The Handmaid's Tale': Analysis of Destructive Power of Sexism

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Table of contents

  1. 'The Handmaid's Tale' Analysis of the Issue of Sexism
  2. Offred's Feminist Views Through the Novel
  3. Conclusion

The advocacy for women's rights began in the mid 1960's as the Women's Liberation Movement. Their main focus is the idea of women’s equality, the possibility that females can do and ought to be permitted to do anything males can do. Women's rights activists believe in the idea that neither one of the sexes is better than the other and that women are as strong and shrewd as the alleged more grounded sex. One of the most prolific authors to deal with feminism in their works is Margaret Atwood in her best selling book, 'The Handmaid's Tale' which analysis is given in this essay.

'The Handmaid's Tale' Analysis of the Issue of Sexism

The novel takes place in a dystopian future in a country named Gilead, which is controlled by a totalitarian government. It is narrated by a Handmaid named Offred, a female character whose sole reason for existing is to bear children. She tells the story of her life when she was subjected by the the government of Gilead and reduced to sexual slavery. She also includes many flashbacks when she had freedom in her life to show the readers how life was before and after Gilead came in control.

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'The Handmaid's Tale' displays a case of sexism by highlighting the total externalization of women in Gilead. However, by additionally featuring the abuse of women in the generations following the Gileadean era, Margaret Atwood uses Offred’s point of view on women’s restriction and men’s power to propose that sexism is profoundly implanted in any society and that conscious consideration must be given to these types of discrimination to stop them. Atwood utilizing the handmaid, Offred’s point of view to narrate 'The Handmaid's Tale' was clever since Offred reserved no freedom to her body. Offred watched a video of a liberal women's activist group holding a sign that read, “Freedom to choose. Every baby is a wanted baby. Recapture our bodies”. The Handmaids’ intentions contradicted the perspectives of the liberal women's activist. The Handmaids’ bodies were specifically used to bear children and nothing else. Offred demonstrates that she has no privilege to her body in Gilead from her recollections,“I use to think of my body as an instrument of pleasure, a means of transportation, or an implement for the accomplishment of my will”. Offred's thoughts of the past are a feeling of aching and she even states her craving for the past to return, “I want everything back the way it was”.

Offred's Feminist Views Through the Novel

Offred's desperation of the past demonstrates that she supports women’s rights and since Atwood intentionally composed 'The Handmaid's Tale' in Offred’s point of view, one can conclude that Atwood supports feminism. The group of people that had the most restriction in Gilead were the Handmaids. For instance, talking freely was constrained among them. When a Handmaid would meet another Handmaid they were restricted from talking to each other. The form of greeting was also derived from them and changed, “‘Blessed be the fruit.’ she said to me, the accepted greeting among us. ‘May the Lord open’, I answer, the accepted response”. Not only were they restricted from speaking, but they were also prohibited from using their original names. Toward the beginning of Offred’s time in the Commander’s house, she tells the readers, “My name isn't Offred, I have another name, which nobody uses now because it's forbidden. I tell myself it doesn't matter, your name is like your telephone number, useful only to others; but what I tell myself is wrong, it does matter”. Once a handmaid was assigned a home and thrown into sexual slavery, their identities were stripped and their names changed to Of [thier commander’s name]. This emphasizes the point that they were under their Commander's control. Furthermore, women in Gilead are not allowed to obtain a job and or own any property so that they can not have a source of income. Offred remembers the day when she was fired from her job, “‘I have to let you go’, [the director] said. ‘It’s the law’”. A source of income means money, money means power and power means freedom, and freedom is not tolerated for women in Gilead. Women are also not allowed to read or write. In the novel, Offred found a cushion that read: FAITH. She became afraid after reading those letters and said to herself, “If I were to be caught reading it, would it count?”. The only reason she was terrified was because it was considered illegal for women to read and write; if they were caught doing it, they would receive consequences. Another example of this restriction is when the Commander offered Offred a magazine during one of her visits to his room. Although Offred throbbed for the magazine she answered, 'It’s not permitted'. Nothing in Gilead was deliberately marked by words but portrayed by an image. In the same way as the other restrictions, the boycott of reading and writing in The Handmaid's Tale is one of the measures to avert the 'benefit' of objectivity from getting under the control of women. Men thought that they were the predominant sex and deserved the benefits that women were confined to. These beliefs soon lead women to lose their opportunity and freedom; these restrictions were purposely made to keep women oppressed. Men thought they do not need restrictions because they were superior to women.

Margot Atwood includes many examples where men pose a great authority over the women of Gilead. Since Gilead was a country controlled by men who think that they are superior to the other sex, they had the advantage of dictating women’s life. Men were allowed to read, write, own property, have a job, etc. Their freedom was not restricted like it was for women. Every man in Gilead from the highest, most respected man to the poorest had control over the women. For instance, during a medical examination, the male doctor told Offred that she was not getting pregnant with the Commander so he took advantage of this opportunity and offered her to have sex with him. She simply rejected him because she was too afraid that she was going to be caught. She said, “He could fake the test, report me for cancer, have me shipped off to the colonies, with the Unwomen, but the knowledge of his power hangs nevertheless in the air”. The doctor could have just used her as a source of pleasure for himself and have her reported and banished the next day. Even though he was the one who came up with the idea, he is a male, which means that he has the power to do what he pleases.


In 'The Handmaid's Tale' book, as noted in the essay, Margaret Atwood uses Offred’s point of view on women’s restriction and men’s power to demonstrate that sexism is dangerous and is embedded in any society that is ignorant to women’s equality. By reading this novel in Offred’s point of view, the reader was able to see a woman stripped from her identity and body. Offred also got to express the many limitations women had in Gilead to give an example of how little freedom they had to themselves. Finally, Offred’s demonstration of the men’s authority and freedom reveals that men tend to believe that they are superior to women. 'The Handmaid's Tale' addresses the treatment of women in society with the expectation that women would not have to fight for equality for too long, but of course, it is upon the readers to find out whether or not this problem will be solved in the near future. 

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