 

But this freedom from such situations comes at the cost of their individual freedoms (freedom to).  Aunt Lydia tells the handmaids that they should be grateful that they are free from the social ills of the past.  Offred, however, longs for the control over her own life that she used to have. 

Read the study guide:
The Handmaid's Tale

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