When The Handmaid’s Tale first appeared on television, I paid no attention — aside from a “glancing listen” to co-workers' conversations discussing the latest episodes. Having landed in the Bible Belt for high school, the book didn’t appear on my reading list. And I never encountered it in my wanderings through the bookstore. And while everyone around me felt the series worthy of conversation, I prided myself on avoiding the cattle rush of mainstream popularity.
So while the premise sounded intriguing, I let years slide past. Until recently, I didn’t pick up the phenomenon — when I admitted COVID-19 had worn me down on every other binge-worthy program. And it didn’t hurt that I’d stumbled over a quote by Margaret Atwood on her infamous novel and the trauma writing it caused her while writing an article. Any time a writer gets frightened by their mind, their imagination, it’s worth a glimpse.
I didn’t expect the reaction I found — mentally OR physically. And waiting those four years? They granted me a different perspective. One I’m not sure I want.
Emotion is the primary tool of any writer. And The Handmaid’s Tale — whether in book or film version — is no exception. Within moments, the compulsion to feel a kaleidoscope of feelings presses against your brain.
I knew the premise for the story (I wasn’t THAT out of tune with the world). But witnessing someone’s interpretation of another imagination always challenges your preconceptions. I came prepared to feel outrage, disgust, and sympathy.
I never expected to fall out of step — as if I held no place in the world.
But the production company created a place where I wasn’t welcome. Not as a woman (no woman belongs in Gilead). I held no place because I lacked a reproductive system — ANY reproductive system. And I stumbled in that first episode, realizing that — so far as Gilead believes — I’m nothing.
That’s a bit dramatic. I’m nothing USEFUL. And while THAT message comes through loud and clear, it wasn’t the way I expected to see things. I never dreamed that a seven-year battle with medical complications could turn me into NOTHING in a dystopian future.
The realization fueled a deep-seated fury. It cast a perspective on the part of my life I’d previously made my peace with. I found myself thrown into shadows, and I didn’t like it. Inarticulate, useless, and condemned. I found myself glaring at the box of estrogen patches in the medicine cabinet. As if they somehow held the blame for the way a fictional program made me feel in the world.
And while I’d like to think the perspective dwelled only in my mind (or, rather, Ms. Atwood’s), hints of Gilead keep crawling out of the slime.
I didn’t understand the “gender traitor” graffiti splashed over the abandoned towns in certain episodes. Label me ignorant; I’ll accept that. I’m accepting of the LBGTQ+ community. It took me an entire season to grasp what the insult meant. And then puzzle pieces clicked into place.
I went on a tirade when Alabama decided to target the transgender community earlier this year. My mind failed to grasp people’s refusal to accept people as they were. It paralleled my confusion about the “gender traitor” label.
But that theme keeps showing itself on legal floors — and not in a positive light. Those with fear of anyone different scramble to draw curtains around the world. And they use religion as their impetus to do so. The longer I watch the show (and I admit, I haven’t finished the series yet), the sicker I feel.
While raised Catholic, I broke with organized religion after college. I refused to follow any system that condemned those I loved and cared for simply because they were different. It ran counter to everything they claimed — that God loved everyone. And I refused to swallow the hypocrisy.
Now, I sit and watch these laws go into effect, declaring some different from others. I see people separated as “not accepted.” And I hear scripture hailed and praised in the same breath.
In the back of my mind, I see June sorting through newspaper articles, finding warnings.
Before my hysterectomy, I needed to wait a month between signing the consent forms and the surgery. My doctor explained the delay was mandatory:
- I was within child-bearing age
- There were two viable ovaries
- I wasn’t married
My horrific pain and monthly episodes of near-collapse didn’t matter. Those three factors outweighed every other medical note in my file.
At the time, I didn’t think much about it. I knew I’d lose the ability to have children. I considered regaining a normal life more important. And my doctor supported the decision. (He was the one to put the surgery on the table in the first place)
Now, though, I ask the question of WHY? I was over 18. Shouldn’t that have been acceptable? Why did I need to wait a month and sign SIX forms, acknowledging the relinquishment of my reproductive organs? I didn’t go through that many hoops to remove my gall bladder or appendix. And I’d had FIVE orthopedic procedures before then without batting an eye.
Is the medical community worried about the declining birth rate? Or is it a tactic to force women into a form of control?
With Pennsylvania threatening to make women file a death certificate for every miscarriage, it feels more like the latter. Something natural, beyond medical control, and you want to humiliate, emotionally destroy, and potentially FINE women? It’s brutal and inhumane. But it crushes the female gender under a firm control over their reproduction. It documents their capability to produce children. And it creates a database of fertility and functionality.
What does that sound like? Pair it with Texas’s insanely restrictive new anti-abortion law. What environment does this create? Where do women figure into this system?
How about a world where their reproductive system matters more than the rest of their emotional, physical, and mental health.
“Speak for Me”
I look around, and I don’t like the direction this world’s heading in. Women have made huge strides in recent years. But we’re also facing critical, DAMAGING blows. If we sit back and allow these actions to continue, where will we end up?
In red robes and wings? In settlements? Banished to the Colonies?
Martin Niemöller wrote famous words:
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.
The slope into a Gilead-like world is slippery and steep. And if we don't lift our voices and start to speak up in protest, that’s where we’re going to end up.
I, for one, am not interested. (My respect to Ms. Atwood as a writer, but I’m not impressed with her dystopian projection) And I intend to scream, yell, and even whisper if I have to. They’ll have to hang me on the wall before I back down because I am NOT useless. Maybe I don’t have reproductive organs any longer, but I’m still a woman and full of female indignation on behalf of my gender.
And I am not going to sit back and allow these actions to continue.