Friday, May 12, 2017

'The Handmaid's Tale': Too Close for Comfort

*Minor spoilers ahead*

I eagerly anticipated the released of The Handmaid's Tale on Hulu for months; it is probably one of my favorite books, it provided a basis for my thesis on dystopia, and the trailers that were being released were spin-chilling. So far, it hasn't disappointed (except for the fact that it's not being released all at one. Thanks, Hulu), especially in the ways that it reflects current events in society. The Handmaid's Tale shows that despite what we may think, gender equality isn't where is should be. And the oppression of women depicted in The Handmaid's Tale hits a little too close to home.

Political Relevancy

It's no secret that in the United States, since the presidential election, women and minorities fear for the way their lives and rights will be impacted by a leader severely unqualified for the job. One of the best examples of this is the bill that was passed in the House of Representatives last week: repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act and drastically raising premiums for pretty much everyone. For example, under the new plan, people with cancer would pay 35 times more for health insurance, and raise insurance costs for pregnancy by 425%. Though the change doesn't only target women, a lot of it directly affects women in their coverage of health insurance. It's unclear how health insurance works in Gilead (it most likely doesn't exist for handmaids), but the discrimination against the vulnerable reflects what happens in The Handmaid's Tale.

Women are also directly disadvantaged in the workforce. John Green debunks the myth that the pay gap doesn't exist in this video, showing that women work in careers with generally lower salaries and are less likely to be hired if they have children. Additionally, when men are in traditionally female dominated careers, like libraries or nursing, they are more likely to be promoted than women. These disparities in the work force and salaries for women are directly reflected in The Handmaid's Tale when all bank accounts for women are frozen and they are forced to leave their jobs. Though this is a more drastic version of the inequality in the work force, it's not far off to imagine that this could happen in the near future.

Sexual Assault

A lot of what happens in The Handmaid's Tale is nightmarish and harrowing, but perhaps none more than the way that rape and sexual assault is normalized in Gilead. We see this in the first episode, when Offred is in the facility being trained as a handmaid. All of the handmaids are sitting in a circle, with one in the middle, being verbally abused for confessing she was raped in the past. The entire group is forced to point and chant "her fault," an incredibly chilling image given the way that sexual assault and rape is dealt with in the media.

Victim blaming has long been a problem with the way sexual assault is dealt with, and why only 310 assaults are reported to police out of every 1,000 rape cases, and of those reported only 6 will actually be incarcerated, according to RAINN. The Brock Turner case from last summer also exhibits this, as he was given a shorter jail time because the longer jail time (he was originally on trial for 14 years) would have a "severe impact" on him and his ability to one day make it to the Olympics.

This is all made scarily real in a world where rape is a regulated ceremony that happens each week, as the handmaids are forced into sexual slavery. In the most recent episode, Offred is forced to have sex with Nick by Serena Joy, in the hopes to conceive a baby. Women have absolutely no freedom, and are blamed for the sins of the past. It is permissible to degrade women in Gilead, and sometimes it feels the same in today's society (we elected a president who constantly degrades women, for goodness sake).

The Takeaway

Nightmarish and difficult to watch at times, I think that's the purpose of The Handmaid's Tale. It's about opening your eyes and seeing what's going on around you--and acting before it's too late. As Offred says at the beginning of the series: "I was asleep before. That's how we let it happen. When they slaughtered Congress, we didn't wake up. When they blamed terrorists, we suspended the constitution. We didn't wake up then either. Now, I'm awake."

We need to wake up.

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