What was once known as the United States is now a totalitarian society known as Gilead, where women are regarded as property and bound to a commander and his wife to bare a child. A handmaid is assigned to each commander. Every month there is a ceremony to try and impregnate the handmaid and every month a mandatory check up. This is the reality of Offred who was once known as June. Gilead has stripped women of their basic rights and they have become nothing more than a vessel for a child. The sons of Jacob are oppressing the women due to their misogynistic and religious beliefs. Margaret Atwood shows us that this does not stray far from our reality. For years women have been fighting for their reproductive rights, to be able to claim their body and choices for themselves. Take Decree 770 from Romania , activist Margaret Sanger , and the case of Griswold v. Connecticut – just some of many events that contributed to the oppression or the fight for reproductive rights for women and inspired The Handmaid’s Tale. Moreover, Atwood suggests that women are mere subhumans who cannot think for themselves and have become no more than reproductive organs with no individuality nor rights.
Women in Gilead who are ranked as handmaids follow the rules in order to avoid becoming “unwomen” , they are being oppressed by making them think their only given purpose is to bear children . They are the ones given the burden of birthing a child to a commander and his barren wife. It is a ceremony of utmost importance to the people of Gilead but not for the handmaids . For the commander and his wife it a transaction for a child to aid the state of Gilead, on the other hand for the handmaids it is a painful loveless experience. They have no right to do as they please with their body or love who they want to. In Romania a crisis hit when they’re population had decreased therefore they took measures in their own hands to improve it by suggesting that their population increase . So in October of the year 1966 Decree 770 was authorized – making abortion and any form of contraception illegal. The Romanian government even went as far as taxing couples between the ages of 25-50 who did not have children.Products were removed from stores and women were forced to see a gynecologist monthly, just as we see in the handmaid’s tale. Offred is taken to the doctor by a guardian to have her monthly check up there she is a greeted by a doctor who claims he can help her. Offred puzzled at what the doctor could possibly mean asks how EXACTLY can he help her. “‘How do you think?’ he says…the doors locked . No one will come in . They’ll never know it isn’t his’” ( Atwood 60). Offred alarmed at the doctor’s suggestion of helping her by impregnating her frightens her. She knows that it is a very dangerous situation. However the doctor even tries coaxing her to do it saying others have done it before as well and that she is running out of time. She hesitates it is an easy way out, a baby for her is salvation but she dares not cross the line in fear of the consequences. Offred knows her place in this society and dares not to rebel with such a small act even if it meant a great relief would be brought upon her that also reeks of death.
Making your very own decisions about your body means letting professionals help you out in the process. Doctors are there to guide you with such tribulations. In the year of 1879 a firm law against contraception was passed. The 1879 law stated, “any person who uses any drug, medicinal article or instrument for the purposes of preventing conception shall be fined not less than forty dollars or imprisoned not less than sixty days.’ The law further provided that ‘any person who assists, abets, counsels, causes, hires or commands another to commit any offense may be prosecuted and punished as if he were the principle offender’ (McBride). Any person who assisted would have been commended for helping a woman remove the fetus or provide contraception. Just as Estelle Griswold – head of planned parenthood and Gynecologist – Lee Buxton were prosecuted for challenging the law by setting up a clinic, their case became known as Griswold v. Connecticut. Luckily they were right to rebel as the supreme court in 1965 deemed the law as a violation of rights and privacy. However that is not the case in The Handmaid’s Tale . Offred and her shopping partner Ofglen head out to do their daily groceries. They decide to head down a different route and see if any bodies have been hung up on the wall . Offred states , “The men wear white coats, like those worn by doctors or scientists. Doctors and scientists aren’t the only ones , there are others, but they must have had a run on them this morning. Each has a placard hung around his neck to show why he has been executed: a drawing of a fetus. They were doctors, then, in the time before, when such things were legal.”(Atwood 32). Doctors who participated in abortions and the like are considered war criminals now. In the time before these actions were considered legal however now they cannot be excused . The doctors are seen as examples to all the citizens of Gilead. Even a woman will not seek to terminate a pregnancy in Gilead for that is a way of salvation and gives them a purpose.
Margaret Sanger was an activist for women’s rights until she passed away in 1966. She was the first to coin the term birth control , she fought for contraception that women were able to control themselves. She once said , “No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother.” This speaks volumes to the continuous suffering of the handmaids for they have no say in whether they want to bare children. The handmaids are brainwashed into thinking they are serving Gilead, but in reality they have no basic rights. Offred notes, “I used to think of my body as an instrument, of pleasure, or a means of transportation, or an implement for the accomplishment of my will . . . Now the flesh arranges itself differently. I’m a cloud, congealed around a central object, the shape of a pear, which is hard and more real than I am and glows red within its translucent wrapping”(Atwood 73). Offred feels trapped within herself since she has been reduced to a mere womb. She cannot decide for herself whether to become a mother or not but it is put in the hands of Gilead . She no longer is an individual . Her self is no longer important , and Gilead makes it clear they only need one thing from the handmaids. They have been dehumanized but in a way it’s as if they have been desensitized from what is right . She must feel as if she is content for she has nothing to look forward for but to become pregnant .
Throughout history women have been fighting for the right to be the rulers of their own bodies . Even though they may face lots of hardships to get to where they want to . Margaret Atwood does an amazing job depicting these events in the fictional world of Gilead. The oppression of women simply not able to decide what is done with their bodies is something we in the present take for granted. There are so many resources we can choose from all thanks to activists and the like. Every woman should feel human and feel comfortable about their body . Empowered – because our bodies are not just for making babies. Women can be as amazing as men . Every woman deserves to govern their bodies the way they want and whether they want to bare children or not . The oppression of women’s rights due to misogyny or religious views is unjust. We have the right to contraception and choose who we make love to. Women have to rebel and speak about issues regarding our bodies and our sexual desires we have to break that stigma that we can only serve and rely upon husbands for we too are just as capable.