What a chilling tale. I can’t think of a single recent dystopian story that has affected me as much as The Handmaid’s Tale, which is simply because this dystopian nightmare is specifically a woman’s dystopian nightmare. The story follows June, a woman who once worked in book publishing, but after a series of destabilizing world events, including a sharp decline in fertility, is now enslaved by an overbearing religious fundamentalist government. Stripped of all autonomy and given a new name, Offred becomes a handmaid and is forced to breed with her commander.
Unlike many of you who read the book by Margaret Atwood, I only had the most basic understanding of the story before I started to watch the first episode on Wednesday night. What unfolded before me is truly one of the most horrifying tales that I could imagine. Women forced into sexual slavery while they can still remember a world where they had freedom. Unsure of who they can trust, who is a part of the resistance or who is spy looking to catch women who aren’t following the rules of the new societal order. The world of The Handmaid’s Tale is one where women have no power, no agency, and no say in what happens to their bodies. They are valued for one thing and one thing alone: their ability to bear children. This is so horrifying to me because I know that women are powerful, smart and capable of so much more than just our biological ability to give birth.
This week I’ve seen article after article screaming in their headlines that we are already living in the nightmare world of The Handmaid’s Tale, and after watching the first three episodes I find it alarming that people really think we’re close to living such a nightmare. Originally, I thought there is absolutely no way, the world in The Handmaid’s Tale could become our real world. I mean, enslaving an entire gender? That’s impossible. But then my little positivity bubble burst when I thought about it for five more seconds and remembered that people in this world had already committed atrocities as terrible as those in The Handmaid’s Tale. Slavery of an entire race existed in the United States and countless atrocities were committed against millions of people during the Holocaust. Not to mention the various genocides carried out all over the world. I can’t even list them all here because there are too many to count and I’m sure there are some I’ve yet to learn about.
My point is, I originally thought the world in The Handmaid’s Tale was a dystopian fiction but really it’s a dystopian alternative reality. As I watched the second and third episode and saw more of the events that led to the new world order, it became easier to see how our real world could devolve into such a terrifying nightmare. It doesn’t help that the show’s creators have updated the tale to touch on today’s current events, including showing protests that turned deadly and violent.
I don’t truly think that we are on our way to living in the dystopian nightmare world of The Handmaid’s Tale, but I can see how under the right circumstances we could end up there. Let’s take Margaret Atwood’s story as a warning, and use it to remind us that women are powerful, amazing creatures deserving of respect and autonomy. In fact, let’s just treat every person we meet with that in mind.