FEMINIST PERSPECTIVES IN MARGARET ATWOOD’S; THE HANDMAIDS TALE
The Handmaids Tale is full of feminist perspectives that the author touches on but rarely provides a solution. She only puts them to light and leaves the reader to denote the implications for his or herself. To be a feminist is to advocate social, political, legal and economic rights for women, equal to those of men. In Atwood’s fiction, women have been deprived of these fundamental rights they once had in Pre- Gilead. Margaret Atwood uses different settings of the lives of the Gilead women to bring out her feminist views.
The women’s social life is disrupted to the extent that they are forced to change even their identities. Their former names are replaced with new ones that suit the social status they have been reduced to fit.
The women of pre-Gilead are socialized to plan their families when they want and have babies when they want, as their right to plan their social life. Enter Gilead and roles change, this women’s role becomes only that of child bearing, if you do not qualify then punishment awaits you. “ At times, these handmaids are referred to as the most pure and untainted of women; terms such as nuns, sacred vessels, seeds, the blessed fruit, the carriers of life are common labels. “We are for breeding purposes: we aren’t concubines, geisha girls, courtesans. On the contrary: everything possible has been done to remove us from that category. We are two-legged wombs that are all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices” (176)
The woman of Gilead’s social rights on sexual relations has also been denied. They are treated as passive objects that men use to derive pleasure or make babies. Offred relays to us the events of one such ceremony: “My red skirt is hitched up to my waist, though no higher. Below it the Commander is fucking. What he is fucking is the lower part of my body. I do not say making love because this is not what he’s doing. Copulating too would be inaccurate, because it would imply two people and only one is involved. Nor does rape cover it: nothing is going on here that I haven’t signed up on.[The Commander] is preoccupied, like a man humming to himself in the shower without knowing he’s humming; like a man who has other things on his mind. It’s as if he’s somewhere else, waiting for him to come, drumming his fingers on the table while he waits.” (121-122)
Even their mode of dressing has been forcefully changed. They can no longer practice a freedom to their own dressing. This has affected them so adversely that Offered does not seem to remember just how much of a social life she had. “My nakedness is strange to me already. My body seems outdated. Did I really wear bathing suits, at the beach?”(82) Her staring at female tourists reveals her lack of ease in what she has been taught to view as brazen behavior.
The legal rights of Offred’s day are very different from those of June’s day. For example, when the Commander takes her to Jezebel’s, a secret whorehouse for other commanders and visiting dignitaries, Offred shows that she understands that she is both sacred and a whore.