The Handmaid’s Tale (TV Show)

The story takes place in Gilead, where the birth rate has dropped sharply. Women with childbearing potential were selected as “handmaidens,” deprived of all freedom. After being re-educated, they were replaced with new names and uniforms and were assigned to families in power. Among them, they serve as a bridging bridge for couples. The protagonist June (also known as Offred) is one of the maids. June was assigned to Archbishop Waterford and his wife’s family. On the first day, the ceremony was to be performed immediately: the maid lay between the wife’s legs, and the husband entered the maid at the other end.

During the process, the husband and the maid could not make any eyes or physical contact. After the ceremony is over, the husband needs to leave the room immediately. Sex is only a tool for the reproduction of offspring. All sexual contacts that do not aim at this are regarded as lust and sin. Sexual intercourse also stipulates that it can only be carried out in one way; even among couples, since most of them are infertile, sex is regarded as unnecessary contact. Nick who is Waterford’s worker has always had a subtle interaction with June. Why June had a relationship with Nick, she also said in the show, it is likely that the other party is just within reach; she chose to use her body to rebel because this is the only tool the characters have when their subjective consciousness is completely deprived. In many cases, desire does not directly stem from desire, but the imagination inspired by excessive suppression. Like when June said to herself after the incident: “I can say that this is to fight against the suppression of the establishment, but in the final analysis, it just feels good.” Morality in this setting was indispensable.

The issue of what consisted of morally wrong and morally right existed on a surface level which itself was dictated by a class of men to other men, i.e., men of power and subservient men who were meant to follow the laws and norms hence placed. The ideal society narration was dictated by the bishop and his wife Serena to propagate their Christian ideas. In real life we have restricted freedom, all our freedom is based on ideas that are considered the norms, in most case scenarios revolting ideas, are seen as a rebellion, and are generally deterred against. As stated by Kelsen, the basic norm of a legal order prescribes that one ought to behave as the “fathers” of the Constitution and the individuals – directly or indirectly authorised by the constitution command.

All control and order were in the hands of the bishop who manipulated his wife; the co-founder who initially pursued the same dream and later went on to become a mere puppet in the hands of the regime. It was ensured that the regime was followed and respected, the person responsible for training the women and brainwashing them into following the regime was also surprisingly a woman. She sincerely served the regime that she was made to believe in, and sincerely disciplines the rebellious maid. In her eyes, cruel punishment is just a necessary means to bring lost women back to the right path. She may have enjoyed a few extra authorities than other women did, however in the eyes of religious leaders, she was nothing but ruling props for obedience.  It’s the same with the Archbishop. It is a common idea that unites them closely. After the establishment of the Gillette Republic, he entered the centre of power, and the great temptation brought by power changed him from a nerdy social activist to a respectable politician. After the committee refused to let his wife deliver a speech at the ceremony, he comforted his wife and lied that he had tried his best to fight for her. In fact, he didn’t want his wife to be on stage at all. He invented the fertilization ceremony, which not only allows the maid to pass on the line to the upper class but also reassures the bishop’s wife so that they feel that they are participating in it. He thinks that he is the one who is powerful, but in fact, the only one who is powerful is power itself. Once he loses power, he will have nothing. In a political scenario like Gilead, people are lured in by giving them false hopes of power. Like we see with Nick a character from the show who was powerless before the regime. he was favoured by extremist religious organizations. He was told that it was not him but the society that was at fault. He was asked to come, join them to change society and meet a new future together. This is the typical revolution of the proletariat. It’s just that the new future is coming as promised. 

In the show, June said that “Nothing will change in an instant, just like boiling a frog in warm water, it will be burned to death before you find something wrong.” The wheel of history does not always move forward, repetition and retrogression are the norms in human society. The establishment of the maid system is based on the importance of fertility, and the social structure of Gilead is also based on this. From open to closed, Gilead did not use force brutally. The measures it took were step-by-step and gradual, like boiling frogs in warm water, gradually changing people’s concepts and allowing more people to approve their actions. Gilead first emphasized the terrible domestic security, making armed forces the norm in society and creating powerful guarantees for actions, and then began to gradually reform people’s understanding of women. Women’s bank accounts were seized, and economic opportunities were snatched away from them. In this narrative, a woman becomes a weak person and needs the protection of a man, protecting her body, and protecting her life. Unable to work, women’s social value cannot be reflected in the workplace; men have become the only source of family income, and women have become vassals, forced to find value in family life.

It should also be noted that Gilead wrote the methods of raising children into the law, emphasizing the importance of children. This became the norm and the law of society. Whether or not it was morally corrupt or serves justice is out of the question. It is a law and therefore it must be followed. Any reservation against it would be punished. While sanctifying fertility, Gilead cracked down on all concepts and behaviours that are contrary to fertility. Contraception has become a crime, and doctors who provide contraceptives have been hanged; sexual minorities have been stigmatized and have become an outlier in society. Once discovered, they may be killed or exiled to contaminated areas to perform hard labour.

These measures were linked to each other, and it didn’t take long before the gender concept of the entire society had undergone tremendous changes. Therefore, in the patriarchal society of Gilead, no women can truly escape the fact that they are oppressed. No matter how to give play to their gender advantages and how to use the established social rules, women can only obtain temporary petty gains and short-term self-comfort. When institutionalized oppression requires them, the system tempts them: Come and be my accomplice!

In exchange, I will let you get a waiver. But in fact, no one can end up staying aloof. The system uses this illusion to tempt our internal divisions, and ultimately become the beneficiaries of this division.

In Gilead, everything is in order, at least in order to present a hierarchy of order. This pursuit of order and certainty has always been one of our important desires. Human beings use their rational power to continuously clarify the chaos of the world and strive to live in a clear and safe environment. In the process of social development, institutionalization shows great power. Our behaviour is clearly defined, all procedures have standards, and efficiency is greatly improved. There is no loophole in institutionalised oppression, and nobody can stay out of it. According to Hart, Rules are conceived and spoken of as imposing obligations when the general demand for conformity is insistent and the social pressure brought to bear upon those who deviate or threaten to deviate is great.

The operation of the entire society is strongly institutionalized. From the perspective of the leading group of Gilead, the past society was unstable, chaotic, and full of variables; disregard for rules caused social resources to be consumed internally and unable to contribute more to development. Therefore, they want to build a completely orderly country. Institutionalization must not only play a role in the work process of social institutions but also extend to all aspects of people’s lives. Clothing styles must be hierarchical, child-rearing methods must be regulated, and lifestyles must be standardized. The same is true for the maid’s system. What is the job of a maid, how long to stay in the home of the master, how long to give birth to the child before transferring to the next family, everything is regulated, no need to think and make decisions, things can be orderly to proceed. But the superstition of institutionalization is dangerous. Institutionalization often regards its objects as fixed and unchanging, as being in some single dimension. When institutionalization is pushed into our lives unrestrainedly, we can easily become dehumanized and become a thing. This is the fate that the handmaidens endured. In the operating system of Gilead, they became fertility machines. The extreme gender outlook and the feeling of oppression are chilling. 


  1. Hans Kelsen, General Theory of Law and State (Harvard University Press 1945) 115-116
  2. H.L.A. Hart, The Concept of Law (Oxford University Press 1994) 86

Aishwarya Says:

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