Feminism In The Handmaid's Tale
Feminism as we know it began in the mid 1960's as the Women's Liberation Movement. Among its chief tenants is the idea of women's empowerment, the idea that women are capable of doing and should be allowed to do anything men can do. Feminists believe that neither sex is naturally superior. They stand behind the idea that women are inherently just as strong and intelligent as the so-called stronger sex. Many writers have taken up the cause of feminism in their work. One of the most well known writers to deal with feminist themes is Margaret Atwood. Her work is clearly influenced by the movement and many literary critics, as well as Atwood herself, have identified her as a feminist writer. However, one of Atwood's most successful books, The Handmaid's Tale, stands in stark contrast to the ideas of feminism. In fact, the female characters in the novel are portrayed in such a way that they directly conflict with the idea of women's empowerment.
On the surface, The Handmaid's Tale appears to be feminist in nature. The point-of-view character and narrator is a woman and thus we see the world through a woman's eyes. There's much more to the story than that, though. Atwood doesn't show us our world. She shows us a newly created world in which women lack the freedoms that they currently take for granted. This dystopian society is completely controlled by men. Of course, the men have help from the Aunts, a crack team of brainwashers that run the reeducation centers and teach the handmaids how to be slaves. These characters really don't speak well for womankind for two reasons. First of all, it's difficult to tell who their real life counterpart is, assuming that this novel is supposed to be a satire. They clearly bear some resemblance to the conservative, Bible-thumping, old maids that love the old way of doing things and constantly rally for a return to family values. The aunts constantly quote the Bible and encourage to women to be genteel and unmasculine. These women are in many ways the antithesis of the feminist. In other ways though, they fall right in line with feminist dogma. Their constant derailment of men and their bitter, hate-filled demeanors make them almost caricatures of hard-line feminists. In fact, they fit quite nicely into the stereotypical way that that anti-feminist men often portray feminists, as bitchy, man-hating lesbians.
Another function of the aunts in the book is to undermine the sense of female camaraderie shown other places in the book. While claiming to hate men, the aunts side with the men, pushing their agenda on the handmaids and treating them as much like objects as the men in the story do. Another group who seems to do this is the wives, most notably, Serena Joy. Instead of siding with the handmaids in their battle against a male-dominated society, the wives treat them with little to no respect and continuously show...