Yes, I binged the entire first three episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu, and no I don’t regret it. Having read the book a while ago, I have been anticipating this release, not only because of its timeliness, but because of what it can teach us.
In 2016, Margaret Atwood said the idea for her 1985 novel stemmed from the question, “If you want women to go back into the home, how do you make them do that? And the method I proposed in 1985 was, now that we have credit cards, it’s very easy to just cut off people’s access to credit. And that’s what happens in the book.”
Atwood’s novel takes place in a world where a theocratic dictatorship (a system in which priests rule in the name of a god) takes over and gets rid of women’s rights. According to NPR, Elizabeth Moss who plays Offred said, “It was very important to us from the very beginning to make sure that people understood that this is present in a ‘this could happen here’ idea.”
Women in Atwood’s imaginary Republic of Gilead are not allowed to own property, read anything, or even keep their own names. If you’re a fertile woman, your duty is to bear children for The Commander and his barren wife: You become property and are expected to perform according to the laws that inhibit you and your personhood.
In a world where women’s healthcare is threatened and power is more popular than the well-being of all people, The Handmaid’s Tale hits too close to home. As we see Atwood’s world unfold on screen, we see familiar settings. From coffee shops, grocery stores, partying, even talking about Tinder; the adaptation makes it all too clear that this is not the future – it’s now.
When Atwood wrote the novel in 1985, the US was a place where marital rape was still legal and the Equal Rights Amendment was just being reintroduced to Congress. 32 years later, it feels as if we’ve gone back in time, instead of moving forward.
If you haven’t read the book or started watching the series, I highly encourage both. I have a feeling that the show will go a bit beyond what the book entails to reflect the society we live in now.
While The Handmaid’s Tale is, of course, a work of fiction, it encourages us to imagine and understand the extremes of a government body. It also calls into question how far people will go to follow a religion and treat women as inferior and incapable.
For a limited time, free copies of The Handmaid’s Tale will be given out at an art installation on New York City’s High Line. If you’re in the area you can potentially grab a copy and read it along with the series!
Featured image courtesy of George Kraychyk/Hulu