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Handmaid’s Tale, Thesis Paper Example

Pages: 11

Words: 3022

Thesis Paper

Under His Eye – Patriarchy, and Masculinity

In the novel The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood explores numerous thematic concerns that affect societies, such as female exploitation. She used satire throughout her writing to ensure she related well with her target audience. The Handmaid’s Tale depicts the oppression of women in a patriarchal society. The novel depicts a world where women are valued only for their fertility and are subject to near-constant rape by the men who rule them. The protagonist, Offred, is a woman who spends her life having sex with a man she doesn’t love and bearing his children, yet she has no choice but to obey his commands or face death at his hand. The story is about a future America that has been taken over by fundamentalist Christians, who impose a brutally misogynistic society. In this society, women are stripped of their rights and forced to serve as “handmaids,” or sexually enslaved people, for the few men in power. The novel also illustrates many other women who have lost all hope and have begun to accept their role in this society.

Women in society face numerous suppressive and oppressive treatments from the males. This illustration shows that female identity is among the major themes in the content of The Handmaid’s Tale. The concept of female identity is evident in different instances in the novel where the author criticizes the systems of male power. As a result, the author illustrates the constraints of feminism by explaining the challenges that females in the novel, including Offred, face at the hands of males. (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, Atwood’s work offers prolifically distinctive clarifications concerning all the issues regarding gender roles, equality, 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 (Tolan and Atwood 305). By using her critical global dialogue, Atwood has spelled out assertions regarding the position of women in society (79).

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. The social setup of a patriarchal system is that men are given more power than women (Cuesta and Del 59). 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 (Tolan and Atwood 305). Being given these mandates, powers, and roles, men feel they have higher capacities, and in the end, the level of male dominance goes up.

The Handmaid’s Tale illustrates how society places high power on males by bestowing their specific roles and responsibilities, such as providing financial administration to women. Most male characters in the novel have higher authority than females in similar capacities who do not have the mandate to utilize such powers. For example, a male with an equivalent social rank as Offred has more control over her (Tolan and Atwood 219). However, it does not mean women have no role in society or are powerless. In common sense, 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 (Tolan and Atwood 305). In a patriarchal system, men usually dominate women, repress them, and socially exploit them. Concisely, such a system articulates gender roles to be 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, it determines the position and role one has to render to the system. Gilead republic is a complete sexist system that undermines one gender.

Gilead is a hierarchical society in which only males have access to quality education or even the constitutional right to bear guns, and they are the only ones who may own properties, hold jobs, or occupy governmental roles. Women are considered second-class individuals and are subject to men’s rule (Tolan 52). They are not permitted to write or read. The totalitarian system of governance is also reinforced in the same way as it buys patriarchal patterns. Offred and Serena Joy represent the two extremes of female antagonists. Offred is a victim subjected to Serena Joy’s abuse (Tolan 52). She is ‘marked’ by her red dress, a symbol of purity. She has been forcibly impregnated and has no choice but to submit to the will of her oppressor. On the other hand, Serena Joy appears to be a typical housewife with a beautiful home and luxurious lifestyle (Tolan and Atwood 305). She can do as she pleases, choosing to take advantage of women in dire situations for personal gain.

The prerequisites for a patriarchal system can be traced back to how Gilead’s society divided roles and functions depending on several factors. For example, it began with simple acknowledgment and admiration of fertile women despite their lack of worldly possessions. Another feature based on Gilead’s family was a societal organization (Tolan and Atwood 305). Slavery against women and assigning more significant positions and ranks to men were also prevalent. In addition, there is sexual subordination, which is now allowed (Tolan 52). Women, after all, are seen as lower beings in society, even though married and fertile women are accorded a more excellent status. Female sexual positions that do not breed and propagate are considered curses and wrong in the Bible (Mathews 1-11). This means that women who do not have children are considered cursed. As a result, infertility concerns are prominent in the novel, as are all of the issues in Gilead’s patriarchal society that he observes.

The Structures of Patriarchy

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. While these aspects work differently, they display various structural forms of patriarchy. Patriarchal structural structures exhibit causal effects on each other (Tolan 52). 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. The housework pattern closely links with the patriarchal social-economic status (Walby 45). Some chores, which include shopping, caring for deserving members of society and children, housekeeping, and preparing meals, are deemed the women’s responsibility. In the context of Gilead, a handmaid is a woman whose sole purpose is to bear children for her commander and his wife, as they are unable to do so themselves (Tolan 52). Handmaids are forced into sexual servitude as a last resort when it is determined that they can conceive.

Occupation or paid work patriarchal structure can also be seen in The Handmaid’s Tale by Atwood. In Gilead state, women cannot secure better jobs. Atwood explains that society does not hold value for women but instead ties their value to childbearing. Females who do not bear children are looked down in the community. 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 and hence are tasked with many responsibilities at the workplace (Atwood 419).

Based on The Handmaid’s Tale, Gilead is divided into states that oversee the effective running of the society. This setting works to accomplish patriarchal objectives in social and political contexts by ensuring males maintain a higher social standing in the community compared to females. Gilead has had several transitions over the years, but women are still experiencing challenges such as getting fired even after securing jobs (Tolan and Atwood 305). Besides, the growth led to the development of male-led and politiced unions and initiated legislation that pushed for the massive firing of employed women.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Atwood portrays gender-based violence, which is evident in the patriarchal society in Gilead; for example, Offred encountered several incidences of violence from her spouse. Males in the community have propagated extreme behaviors that seek to oppress females, for instance, disrespecting them at home and even at the workplace (Tolan and Atwood 305). For example, in Gilead’s social setting, violence is common in every stage and place, including government premises and private locations (Atwood 431). Most people in this society tolerate violence against women, and hence it has progressed to almost something legal (Barret and Amy 17). Therefore, the state’s failure to institute legal action against social evils like gender harassment, domestic flights, and rape subject women to more suffering at the hands of males living in Gilead.

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 her novel. 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 (Tolan and Atwood 305). Many communities do not give women the opportunity to control their sexual pleasure or the capability to decide on reproduction and bearing children (Abeda 14). 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). It notes that many patriarchal principles founded on the cultural context structure are found in today’s norms, like meaningless gynecological operations in western culture (Tolan and Atwood 305). 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.

Masculinity

The  Handmaid’s Tale presents different levels of negative masculinity; for example, most men in the novel are either part of the ruling class or are rebels fighting against the regime. The story also clearly distinguishes between females and males, with the latter being more powerful and influential than females (Corrigan 154). The novel portrays men in the ruling class as abusive and ruthless towards females. They manipulate, control, and use them for their own needs, such as satisfying their sexual urges. The handmaids are treated as property and are expected to breed children for elite families (Swyer 26), mostly executed through rape and a forced sex system, thus making it hard for them to resist the abuse.

On the other hand, the rebel men are compassionate and protective. They care for the women in their lives and want to help them escape the oppression they are facing. These men are also willing to risk their lives to save the women they love (Corrigan 154). The contrast between these two groups of men highlights the different attitudes towards masculinity in the novel. The ruling class men see women as objects to be used and controlled, while the rebel men see them as equals who deserve respect and protection (Swyer 26). This contrast is an integral part of the story and helps to show how oppressive the regime truly is.

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 (Corrigan 154). Many societies are biased toward men rejecting femininity (Kimmel (19) and Tyson (84). That rejection is seen where women face contempt and anything connected to them. 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 (Swyer 26). The Handmaid’s Tale has a lot of connection with men due to the unique historical content of Gilead (Tolan and Atwood 179). The state prefers wealth and systematic power positioning, dominated by the male gender.

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 (Gilmore 34). Looking at masculinity in The 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. Many societies consider women less and are treated as a minority with minimal significance to the community (Roland 446). 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, the benefits and privileges the male gender enjoy come with huge costs like physical harm or emotional suffering (Pease 10). The women end up suffering so that the males can have their freedom and maintain their social status.

Traditional gender roles

Men are expected to be robust, rational, determined, and assertive, according to traditional gender roles. As for women, Tyson observes that they are viewed as weak and emotionally vulnerable; subservient; nurturing, and emotionally vulnerable Tyson is a boxer who competes in the U.S. Open (81). As a result, civilizations have used this as an excuse to continue discriminating against women in the workplace and society. According to Offred’s narrative, the masculine gender is more dominant than the female gender in political and social circumstances (Cuesta and Del 12). Women are portrayed as being subordinate to the male gender, and in many countries, men are only marginally concerned with the feminine gender. Men are perceived as reasonable and superior in power based on the concept of musicality, and as a result, they participate in decision-making that is prejudiced in favor of women (Tolan and Atwood 305). Gilead is a place where women are exploited and subjugated to slavery to further men’s interests. On the other hand, men are held in great regard for authority. Furthermore, this dominance is reflected in the power structure of the stated republic, which is often controlled by the commander in chief and other lesser authorities, including men alone, in most cases (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.  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 (Tolan and Atwood 305). 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 (Tolan and Atwood 305). 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, society expects women to be respectful, obedient, and raise responsible offspring.

Works Cited

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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