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    Battle of the Sexes in “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “The Colour Purple”

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    Women are one of the most oppressed gatherings among all civilizations around the world. The theme of women’s oppression is as a result of the gender roles that society has planted upon them, which further leads them to serving a subordinate role. Thus the reason women have been accustomed to feeling oppressed is because sexism is embedded in our society which results in the belief that this is the norm. Both the novel The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood and the film The Colour Purple directed by Steven Spielberg, share the theme of women’s oppression and the negative impact it has on society, which ultimately causes division between men and women. The elements that contribute to the oppression of women and it’s continuance are the ideas of male dominance, government interference, and religious influence. This demonstrates how a patriarchal society came to exist in each of the works.

    In the wings of The Handmaid’s Tale, and The Colour Purple, torture and suffering eagerly await for women, by wielding its superiority and power through the male characters. Male dominance is emphasized throughout the texts, as it is stimulated with unions of pleasure or procreation, as well as the idea that women simply cannot navigate their way through their life without a man. The novel vividly displays the theme of male dominance throughout the novel, most frequently in chapter twelve. The utterance of protagonist Offred,“ I avoid looking down at my body, not so much because it’s shameful or immodest but because I don’t want to see it. I don’t want to look at something that determines me so completely,” indicating the extent of anguish and torment women of Gilead endure (Atwood,pg.71). The idea that one’s physical appearance overrides intellect, suggests how high men regard themselves. In the film, The Colour Purple, the audience are able to distinguish the emphasis on the male privilege. In early scenes of the film, the most dominating male character Albert Johnson, who is often referred to as ‘mister’ directs the common expression to protagonist Celie, “I want my supper when I get back”(enter citation). Although this novel explores the magnitude of liberation and redemption, it also displays the severity of how women are oppressed through violence and victimization by society. The term mister and its derivative ‘Mr’ indicates the honorific for men under the rank of knighthood. The equivalent labels for women vary from ‘Mrs’ ‘Miss’ and ‘Ms’, are all derived from the term mistress whereas a man’s title stems from the term master. Throughout the film, it is clear to see how men disregard the feelings of women. In the first scene set in the winter of 1909, Celie is shown distraught during childbirth. Despite Celie giving birth without any form of medication, her unaffected stepfather Alphonso says, “ain’t you done yet?” (enter citation). As the film progresses, the audience learns that Alphonso continuously rapes the underaged child and goes onto stealing and selling Celie’s offsprings. A common denominator shared by the novel and film prevails the popular concept that women are objects. Subsequently, in The Handmaid’s Tale the comment, “it has nothing to do with passion or love or romance or any of those other notions we used to titillate ourselves with” (Atwood, p. 94). Offred is reflecting on what it means to be physically involved. She realizes that sex has lost its purpose and value, and in the eyes of the Gilead society, reproduction overrides the idea of love. In addition, quoted by Albert towards his eldest son “women are like children, they need to know with a beating.'(enter citation). Celie accepts being looked upon as a piece of property and bears the hateful remarks made by her husband, “She tells lies,’ ‘she a bad influence’ ‘She ain’t smart either.”(enter citation). Celie views this marriage as an avenue of escape as she is mainly used to look after his ungrateful children. This displays a division between the sexes as young African American women are subjected to endure racial prejudice, and remain divided against their black, male counterparts. According to Associate Professor Abeda Sultana, she explains, the norms and practices that define women as inferior to men, are present everywhere. Thus, patriarchy is a kind of male domination we see around women all the time (Sultana,2012). Whether it is discussed through the lenses of a dystopian tale of dictatorship, in which women are enslaved and controlled with those who have viable ovaries, or whether it is displayed by dispiriting women of colour due to their social class the theme of women’s oppression is apparent.

    The role of the government and it’s constant interference cannot be ignored as it contributes towards the unequal opportunities women encounter. In regards to The Handmaid’s Tale the phrase, “Now we walk along the same street, in red pairs, and no man shouts obscenities at us, speaks to us, touches us. No one whistles” (Atwood, p.28). The dialogue here focuses on the cruel reality that women experience, as the government is forced to take measures to ensure the safety of women, suggesting how often women fall to being victims of crimes. In continuance of the quote “there is more than one kind of freedom- freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy it was freedom to now you are being given freedom from, don’t underrate it”(Atwood,p.28). This quote is said by Aunt Lydia to Offred in an attempt to disguise misery with freedom. The disguised tragedy is not yet resolved as Aunt Lydia states that freedom during the “days of anarchy” signifies a time where women were not protected. However, Aunt Lydia believes that Offred has freedom from, suggesting that despite all that women have lost, the women of Gilead are free from things such as sexist remarks and possible abuse from men. Director, Steven Spielberg allows the audience to visualize the pain and suffering that many African American women face due to the lack of government interference. In a book written by Toure titled, Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness: What It Means to be Black Now, he discusses the concepts of the male and white privilege, as well as how racism has morphed into a destructive force of comparison towards people of colour. Toure begins to question, “Who defines blackness– is it whites or blacks?”(Toure,2011). In relation to The Colour Purple, a character named Sophia had been asked to work as a maid by a lady named Miss Millie. The phrase “all your children so clean, would you like to work for me, be my maid?”(citation) Despite Miss Millie’s non-malicious intentions, Sophia was unwilling to place herself to be a white lady’s maid. Not only does this passage result in Sophia being slapped, but also being beaten and dragged off to prison by the white mayor and police officer. The mayor and the police officer were men, impling that not only abuse directed at women was legal, but also the government abusing their power and using it to their own advantage was seen as acceptable. This shows the extent of desperation in regards to reasserting their racial dominance, as slavery grants unlimited power to many slave/master relationships, giving power to the white individual to abuse the slaves mentally, physically and emotionally. According to a socialist feminist, Hartmann (1981), she evaluates the link between patriarchy and capitalism. Hartmann defines the term patriarchy as a set of relations that has a material base, resulting in hierarchical relations between men, and the solidarity among them which encourages them to dominate women. This signifies that the material base stemming from capitalism is men’s control over women’s labour power. Therefore, a sense of oppression towards women is apparent.

    Religious expectations contribute towards the division between the sexes, and is widely explored by both texts. God is depicted as a dependable and significant figure to whom, protagonists of both texts Offred and Celie can rely on, as the phrase, “be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth,” is treated as a prayer that Offred and the other Handmaids are forced to say as a public outcry to bear children (Atwood,p.88). The Republic honors the old testament in the Bible because most of their laws and regulations are based on biblical teachings. According to Hosea 13:13 “The sorrows of a woman in childbirth shall come upon him” (New King James Version). Handmaids are conditioned into thinking that their sole purpose is to reproduce. Despite religion being used as a form of propaganda, the handmaids are urged to abide by the biblical expectations. Moreover, the Bible also shows several incidents of women being used to procreate. In Genesis 30:3 it reads, “and she said, Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her and she shall bear upon my knees that I may also have children by her” (New King James Version). Rachel is encouraging the idea of adultery, as she craves a son as well as her husband, Jacob. Since the Old Testament handmaids were present, and the Republic of Gilead uses outdated Christianity to persuade women that childbearing is their main purpose. Subsequently, the field of religion is displayed throughout the film, The Colour Purple, as the continuous mention of God challenges how people perceive the presence. The audience is able to learn that God moves from being an existence at the beginning of the film to be a part of Celie. The constant reassurance and non-judgment given by God enable Celie to discover her own meaning of God. The phrase, “Dear God I’m fourteen years old and I’ve always been a good girl, maybe you can give me a sign, let me know what’s happening to me,”(citation) suggests that God is omniscient and is aware of the hardships that fourteen-year-old Celie faces. Throughout the movie, Celie addresses letters to God; as she often vents to God regarding the constant abuse she encounters by various men or unveils her pain and suffering from being apart of loved ones. Character Shug Avery who is eventually befriended by Celie at a later age believes God is real. The utterance “Well, we talk and talk about God, but I’m still adrift. Trying to chase that old white man out of my head. I been so busy thinking about him”. Celie unveils news to Shug that she no longer writes to God. when hearing this, Shug feels disheartened and attempts to enlighten Celie with a different understanding of God. Which involves Shug sidelining Celie’s perspective of God which is the presence supposedly being caucasian and male, with whom Celie has nothing in common with. However, instead of shedding light on the idea that God is a powerful entity that overlooks each other’s sins and resembles a figure whom we can all connect with. Shug argues that despite Celie’s negative connotations of God, she does not have to reject God as a whole. Celie eventually finds the strength to leave her abusive husband, however, due to this, a poor stigma is attached to men. Shug explains that Celie must not completely banish the thought of rekindling a romantic relationship, and suggests that Celie must reimagine one’s oppression rather than refusing them. Shug encourages Celie to build a relationship with God again in order to gain closure with men, as Shug teaches her that her life does not need to revolve around men exclusively, but rather as acquaintances. Instead of dismissing men and God, Shug changes the power dynamic by reimagining them. Shug is a very significant character when exploring the concept of religion. Towards the end of the film, Shug informs Celie that God is not vain but loves admiring his beautiful creations” Not vain, just wanting to share a good thing. I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.(citations)” In addition, the illustrator of the novel, The Colour Purple, Alice Walker, defines the term ‘womanist’ as “Womanist is to feminist as purple to lavender” (Walker,1983). In her book, In Search of Our Mother’s Garden: Womanist Prose, which ironically displays significance to the title of the movie. In addition, the colour purple represents aspects of wisdom dignity, pride and peace, which are qualities often associated with God. Therefore, the theme of women’s oppression is explored throughout various areas within both, Text A and Text B.

    The Handmaid’s Tale and The Colour Purple are texts which help the audience to acknowledge and visualize the ways women have been oppressed to different degrees. These texts enable the audience to realize the failure of recognition in terms of addressing this social construction. When discussing female empowerment, the idea is not to help women find their voice, but to encourage them to use it, and summon the whole world to hear. Both texts are examples of how people reject the thought of social oppression, an established hierarchy and a patriarchal system which is orchestrated by misogynistic men. The ability to break unequal norms will benefit those of another generation. Therefore, the theme of women’s oppression is demonstrated to a high extent in both texts. Include the three topics spoken.

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    Battle of the Sexes in “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “The Colour Purple”. (2022, May 10). Retrieved from

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