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Why is the Handmaid’s Tale so important?

Why is the Handmaid’s Tale so important?
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Last night, critically acclaimed dystopian drama ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ took home two Emmys, one for best actress, one for best show- but what is this drama that has come from nowhere to steal the show- and why is it so important?

Set presumably in the future North America, this dystopian tale tells the story of June, who is swept from her normal life of loving her husband, holding down a job, having a beautiful daughter and a vibrant best friend, into a completely different setting.

The Handmaid’s Tale tells of a virus, caused by an unknown reason, that has ultimately lead to a majority proportion of the American female population becoming infertile and unable to bear children.

The answer? A new regime, one that terrorises the rights of women. They are unable to work, their earnings are given to men and slowly, the process happens. The norm of society is seen to collapse, with June commenting; ‘I was asleep before- that’s how we let it happen.’

The Republic of Gilead is born, fertile women are removed from their partners, who are often executed, before being placed into the homes of the wealthy as ‘handmaids’, here they are simply the carriers of children, at the mercy of the head of the house.

They are pressed into domestic service and made to bear the children of the rich, birthing children they will never raise.

Anyone who disagrees with the regime is punished or executed, abortion is illegal, homosexuality is illegal, a rather harrowing and poignant scene from the series involves Offred, as June is renamed when she joins the society, walking past the execution wall, where a ‘doctor and a gay man’ hang.

The series is undoubtedly hard to watch as it raises questions, as any dystopian drama would, about how our society essentially links to that of the show.

The regime we see in the Handmaid’s Tale is evidently sparked by fear, a fear that is stirred by the people in charge, who fan the flames of uncertainty into everyday life. The fear of terrorism, of death, of disease, all these aspects explored in the drama can be linked to the administration of Trump today.

The travel ban, implemented in February 2017, based its ideals on ‘protecting the USA’, yet whose actual basis focused on contradicting the ideals of the statue of liberty and of freedom, as all Muslims travelling from a specific seven countries were banned from entering the USA for 90 days, as the USA worked out ‘what was going on’.

Women’s rights, also another prominent feature of the Trump campaign, carry unnerving links to the dystopian setting of the Handmaid’s Tale.

In the drama, all abortion is completely illegal and also punishable by death, even the doctors and medical professionals who would have carried out the procedure are executed if they are known to be practising the activity still under the new regime.

In February, President Trump restricted abortion rights for all women in the USA heavily. The bill, which claims all ‘pre-marital sex, same-sex marriage and abortion to be wrong’ was seen to breeze through a profoundly Republican based congress.

handmaids-tale-in-linePlanned Parenthood staff protest the Bill

The Bill, restricts federal funded organisations, such as Planned Parenthood, who offer safe and invaluable advice on contraception options, morning after pills, abortions and child support, preventing them from receiving a large proportion of government intervention and aid.

The Bill also allows employers to restrict their employees to health care in the form of contraceptive options, if their religious beliefs are against birth control.

Employees are usually able to receive contraception at an affordable rate through the Affordable Care Act, however, this has been radically rethought.

In May, Trump also ensured that the USA would be providing no further health aid to developing countries (who were helped under Obama), that advocate contraception and abortion, as well as AIDS prevention in Africa and Mexico.

This move will undoubtedly increase the levels of people with HIV/Aids throughout developing countries.

Coming back to the Handmaid’s Tale, the placing of Offred in the house of a rich, white male can be linked to further administrative actions put in place through Trump.

Oklahoma this year have passed a law which states that no abortion can be carried out until the woman in question has supplied a written form of consent from the father of the children, therefore giving him the decision- over the woman.

There are also further reports that the state of Arkansas will legally allow a man to prevent his wife from undergoing an abortion, even if the child has been conceived through rape. If the woman is still seen to undergo the abortion, this would be illegal and therefore punishable by prison time, which Arkansas have commented would make the woman feel ‘more responsible’ and conscious of her decision.

In The Handmaid’s Tale, the handmaids are encouraged to blame the rape of a women on the victim in question, another trait that can be seen to be reminiscent of today.

Slut shaming, victim blaming, attempts to tell a woman that what she was wearing was the cause for the attack, a Canadian judge last year caused controversy as he allegedly told a woman she should have pushed her backside down into the sink to prevent the rape.

In America, Trump was seen to repeal a security of information act that called for all employers to be transparent about their wage pay outs to their workers, that way if a woman was seen to be paid less for the same job filled by a man, she could appeal this.

However, now that employers do not have to do this; they are keeping hush hush about it all.

The Bill restricting abortion, health care and contraceptive rights, was passed in March, as women witnessed their ability to decide what happens to their body now placed into the hands of white men.

In resistance to this decision, workers of Planned Parenthood were actually seen to walk through Washington D.C dressed as handmaids, to silently stand outside the government building as a silent yet chilling reminder of what can happen, and what is happening to the reproductive rights of a woman’s body.

30handmaids1_xp-jumbo-1000x600Planned Parenthood protest the Bill outside the White House, fittingly dressed as Handmaids

The Handmaid’s Tale’s message is becoming increasingly important and influential and is something that as many people as possible need to see and understand.

People need to become aware of this drama and the difficult themes it is seen to tackle, with men deciding and debating over Offred’s reproductive rights as a woman being terrifyingly reminiscent of the Trump Administration today and countless other countries in 2017.

Poland last year were seen to attempt a complete ban on abortion and a heavy restriction on birth control, any woman found guilty would face prison.

This year they are trying again, attempting to attack women’s health care right at its heart, preventing the sale of the morning after pill in pharmacies, which is currently sold at an affordable rate for all women aged over 15.

The plans would mean that women will have to see a doctor before being given the pill, at a much more expensive price, meaning that many women will not receive the pill within the advised time frame.

Clearly, these moves are to ensure that women are prevented from receiving the help they are entitled to, during the small window that the morning after pill can be taken in.

With the Handmaid’s Tale slowly gaining acclaim, with two Emmy wins and countless articles now discussing its importance, should we be concerned and even scared as a nation whilst watching the show.

Or should we feel anger? As upon looking at the countless administrative decisions made each month on the rights of women, are we looking at a future of severe restriction for women’s healthcare?

The Handmaid’s Tale is available on Hulu.

Elizabeth Whittingham Elizabeth is a third year history student studying at The University of Manchester.

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