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Handmaid’s Tale, Thesis Paper Example

Pages: 10

Words: 2799

Thesis Paper

Gender performativity

Within society, certain constraints define issues related to gender and gender roles. In most cases, gender is aligned to certain views and perspectives, but these are misconceptions. Notably, many parameters used to describe gender and gender roles are not evidential- it is a creation of a community. There is no research to substantiate many of the issues defined from gender-based perspectives. It would have been ideal if valid arguments demonstrated how gender makes people behave differently or have distinct capacities. In the gender misconception debate, philosopher Judith Butler offers her perspective on the issue by suggesting some of her views on the issue focusing on the factors that determine the behavior in gender and that of women. Judith Butler suggests the term gender performativity to mean the act or performance put up by a member of a certain gender to be in line and correspond to the creation of the perspectives mentioned above and views idealized to be those of a specific gender (Stein 57-73).

Gender performativity is the term coined for the behavior seen in specific genders to fit into society’s spectrum of gender roles laid out by community perceptions. The Handmaid’s Tale depicts this concept in its characters and the plot. Women, especially in the tale, are expected to behave differently (Stein, 57-73). Such an authoritarian nature of the society bolsters the notion of women’s lack of independence in the patriarchal community.

The Handmaid’s Tale is a story set in a dystopia context. The state of dystopia is somewhat post-apocalyptic, featuring a past time that caused the loss of fertility in most women, leading to low birth rates. Such a setting is like Gilead, a totalitarian society set up in a ‘past’ United States. The totalitarian society of the United States in the story is dictatorial and has a centralized model of leadership. In this state, women are dictated upon, being subjects of gender performativity in society. The society of Gilead is governed by a fundamentalist regime that objectifies women and subjects them as objects for their bodies, and in this, as property of the state, a state that is ensued with plummeting birth rate and environmental calamities. These women are referred to as handmaids by the state- handmaids are women used for their fertility and become used by the state to bear children for powerful political leaders and certain personalities.

The story of The Handmaid’s Tale features various themes that revolve around gender performativity and the gender roles put up by society. The depiction of this in this paper is achieved through the insight offered by the following context matters: women of Gilead, appearance and behavior, and loss of identity in The Handmaid’s Tale.

Women in Gilead

The women in Gilead portray the different kinds of women, described by their roles in this post-apocalyptic society that defines women and their role in society. The women in Gilead are handmaids, wives, econowives, aunts, Martha’s, and unwomen. Their relation to one another and the relations among them are highlighted in the analysis of this paper. The women in Gilead are taken for their wombs and only considered for their wombs and their mothering ability. These women in society are expected to obey men and view themselves as child-bearers. Their training in the red center ensures this is the case for the women that come into that society, and the women are oppressed many times over, not having much freedom in their lives and the decisions they make. Society features men who take advantage of these helpless women and use them to bear children for them, following the calamity of bareness and the declining childbirth rates (Stein, 57-73).

These women in Gilead are oppressed and are restricted in their rights, especially their economic rights, as they are restricted from accessing their financial claims and turning over their financial contents to their husbands or members of the family that is male. Women are deprived of their fundamental rights, setting the basis of oppression of women in the story, promoting a regime that is fundamentalist and whose agenda is solely based on political and social aspects. The book and film adaptation display men as the only ruling authorities with powerful positions in Gilead, whereas women are left with the less deserved, objectified, and domesticated roles, which forms the basis of the literary piece-inferiority of women compared to men. The regime’s foundation is the miserable lives of specific groups of its subjects, as the mode of governance is based on fear and oppression. Although the book is developed in a male-dominant society, it highlights the superiority of men as a bias that is not justified while also depicting the issues associated with a patriarchal system according to Offred’s perspective (Åsen, 1).

The feminist perspective also informs the reader that the text directly highlights and relates to the predominant implicit practices within modern society. Just in Gilead 1, women are still subjected to various stereotypes despite their position within the society being uplifted since they are not considered capable as men when it comes to the managerial or administrative contexts. As such, the text implies that although the women may somehow manage to escape their domestic bounds and embark on joining the workforce, they are not liberated from the dominion of men. Wives, Martha’s, aunts, handmaids, econowives, and unwomen are the women in Gilead who make up the text’s themes (Roland, 1).

Handmaids are women used for fertility and become subjects of the views on their bodies, having to bear children for rich politicians whose wives cannot bear children because of the post-apocalyptic occurrence. These women are considered this for their breaking of the law in society. In The Handmaid’s Tale, wives are married to “high-ranking men” in Gilead. “Martha’s are ranked higher than the handmaids, being offered as household servants and not sex slaves. Aunts are viewed as instructors and enforcers of the social law of the Gilead’s women. Econowives are wives of husbands with lower ranks in the society of Gilead. Unwomen are the lowest class of women in society and are regarded as incapable of social integration within the regimes of the society in gender divisions (Roland, 1).

The story offers distinctive clarifications concerning the issue of gender roles, equity, perception of women, and the overall expectations placed on women. There is a high chance that socio-economic exploitation differs in how the whole society sees the position and relation of women and the male gender. Based on 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 Rachael and Jacob (Roland, 1).

Appearance and Behaviour

Appearance and behavior are other aspects used to bring about the imagery experienced in The Handmaid’s Tale. The use of this theme enables one to picture the thoughts and actions of the characters as depicted by the author. The patriarchy involved casts women as only subjects, leading to the specific appearance of women, who are seen to present themselves as ‘whole’ on the outside, but this is not the case for their inside selves. The appearance of the society is seen to be calm, with abundance, such as depicted through the food seen available and the systems that are involved in the society. Looking deeper into the society, one realizes that this is not the case as women are put down, going against the behavior or image to represent them. The women are seen as good in appearance, involving all women in Gilead, but this is not the case as some are oppressed and forced into this situation.

Complacency in women could be their weakening point. Rather than focusing on equality, women enjoy and get hoodwinked by the slightest sense of power granted to them by men in a patriarchal society (Elias et al. 117). The behavior of powerful women in society also heightens disbelief regarding their ability, even in crucial aspects like leadership (Åsen, 1). The society can be seen as wholesome on the outside, but looking much further than this image, one finds out the oppressive and patriarchal system treats the women. For example, in the text, Serena is not concerned about her fellow women but is engulfed by minute power, making her be part of the men that mistreat women. Conversely, when Offred is shown some love, she feels powerful and even refuses to collaborate with Ofglen about spying on the commander. Offred is comfortable, and her inaction fails the Ofglen’s objective of overthrowing the leadership.

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 (Åsen, 1).

The Handmaid’s Tale depicts the roles and responsibilities that generally represent 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). In real life and other societies, women have lower roles and power than women existing in the Gilead society. 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. 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 must render to their system. Gilead republic is a complete sexist system that undermines one gender (Åsen, 1).

The overall appearance of women in the story and society is somewhat ‘good’ because of their covering, practices, and customs involved, but this is all subject to the behavior notion imposed on them by men, who only view them as subjects of their bodies. Women are considered second-class individuals and are subject to the rule of men. The overall behavior of women seen in society is because of the regard for women as beings who should be reproducing babies through their fertility, and thus, a woman who cannot reproduce and procreate is considered cursed and evil. (Feuer, 83-95). The decision to dress the handmaids in red is symbolic. The text indicates that sexual activity is more preferred when the women are at the right stage of their menstrual cycle. Mostly, red would denote the blood, which is a sign of fertility; the handmaid in the setting had already been assigned reproduction roles. Notably, this is one of the experiences where women’s roles tend to be confined to elements such as childbearing (Montasseri et al. 46). Women, in this case, cannot seek other income-generating ventures since they have been labeled as tools of reproduction.

Loss of identity in The Handmaid’s Tale

The loss of identity is another major theme in The Handmaid’s Tale, one that identifies the loss of identity in the women under this patriarchal system. The loss of identity may be related to the washing system; this compromises the identities and individualities of the women under the system. Further, replacing their identity with one imposed on them by the views and gender performativity notions taken up in this post-apocalyptic society. A way of looking at the loss of identity is the view of complacency, which might contribute to these women losing their identity, besides the indoctrination that the system has on them. The assumption is that people will helpfully endure some weight of oppression if they receive compensation for it, which could be freedom or power. Offred, the book’s main character, remembers her mother’s words, “It is truly amazing what people can get used to as long as there are a few compensations (Atwood, 1).” This offers some insight into the factors that could lead to the loss of identity in the book, explaining that the women may have ‘accepted’ this account of losing their identity to, in the end, or at some point, enjoy the compensation that comes with it (Åsen, 1).

The women are compensated with companionship and physical attention, contributing to some losing their identity and becoming one with the system that oppresses them and dictates their love at that point. Their participation in Gilead leads to them losing their identities as they are constantly facing the system and being influenced by it as time goes by. The loss of identity is not ‘self-driven’ in all the women as some are only complicit in this act by getting involved in the acts of the society. Through their involvement, they are subjected to the system, and one of the results of this is the loss of identity. An example of this is when Offred fails to recognize the ceremony as rape, but just as a ceremony, stating that “nothing is going on here that I haven’t signed up for (Atwood, 1).” This shows the loss of identity in these women (Feuer, 83-95).

Within the system of the society of Gilead, the dominance of men is seen to be the major factor, leading women to be dominated by these views; hence, the lack of their freedom, which ultimately leads to the destruction of their individuality and the losing of self. In this case, the loss of identity can be identified. In the book, women are stripped of their identities and forced to take up new ones against their original selves and identities. The wearing of a uniform can be seen as a forced way of living, representing their position in society. Offred says, “I would like to be without shame. I want to be shameless. I would like to be ignorant. Then I would not know how ignorant I was (Atwood, 1).” The statement reveals the identity crisis facing her and other women like her in this society, leading to the loss of their identity and their view of themselves (Feuer, 83-95).

The Handmaid’s Tale depicts the art of objectifying women as tools for bearing children. Offred is exposed to the inhuman nature of masculinity. Though the text recognizes her as a handmaid who was supposed to bear a child for the commander, she is misused. In the story, Atwood demonstrates that out of a desire to be safe, Offred had started being used to the commander; there was a rapport between them that had culminated into friendship. For instance, they escape with the commander to the brothel; they have developed trust. However, Offred is objectified when Nick is introduced. The entire scenario does not allow Offred to love the two. It could be assumed that maybe Offred could have fallen in love with either of the men. However, the role of Serena Joy in enhancing the commodification is appalling. She is part of the machinations that support women to be treated as objects. The element of class and how it affects gender discrimination describes Serena’s behavior of favoring class over gender.

Works Cited

Åsen, Tonje Rønning. Under His Eye. Religion and Social Control in Atwood’s Alias Grace and The Handmaid’s Tale. MS thesis. 2020.

Atwood, Margaret. The handmaid’s tale. SF Film, 2018.

Atwood, Margaret. The handmaid’s tale. Vol. 301. Everyman’s Library, 2006.

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

Elias, Maria Ligia Rodrigues, and Isadora Vier Machado. “Fighting gender inequality: Brazilian feminist movements and judicialization as a political approach to oppose violence against women.” Public Integrity 20.2 (2018): 115-130.

Feuer, Lois. “The Calculus of Love and Nightmare: The Handmaid’s Tale and the Dystopian Tradition.” Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 38.2 (1997): 83-95.

Montasseri, Zahra, Mohammad Saber Khaghaninejad, and Amirsaeid Moloodi. “Gender Representation in American Movies: A Corpus-based Analysis.” The International Journal of Humanities 27.4 (2020): 42-53.

Roland, Karla M. “The Symbolic Power of Red in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.” (2013).

Stein, Karen. “Margaret Atwood’s modest proposal: The handmaid’s tale.” Canadian Literature 148 (1996): 57-73.

Tolan, Fiona. “Feminist utopias and questions of liberty: Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale as a critique of second wave feminism.” Women: a cultural review 16.1 (2005): 18-32.

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