lllustration of six women wearing long, loose red dresses

The Handmaid's Tale

by Margaret Atwood

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How does The Handmaid's Tale relate to the feminist movement?

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Atwood posits a terrifying future in which women are completely stripped of all individuality, rights and freedom, with the most terrifying example of all coming from the handmaids, who are forced to relinquish their sexual capacity so that they can bear children for others. Although Atwood does her best to eschew the label of feminist, it is clear that her dystopian world has massive links to feminism in the way that it explores how theocracy and patriarchal ideals strip women of their individuality and create a society where they are defined by function only. Note what Offred tells the reader about the different groups of women that exist in Gilead:

There are other women with baskets, some in red, some in the dull green of the Marthas, some in the striped dresses, red and blue and green and cheap and skimp, that mark the women of the poorer men. Econowives, they're called. These women are not divided into functions. They have to do everything; if they can.

All women, apart from the "Econowives," are labelled by the colour of their clothes, and the colour of their clothes determines their function and their identity. Any freedom to express their individuality has completely disappeared. They are defined by their role alone, which is based on how they can work to profit the theocracy of Gilead. In Atwood's presentation of this world, there is a consistent focus on the stripping away of rights and individuality of women, that leave all women, handmaids such as Offred and the wives of the elite such as Serena, diminished as inidividuals. This clearly is a situation that feminists would be able to identify very strongly with in their consideration of how patriarchal society has subordinated the position of women in conemporary times and in past periods of history.

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