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Female Identity in the Context of Patriarchal Society in the Handmaid’s Tale, Thesis Paper Example

Pages: 11

Words: 2996

Thesis Paper

1.0: Female identity in the context of patriarchal society in The Handmaid’s Tale.

As seen in the novel Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood has the main goals and position that illuminates the provided society in her work of art. She envisions numerous thematic concerns that affect societies using satire, making her writing and overall insinuations contemplate the target audience. Using her prowess Margaret Atwood in this novel, relayed conspiracies and other related criticism from other professionals and authors. Regardless of all this, the book remains universal since it visualizes aspects like totalitarianism, criticism and other crucial elements like women’s roles in society (Walby 99). Besides that, the author also highlights how oppressive societal norms and treatment limit women, leading to social violence.

The position of the women is facing numerous suppressive and oppressive treatment. That indicates female identity is among the conspicuous themes in the content of Handmaid’s tale. This is evident as there are instances in the novel where the author criticizes the systems of male power, which unpacks the constraints of feminism (Tolan and Atwood 305). The disunity of the social system and repression of women is identifiable in the novel. Based on the theme of gender identity in this novel, Atwood’s work offers prolifically distinctive clarifications concerning all the issues regarding gender roles, equality, and female perception. And overall societal expectations of the female gender (53). There is a high chance that the socio-economic exploitation of women differs on how the whole society sees the position and relation of women and the male gender.

By using her critical global dialogue, Atwood has spits insinuations regarding the position of women in society (79). From the novel, it is clear that the level of dissolution is referred to as the common term hatred for women. All this comes from the emergence and establishment of religious fundamentalism. The Gilead nation is the right place where the reader feels the hatred of women being manifested as a nation is the epitome of the oppressive social regime. Just as it is positioned in the novel, misogyny is evident since Gilead’s republic is portrayed as the epitome of profound misogyny perceived as they hate men have towards women (Needham 12). However, there are still some women hating on fellow women. This paper seeks to explain different aspects of how women are regarded in the particular patriarchal society by critical analysis of the novel on different notions that are expounded by Atwood in her novel the Handmaid’s tale.

1.1: Under his eye- Patriarchy and masculinity

The phrase under his eye is frequently used in Atwood’s novel, referring to the Christian God who supposedly watches the handmaids throughout their tribulations. During the Gilead’s republic, an extremely blessed society was blessed. For that reason, the phrase is to signify the religious overtones.

1.2: Patriarchy

The feminist theory states that women are usually viewed as subordinates to men (Pease 17). That is what makes the patriarchal social system and men’s unequal power over women. Cuesta and Del (59) note that the social setup of a patriarchal system is that men are given more power than women. Based on a broader explanation of this context, we can term patriarchy as a type of Greek or Roman law of leadership where men usually get the best treatment as they are rendered head of homes. They are further granted ultimate legal rights and freedom of maintaining and controlling the social-economic systems of families and society. Being given these mandates, powers and roles, men feel to have higher capacities, and in the end, the level of male dominance goes up in the context of this societal make-up.

 Handmaid’s tale depicts the roles and responsibilities that generally represents a man having high powers in all crucial sectors of the entire Gilead republic community. Men have authority over societal institutions, while women are denied any capacity to use such powers (Tolan and Atwood 219). Relatively, women have got lower roles and power compared to women existing in the Gilead society. Due to the high level of rights and freedom, women’s deprivation in everything is seen as significant and not an essential circumstance (Abeda 12). However, this does not mean women have no role in society or are powerless. In the literal analysis, a manifestation of the female gender gets comparative analogies relative to having lesser everything in terms of rights, freedom, power and less influence (Roland 80). Also, when it comes to social-economic resources, women tend to be limited compared to men. The Gilead system of governance is militaristic since men are viewed as exploitive. In a patriarchal system, men usually dominate women, repress them, and socially exploit them. Concisely, such a system well articulates gender roles to be instead designed and established based on gender. Irrespective of all this, one is born either a man or woman in the Gilead republic (Swayer 99). Therefore, that determines the position and role one has to render to their system. Gilead republic is a complete sexist system that undermines one gender.

The totalitarian system of governance is also reinforced in the same way as it buys patriarchal patterns. The Handmaid’s tale novel is an exact depiction of the two traits of Offred and Serena Joy as they are the embodiment of female antagonists. The two compliments each other, but Offred is featured as a protagonist while Serena is a minor character. Despite her small feature Serena is essential in criticism of the patriarchal society. In this novel, patriarchy seemingly has followed numerous stages in the Gilead society (Atwood 77). This is because women are unwillingly compelled to act as breeding sites for infertile women. In any account bearing a woman as the holder instead of having a male holder, all the government needed was to push buttons, according to Atwood (187). Based on the aspect of fertility, women said to be more fertile like Offred are awarded roles, responsibilities and duties of great handmaids, which relates to the biblical texts in the story of Rachel and Jacob.

The criteria of a patriarchal system date on how the roles and functions got dichotomized in Gilead society based on various aspects. For example, it started with simple recognition and appreciation of fertile women though they were limited in possessing material things. The societal organization is another aspect that was based on the family of Gilead. Assigning more significant roles and ranks to men gender and slavery against gender with women was also high. There is also sexual subordination which was made legal (Tolan 52). After all, women are regarded as lower beings in society though married and fertile women were given a higher accord. Based on the bible, female sexual statuses that don’t reproduce and procreate are regarded as curses and evil (Mathews 1-11). Therefore, in the novel, infertility related issues are evident, and all these issues in the patriarchal system of Gilead that are under his eye.

1.3: Patriarchy structures

The Handmaid’s Tale by Atwood exhibits clear and logical patriarchal structures. These include domestic chores or housework patterns, societal culture, gender and sexuality, social-economic violence, state government and occupation (Walby 50). While these aspects work differently, they display various structural forms of patriarchy. According to Mathews (80), the patriarchal structural structures exhibits causal effects on each other. However, those casual effects work in support and social blockage to situations more familiarly. Therefore, it’s vital to understand those patriarchal structures to explain gender relations and sociological differences within society.

Systematic housework patterns are one of the visible patriarchal structures in the Handmaid’s tale. Walby (99) points out that the housework pattern closely links with the patriarchal social-economic status. Some house chores, which include domestic shopping, caring for deserving members of society and children, housekeeping, and preparing meals, are deemed the women’s responsibility. In the context of Gilead, culture divides and specializes workers based on gender in the households. (Jessica 45) asserts that men or husbands who are socially successful in society expropriate responsibilities and roles. Therefore, the female gender only receives maintenance within their households with the condition they satisfy the housework labor needs.

Occupation or paid work patriarchal structure can also be seen in Handmaid’s Tale by Atwood. In Gilead state, women cannot secure better jobs. The female gender is segregated and appear to be put in a worthless class looked down upon. While Barry and Cheryl  ( 640) notes that societal opinion about the female gender differ, women in Gilead are regarded as unskilled, and once they secure a job and are paid, they are assumed to have less workload within their households (Atwood 419)

The state is another explicit patriarchal structure in Gilead based on Handmaid’s tale. The state works to accomplish patriarchal objectives in social and political contexts. Despite transitional changes, in Gilead, women are the only ones who get fired in the long run after securing a job. In addition, male-led and politicized unions rose and initiated legislation that pushed for the massive firing of employed women (Atwood 425).

Gender violence patriarchal structure is also evidenced in the Handmaid’s Tale by Atwood. Women have to encounter and endure extreme behavior propagated by the male gender. In Gilead’s societal life, violence is common in every stage and place, including government premises, private and public spheres of life (Atwood 431). Barret and Amy (17) note that male gender violence in many places appears like something legal since many people tolerates violent acts against women. Therefore, the state’s failure to institute legal action against social evils like gender harassment, domestic fights and rape them part and parcel of the state itself.

In terms of social behavior and relationships, society has different standards and expectations between men and women, which forms part of sexuality’s patriarchal structure portrayed by Atwood in the Handmaid’s tale. Women in Gilead have no voice-over verdicts made by society about sex (Atwood 121). While sex is a psychological or emotional process, society does not view it as a private topic of concern, but it looks more like a patriarchal system. Abeda (14) explains that many communities do not give women the opportunity to control their sexual pleasure or the capability to decide on reproduction and bearing children. Instead, the male gender view and female gender as sexual objects for satisfaction.

 In The Handmaid’s tale, Atwood also points out the patriarchal cultural structure. The Gilead’s society relies on religious ideologies to drive many of their practices (Atwood 109). Jessica (44) notes that many patriarchal principles founded on the cultural context structure are found in today’s norms, like meaningless gynaecological operations in western culture. Therefore, there are different values and standards for men and women within the social setting, and they tend to depict women as lesser than the male gender.

1.4: Masculinity

Masculinity posits gender as the bases of its development and categorizes men as masculine and women as feminine (Needham 57). On the other hand, Kimmel (16) explains that the intertwining of relations between women and men that turn around power, inequality and social inequity brings the idea of masculinity (men) and feminine (women). In The Handmaid’s tale, Atwood reveals vital and recurring masculinity variables, including sexuality, social-economic, historical and cultural norms (16). However, Corrigan and lee (153) view masculinity differentiation as a psychological aspect whereby many have notions about men and therefore become. But they also do not know that such differentiation can be institutional where there is a collective practice.

Corrigan and (154) argue that masculinities can be categorized as hegemonic since they have everything to do with a class of men within a historical context. It can be wealth or power in a position and how men use that advantage to generate dominance. Kimmel (19) and Tyson (84) also notes that many societies are biased toward men rejecting femininity. That rejection is seen where women face contempt and anything connected to them. According to Sawyer (26), the community does not expect male-gender to cry freely, show gentleness, or portray weakness since those traits are associated with the feminine and are not masculine characteristics. Handmaid’s tale has a lot of connection with men due to the unique historical content of Gilead (Tolan and Atwood 179). The state exhibits a preference for wealth and systematic power positioning, which are dominated by the male gender (

Gilmore (34) points out that hegemonic masculinity can be understood by looking at potency, provision and protection pillars. Gilmore further notes that displaying the power of being in charge, heroism, tenacity and courage is taken by many societies to represent masculinity and all that tends to segregate women. Looking at masculinity in Handmaid’s tale, offred (woman) in the Gilead’s community has no voice-over men like successful commanders. She agrees that she has had to endure violent treatment, repressive, discriminative and oppressive acts from the masculine gender or men (Tolan and Atwood 229). For example, Offred’s ability to bear children is misused when she is forced to bear children for the barren, and the concept of masculinity brings that about. Roland (446) argues that many societies consider women less and are treated as a minority with minimal significance to the community. Therefore they are worthy of fewer-social economic parts within the community. In the Gilead state, the female gender has no voice in the republic, making them vulnerable to violence.

On the other hand, masculinity regarding men in Gilead is connected to social-economic benefits, authority and power, fear and conditional respect. Furthermore, masculinity can be seen in how men control women (Atwood 415). However, (Pease 10) argues that benefits and privileges the male gender enjoy come with huge costs like physical harm or emotional suffering.

1.5: Traditional gender roles

Tyson (81) explain that traditional gender roles presume men to be strong, rational, decisive and assertive. While on the other hand, Tyson observes that women are regarded as submissive, nurturing, weak and emotional. As a result, societies have used that to justify the inequity that the female gender suffers in the community. Based on Offred’s narrative, male-gender is perceived as dominant over women in political and social contexts (Cuesta and Del 12). Women are depicted as subsidiary to the male- gender, and in many societies, men peripherally treat the female gender. Based on the concept of musicality, men are regarded as rational and superior in power and, therefore, participate in decision-making biased towards women. In Gilead,   the female gender is exploited and subjected to slavery to benefit the male gender. On the contrary, men are accorded high regard in terms of power. And this power is depicted by the power structure in the said republic, which is usually controlled by the commander in chief and other lower leaders, including men alone (Tolan and Atwood 312)

Atwood notes that the installation of watchdogs within the Gilead state came up with the collection of the spy information leading to more focus on male nature since they were involved in many activities. In addition, men were also showing their gender by incorporating the aristocratic manner that rules the state (418). However, nature is always ventilated for women as they are taken to be emotional creatures and can endure too many forms of hostility. The depiction that they are weaker and of less importance in society, women always get looked down upon. Furthermore, they hardly come out to fight and stand firm for their freedom and right but instead get involved with weak tools like written materials. Based on the Gilead society, women are seen as nurturing human beings who are only supposed to sire kids for their husbands. Every woman is expected to be fertile enough if you don’t give birth. She is regarded as an outcast and good for nothing being (cuesta 5). Simply, the division of gender roles should at least impact society positively.

Men are usually presumed to be bold and confident in a social setting which gives them dominating power. On the other hand, women are endowed with raising, respecting, and obedience to the entire community (Sawyer 27). Therefore, one should bring up variations that differentiate between men and women. Research shows that adhering to gender roles was not good since its effects were adverse and unfavourable (Pease 87). One’s role in society should not deny them their rights and freedom. That is especially if they are based on the aspects of life, for instance, where one is denied their right to vote so that they can be submissive and obedient.

Bibilogrphy

Barco Cuesta, Jorge del. “Patriarchy and Masculinity in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.” (2018).

Barrett, Betty Jo, Amy Peirone, and Chi Ho Cheung. “Help seeking experiences of survivors of intimate partner violence in Canada: The role of gender, violence severity, and social belonging.” Journal of Family Violence 35.1 (2020): 15-28.

Carrigan, Tim, Bob Connell, and John Lee. “Toward a new sociology of masculinity.” Theory and society 14.5 (1985): 551-604.

Drury, Benjamin J., and Cheryl R. Kaiser. “Allies against sexism: The role of men in confronting sexism.” Journal of social issues 70.4 (2014): 637-652.

Kimmel, Michael. Manhood in America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017.

Mathews, Kenneth A. Genesis 1-11: 26. Vol. 1. b&h publishing Group, 1996.

Needham, Maria Sian. Locating lost masculinities in Margaret Atwood’s The handmaid’s tale. Diss. Manchester Metropolitan University, 2015.

Pease, Bob. “Disengaging Men from Patriarchy: Rethinking the Man Question in Masculinity Studies’.” (2015).

Roland, Erling, and Thormod Idsøe. “Aggression and bullying.” Aggressive Behavior: Official Journal of the International Society for Research on Aggression 27.6 (2001): 446-462.

Sawyer, Jack. “On Male Liberation.‖ Feminism and Masculinity, edited by Peter F. Murphy.” (2004): 25-272.

Sultana, Abeda. “Patriarchy and women s subordination: a theoretical analysis.” Arts Faculty Journal (2010): 1-18.

Tolan, Fiona. Margaret Atwood: feminism and fiction. Vol. 170. Rodopi, 2007.

Walby, Sylvia. “From private to public patriarchy: the periodisation of British history.” Women’s studies international forum. Vol. 13. No. 1-2. Pergamon, 1990.

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