The War on Women Rages on in Media and Reality

Some of the rights violations seen in The Handmaid’s Tale are already happening around us

I recently started watching The Handmaid’s Tale and quickly became enthralled by its drama and characters. Then I felt terrified because that fictional world isn’t too far off from our own.

In the critically acclaimed Hulu series, adapted from Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel, a religious dictatorship governs the Republic of Gilead—formerly the United States—where women have been stripped of their fundamental rights. Men and women are plagued by infertility, and a select few women who are still able to bear children serve as “handmaids” against their will to the nation’s elite.

The protagonist, Offred, refers to herself as a “two-legged womb,” and the handmaids are frequently abused both physically and emotionally. In Gilead, a woman’s only purpose is to be subservient to her husband and make babies.

Unfortunately, elements of that fictional world are starting to appear in North America.

Women’s reproductive rights are once again being restricted. While Roe v. Wade saw the legalization of abortion in 1973, individual U.S. states can hinder a woman’s ability to access this sometimes critical medical procedure.

Through flashbacks, the show illustrates the United States’ rapid decline into Gilead. Offred, whose real name is June, and her friend Moira are called “fucking sluts” in a coffee shop, and when the pair are indoctrinated as handmaids, they are forced to repeatedly chant “Her fault!” toward a woman who’d been raped.  

In the real world, U.S. President Donald Trump recently nominated Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court. Kavanaugh referred to birth control as an “abortion-inducing drug” and was accused of sexual assault in 1982 by Christine Blasey Ford.

Instead of believing her, many are accusing Ford of being a liar and are condemning her for coming forward decades after the alleged incident. It’s the same victim blaming we’ve heard for years—“Boys will be boys,” “What were you wearing?” “Were you drunk?” “Did you say no?”  

On Sept. 21, Trump tweeted, “If the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities.” This, coming from a man with more than a dozen sexual assault and harassment allegations against him, is a stark reminder of why victims often remain silent. They are shamed, intimidated, and sometimes threatened if they come forward.

In the season two episode “Smart Power” (spoiler!) Offred’s commander Fred Waterford and his wife Serena embark on a diplomatic mission to Canada. Once news leaks of Gilead’s oppressive regime and human rights abuses, citizens in Toronto protest the trip, diplomatic talks are cancelled, and the Waterfords are all but kicked out of the country.

Like the Canadians in this episode, we must fight back against laws and governments who seek to restrict women’s reproductive rights and freedoms.

Gileadean women—even the wives of commanders—are their husband’s property. When a handmaid is impregnated, the married couple is seen as the infant’s true parents. Handmaids are viewed solely as human incubators.

These women are told, “You are a two-legged womb who has zero right to bodily autonomy,” and “enjoying sex makes you a slut.”

Yes, I have a vagina and a uterus and I enjoy sex, but my body does not belong to the state, and I intend to keep it that way.

Let’s make sure that Gilead remains a fictional location in a fictional television show.

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