On Power Between Women: The Handmaid’s Tale Revisited


We know the damage of othering. What about the ravages of Same-ing?
~ In
Catapult, Professor Stacey D'Erasmo writes on The Handmaid's Tale, now showing on Hulu.

The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood, was first published in 1985, when I was twenty-four years old. I read and loved it then; I reread it at least once in the next three decades and loved it; I recently reread it again, and still loved it. The book was made into a film starring Natasha Richardson in 1990, with a screenplay by Harold Pinter, and directed by Volker Schlöndorff. On April 26, Hulu will release a miniseries based on the book, starring Elisabeth Moss.

The premise of Atwood’s speculative novel is that the United States has been taken over by a fundamentalist Christian theocracy and is now known as The Republic of Gilead. Women, people of color, and non-Christians have lost all their rights; many have been exiled or killed. There have been various environmental disasters, uncontrollable diseases, and a war is ongoing. Infertility is rampant. In this system, if you are a surviving woman, you can be a Wife (a woman married to one of the men in power); a Martha (an older servant-woman); an Econowife (a woman married to a lower-class man); an Aunt (an enforcer and trainer of the Handmaids); and, what the heroine is, a Handmaid (a fertile woman whose job it is to bear children for the Commanders and their Wives). You can also be a Jezebel, i.e., a prostitute; or an Unwoman, and be sent to the Colonies to clean up toxic waste until your skin falls off. This is, moreover, a world of strict gender binaries. Queer people of any kind are known as Gender Traitors and hanged....