The Handmaid’s Tale is a story about America becoming a dystopian, patriachal society the likes of Christian Saudi Arabia.
I have to admit I love binge watching this show. Something crazy always happens every week. And there may be some fortuitous truth to this show’s premise. After America becomes a decadent, collapsing society where fertility is plummeting, there’s an armed takeover where The Sons of Jacob overthrow the government and takeover part of the North East of America.
This is not an unlikely outcome. When societies became decadent, they collapse, and more brutish, authoritarian groups tend to enforce themselves via the new government of Gilead. This has been the lesson of history. This is what happened in 4th century Rome. This is what happened in 6th century Saudi Arabia. And so on and so forth.
However, I have to say what is laughable about the show is that Gilead is the most inefficient patriarchy ever. Now, I’m not saying there can’t be inefficient patriarchies. I’m just saying that Gilead is pretty bad at being a patriarchy, considering the point of patriarchy.
As I’ve explained elsewhere in my blog, patriarchy happens when the males in a society band together to form a society that works to their benefit and increases their success in terms of sexual reproduction. A typical patriarchy usually involves…
Agreeing to things like enforced monogamy or limited polygamy, so no alpha males can hog all the fertile females for himself.
Reducing economic rights of women to equalize a reproductive playing field where nature has given women all the cards.
Agreeing that males are the expendable gender by nature’s design, and that the women in the society should be protected, while the males subject themselves to danger to keep the women safe. This is smart because women are the ones who create life, so if you protect them, you protect and grow your population, and increase the reproductive opportunities for success for males in the population. (After all, it’s harder for men to get laid if they’re letting the viable women die off). Even in a dystopian woman-hating hellscape like Saudi Arabia the men are the ones who do the dangerous and dirty jobs, while the women are kept home and (for the most part) safe.
Gilead exists in a dystopian future where fertility rates are plummeting. Thus, the fertile women are turned into brood mares for the state, forced to keep making babies against their will. These fertile women are turned into “Handmaid’s” and given to Commanders, the dominant men in the society.
Yet the stupidity of Gilead is that these Handmaids, the few fertile women left, are exposed to incredible dangers and forced to do dangerous dirty tasks that put them at great bodily risk. The Handmaid’s are forced to clean blood off a wall in a public square, are asked to stone someone to death, and if the Handmaid’s are continually disobedient, they are sent to a place called “The Colonies,” where it looks like they spend the rest of their days shoveling radioactive poop until their fingernails fall off and they die.
If there are only a limited number of fertile women, why in the jumping Jehovah would any of them be sent off to do a dangerous and dirty job like shoveling radioactive material??? Why would they be exposed to constant danger and bodily harm??? The reality is that these few fertile women would probably be kept in comfortable (yet restrictive) prisons – similar to harems – where they would be forced to continually make babies. And the disobedient ones would probably just be chained up and forced to continue making babies, not sent to some radioactive wasteland.
Gilead reflects patriarchy as conceived by feminists. Feminists have an oversimplified view of patriarchy where men are the ruling overclass and women are the underclass, treated similarly to the way minorities have been treated in America – denied education and forced to do the dangerous, menial jobs that the overclass does not wish to do.
This is an incorrect view of patriarchy – or at least a view of a very inefficient patriarchy that probably wouldn’t last two years before collapsing.
Afterall, look at all the real patriarchies that have existed throughout history. It was the predominantly the men building the pyramids, building roads, fighting in wars and doing the grueling work of constructing railroads. This is not to say there weren’t underclass women forced into prostitution, where they lived miserable disease-filled lives and died young. But women as an underclass that performs the dangerous and menial jobs in society is not very realistic.
Yes, women are an underclass in real patriarchy, this cannot be denied. But they are a protected underclass, while it is the men who would most definitely be shoveling the radioactive poop piles in Margaret Atwood’s dystopian future.
UPDATE: As I think about it, the other inconsistency with the show is that women and girls are expected to know and quote bible verses, but aren’t allowed to read??? I suppose they are purposely being kept ignorant so they’ll be more easy to control. But once again, this is a stupid decision by stupid Gilead. It seems like the wives and marthas (women who are like housekeepers) are the ones predominantly raising the children. So if they can’t read, how are they going to teach their sons to read? Does Gilead just want all their people to be stupid, man or woman? This is likely, since once again – they don’t seem like the brightest group of folk. Even the most patriarchal societies in the world today (like Saudi Arabia and American Christian Cults like Quiverfull) allow women to get an education. It’s true that in ancient, patriarchal societies like Greece women weren’t educated. But a vast majority of the people back then were not educated, and reading was only necessary among the elite. In today’s Information Age, reading and writing is vital for everyone. And someone can’t be a useful member of the patriarchy – whether male or female – without having an education.