A Handmaid’s Tale is a famous dystopian story, written by Margaret Atwood, that takes place in a society where women are only good for making children, cleaning and cooking, or staying out of the way. The women who carry the children, handmaid’s, are taken from their families and placed in homes where they are then raped once a month by the “commander” until they become pregnant. The Commanders have wives, who are not able to have children, so the wives have no function in this society. There are also the women who clean and cook, the Martha’s, who function as the “housewives”. If a woman in this society cannot have children, she is deemed an “unwoman” and sent the the “colonies”, where they work until they die from toxins or starvation.
When I started to read this book for my English 11 class, I noticed all the connections between the women in the story now and American women now. There are many connections like the theory that women in Gilead (the sector of America that has created this society) need to be humble and wear clothes that “suit women” so that they don’t draw too much attention to themselves. Or, the overwhelmingly toxic rape culture that exists both in Gilead and America, that would rather blame the victim of “wearing revealing clothes” or “drinking too much”, than the man who raped her for being weak. Or even the obliteration of birth control and the opportunity for abortions in Gilead, that seems to be slowly creeping to America as well.
Immediately, I noticed a tone of feminism in the story. I saw the story as a warning, that if we as women don’t start demanding our freedom, this is where we could end up.
So now, imagine my surprise as I see that the cast of Hulu’s adaptation of the book feels that the book has nothing to do with feminism. In a a panel discussion at Tribeca Film Festival on Friday night, the cast was asked if the feminist tone attracted them to the story. Shockingly, the actress who plays Janine, a character who is publicly victim blamed for being gang raped at the age of 14, stated that “This is a story about a woman. I don’t think this is feminist propaganda. I think this is a story about women and about humans.”
Then came agreement from the actress who plays the main character, a woman stolen from her child and husband and forced into creating babies for a man who sees her as nothing more than a baby machine. After agreeing with her fellow actress, she added that she “never expected to play Offred as a feminist.”
If the irony wasn’t explicit in this whole article, let me just clear it all up. Actresses who are literally acting out a story criticizing women’s roles in society in America and taking it to the extreme, are saying that they see no feminism in the story they’re telling.
This has not only disappointed me, but kept me from wanting to watch this new Hulu show. How can they properly tell this story of the bad hand dealt to the women of Gilead without understanding that the story is meant to WARN us and almost encourage feminism?
I know that I will not be watching Hulu’s version of A Handmaid’s Tale.