“Nature demands variety, for men. It’s part of the procreational strategy. It’s nature plan.” (298). If men have desires, females do too; they are too brought to this world with the vital organs and emotions that males are born with. Despite this truly convincing fact, Males are considered more superior in many societies similar to the society of Gilead. Margret Atwood presents a dystopian novel with extreme consequences of a male dominant society. Through the use of topology and character, The Handmaid’s Tale portrays sexism and hatred towards females by focusing on the objectification of women in the society of Gilead, highlighting the misuse of women by contrasting the similarities between Gilead and the society that existed before Gilead. The reader is more aware of Atwood’s message that human nature causes humans to be controlling and rebellious when they are put in a restricted environment.
The reader recognizes the outcome of sexism and hatred towards females, which have existed for decades, and serious action must be taken to stop these forms of discriminations in order to make this world a better world for females. In today’s society, females work for less than men while they are doing the same exact work, and some of them also have to be the victims of sexual harassment at work. To top it all off, they are expected to look and behave a certain way so men can accept them because men will surely pick a female wearing a mini skirt over a female wearing baggy jeans, and it is part of their nature. This issue runs in all aspects of different societies and isn’t going anywhere because this stereotype is deeply embedded in the psyche of our society. These stereotypes are present in the media, and this means that these gender roles are considered part of the entertainment; they are accepted by everyone in our society as being “proper” even if they create inequality and discrimination in our lives.
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Through the use of topology, the reader sees the similarities in pre-Gilead and in Gilead, females were the target of oppression, and they had to sacrifices their rights, so men don’t commit immoral acts such as gang rape on the females. In pre-Gilead, females were degraded, and during the conversion from pre-Gilead to Gilead, all the clothing that males thought was “sexy” or too revealing was burned, this is articulated through the quote “Clean-cut stony-faced young men tossing things onto the flames, armfuls of silk and nylon and fake fur, lime-green, red, violet; black satin, gold lam ½, glittering silver; bikini underpants, see-through brassieres with pink-sating hearts sewn on to cover the nipples.” (288) Which proves that women were exploited because of the way they dressed, the clothing proposed that the working women in pre-Gilead had sex appeal because of the way they dressed, moreover the colours of clothing listed in the quotation suggest that wearing such clothing means freedom, joy and thrill.
Secondly, female bodies were exploited and objectified through pornography and there was a strong presence of sexual violence against females which is articulated through the quote, “Sometimes the movie she showed would be an old porno film, from the seventies or eighties. Women kneeling sucking penises or guns, women tied up or chained with dog collars around their necks, women hanging from trees or upside-down, naked with their legs held apart, women being raped, beaten up, killed. Once we had to watch a woman being slowly cut into pieces, her fingers and breast slowly cut with garden shears… consider the alternatives, said Aunt Lydia” (148). Through this horrifying imagery, it is learned that women were objectified in Gilead and pre-Gilead but the methods were different, the quote represents the job of females in pre-Gilead and how they were objects of society and products for the men population.
The quote uses strong imagery to show that the females we exposed to brutal violence and sexuality, and how Gilead will protect them if they accept their fate in the new society that they have entered. But in Gilead as well the females were objects, they were still a target for sexual desires. Through the use of tropology extremes forms of misogyny are displayed in the society of Gilead, the women in Gilead are denied the basic rights of owning property, they aren’t allowed to work outside of their homes, they can’t take ownership of the children that they conceive and they have no choice in daily life as they are assigned to, who they can have sexual relations with, who they can be friends with and what clothes they wear. Women are grouped according to their duties in Gilead “Red shoes, flat-heeled to save the spine and not meant for dancing. The red gloves…everything except the wings around my face is red: the colour of blood, which defines us. The skirt is ankle length, full, gathered to a flat yoke that extends over our breasts the sleeves are full,” (9).
Through this detailed imagery, the quote shows the restrictions on the handmaids and how they can’t expose themselves to the men of Gilead, the colour and appearance of the clothing is simple and boring, reflecting on their jobs as handmaids who just have one specific duty and that is to repopulate Gilead, their lack of freedom is shown as they have no choice, personality and individuality. The shoes “flat-heeled” shows that they can’t present their sensuality, on the other hand, the wives that wear high heels shows power, control and a stimulant for sexual needs. The importance of the colour red to the comparing of blood symbolizes fertility and womanhood; it also symbolizes the danger for the people of Gilead to stay away from the handmaids. It also reminds the reader of a fairytale “the little red riding hood” hence, it is ironic because the life of a handmaid is nothing like a fairytale and they represent political prostitutes.
Moreover, Gilead’s regime is extra strict on females, the violence is seen during the mass execution. “Beneath the hems of the dresses the feet dangle, two pairs of red shoes, one pair of blue. If it weren’t for the ropes and the sacks it could be a kind of dance, a ballet, caught by flash-camera; mid-air. They look arranged. They look like showbiz.” (346), through this visual imagery and simile, something brutal like death is presented as a performance of some sort. In this extract, Gilead is shown to have power and isn’t afraid to take the lives of females, and someone’s life has no value in Gilead because everyone can be easily replaced.
Furthermore, the men in Gilead are sexist; they enforced strict laws on the women of Gilead so they wouldn’t be able to commit sinful acts like rape. Even though these laws were there to protect women, through the character of the Commander and the doctor the reader sees their sufferings and their manipulation of the law to get what they want, sex. The women in this novel, more specifically the handmaids symbolize sex because they are victims of this sexual thrust that the men of Gilead face. Through the Commander, the reader learns about his perspective on women of pre-Gilead and Gilead. “Inability to feel. Men were turning off on sex.” (263) The commander states that he had to make these laws so the men of pre-Gilead could feel, but the Commander didn’t care for the females and their emotions, he had an anti-feminist perspective and decided to categorize females for his advantage.
Likewise, it illustrates how men only want women to fulfil their sexual needs. In fact, they would not want to deal with elements of relationships such as love and emotions. Another example of sexism is on the night of the ceremony where the male figure, the commander is given the authority and power to begin the ceremony. “He’s like a man toying with a steak, behind a restaurant window, pretending not to see the eyes watching him form hungry darkness.”(110) The commander’s character represents a figure of power and authority in this context, Atwood displays him as a leader of the household but him abusing his power to visit clubs like Jezebel proves that he has no respect for females and the laws that he enforced on the males and females of Gilead doesn’t apply to him because he thinks of himself as a superior being, over the guardians and angels. In fact, they would not want to deal with elements of relationships such as love and emotions. Moreover, certain men in Gilead had the power to accuse women of acts that they didn’t commit.
The character of the Doctor is an example of this, who abused his power to victimizes females and get sex. Upon seeing Offred’s body, he tries to force Offred into having sex with him and he manipulates her by stating that he can get her pregnant and no one knows. This is evident through the quote, “He takes his hand away, lazily almost, lingeringly, this is not the last word as far as he’s concerned. He could fake the tests, report me for cancer, for infertility, have me shipped off to the Colonies, with Unwomen. None of this has been said, but the knowledge of his power hangs nevertheless in the air as he pats my thighs” (76). This illustrates how a male could easily break the rules without getting in trouble while the females of Gilead have no rights or power. Even if the doctor was to be reported, the authorities would take his side instead of the woman.
Therefore, such characters with power seem to get what they want and they misuse females for their sexual pleasures. Hence, females have always been victims of these sexual predations. In addition to this, there is sexism in the futuristic society after Gilead, where the speaker, Professor Piexioto, jokes about the Underground female road, and refers to it as a railroad, meaning a weak or breakable road suggesting that females are weak and easy to repress upon. The professor seems more interested in the identity of the Commander but not the human sufferings of Offred who was victimized by the Commander and the regime of Gilead. It is ironic that during this conference the minority were females, only one female professor was present at the conference which proves that even though this society, the society of 2195, is still sexist, some female rights have been reclaimed.
In conclusion, The Handmaid’s tale presents extreme forms of sexism and hatred towards females, and repetition of this sexism is present in culture’s preceding and following Gilead which proves that sexism is widespread in societies, today. Usually, females are targeted to physical and emotional abuse from men, this is not only wrong but something that scars one for life. Men are men and women are women. Both have some specialities. And in that particular area, one should be respected by the opposite and should be assigned to lead. So leading an example and not becoming a bystander will contribute to the awareness of sexism and equality can be formed. And even though it is in human nature for men to manipulate and take advantage of females, females should take a step and fight for their rights. Therefore, the message is that females should not be contended within their society and should change for their benefits.