I find I’m always interested in feminist perspectives, whether it’s in regards to literature, pop culture, or current events. Feminist Fridays is going to be my forum for discussing these issues, and may come in the form of book (or other media) reviews, link roundups, or
my rambling thoughts essays. If you’d like to make a habit of discussing feminist issues on Fridays, join in and leave me a link. If you’d like to contribute a guest post for Feminist Fridays, I’d be happy to chat with you about that was well, so contact me!
For World Book Night, which is next Tuesday, April 23, I’m giving away The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, so I decided to re-read it. This near-future dystopia is narrated by Offred, a handmaid in The Republic of Gilead. In this world, the Christian far-right has taken over North America and society is highly regulated and controlled. All women have limited rights—they aren’t allowed to read, work, hold property, or handle money. If they don’t fit into their proscribed role, they are deemed “umwomen” and ousted from the republic, forced to the outside world where they labor in a radioactive wasteland.
Handmaids are a class of women who serve in a reproductive capacity. They are nothing more than wombs. Sex for pleasure is an offense against the state. It’s only sanctioned during creepy ceremonial copulation.
But of course they said this new arrangement is to protect women. They are “honored” and “blessed” to be confined.
The strength of this book, and the reason it continues to resonate with readers decades later, is the complex and contradictory world-building. Atwood was inspired to write The Handmaid’s Tale by anti-pornography feminists who got in bed with right-wing conservatives to promote their agenda, and the society envisioned seems eerily and frighteningly possible.
“That was when they suspended the Constitution. They said it would be temporary. There wasn’t even any rioting in the streets. People stayed home at night, watching television, looking for some direction. There wasn’t even an enemy you could put your finger on.”
Atwood’s writing is exquisite as well. Offred is very broken, almost paralyzed. The tension and conflict is very psychological and can be overwhelming at times. But the description is so lush, every metaphor so striking, it’s worth the effort.
“I feel like cotton candy: sugar and air. Squeeze me and I’d turn into a small sickly damp wad of weeping pinky-red.”
Some readers might be frustrated by the ambiguous ending, but I loved it. Offred’s story is just one of many. It’s the one that survived.
“We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print. It gave us more freedom. We lived in the gaps between the stories.”
I’m excited to give this book to readers because of the impact it had on me when I first read it. It makes readers think. While it can be read as feminist, it presents a complex picture of gender, rights, sex, and society.
Have you read The Handmaid’s Tale? What are your thoughts? If you could give away one book, which would you choose? If you’re wandering around downtown Lawrence next Tuesday night, you might just get your own copy of The Handmaid’s Tale!