Female Identity in the Context of Patriarchal Society in “The Handmaid’s Tale”

Female Identity in the Context of Patriarchal Society in “The Handmaid’s Tale”

By Donald Ducy

  • Introduction

Just like any other artistical works always have key goals and positions to illuminate in a given society, Margaret Atwood’s novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, is non-exceptional. Generally, the author envisions a myriad of thematic concerns that affect our various societies more satirical, making her writings and overall insinuations mutually contemplatable to the target audience. Ever since she wrote this novel in 1985, there has been a plethora of conspiracies and other correlated criticism from other artistic professionals and fellow authors. Regardless, the novel universally remains one of the most subtle but essential that has envisioned numerous aspects such as totalitarianism, theocratism, and other vital elements like women’s roles in society. Besides, the author touches on how oppressive societal treatments and norms limit women and escalates social violence.

According to the novel The Handmaid’s Tale, the position of women is faced with multiple suppressive and oppressive treatments. In other words, female identity is one of the most conspicuous themes in the context of Atwood’s novel. As there are significant instances in the novel where the author criticizes male power systems, the general work tends to unpack the constraints in the context of feminism. In other words, the disunity of the social system through the repression of women is very open and easily identifiable in the novel. With respect to patriarchal control in most of the Western societies reinforced with oppressive and repressive treatments where rights are not equal for both genders, the novel Handmaid’s Tale gives a more relevant and clear insight to both (Tara). Based on the theme of female identity, Atwood’s work gives prolifically distinctive clarifications about issues touching on gender roles and human rights, equality, feminism matters, mythical definitions and societal perceptions of the female gender, the probable socio-economic non-mutual exploitation of women, and how the society visualize the position and relationship of female and male genders[1].

Analytically, Atwood is subject to critical global dialogue as her insinuations regarding the female position in society are concerned. This is because the novel clearly indicates the level of dissolution of the US referred to as in common term’ hatred for women under the emergence and establishment of socio-religious solid fundamentalism’. This type of hatred is generally manifested in the Gilead nation, the epitome of the socialistically oppressive regime. The system of governance portrayed by the narrator in the Republic of Gilead is full of puritanical patterns, militarism, reactionary systems, and totalitarian leadership systems that are socially unfavorable for human life. As posited in the novel, misogyny is very evident. The Republic of Gilead is a clear epitome of an intense form of misogyny, which is not as often perceived to be a war and hatred of men against women, but rather of women against women—implying hatred of women on their fellows (Walker). The author Atwood in this context, gives a more current momentum state of feminism from a traditional context and militaristic system, giving a clear impetus on the position of women in the patriarchal societal setting-Gilead Republic[2].  This paper, therefore, seeks to expound on the various aspects expounded by Atwood in the novel The Handmaid’s Tale by critically analyzing the novel covering the various sections presented subsequently.

Summary of the Paper

Generally, the novel is narrated by one of the key protagonists, Offred, who is the subject to most of the occurrences in the tale. The author Atwood is more satirical in her display of thoughts as she sheds light on the various challenges women encounter in the Republic of Gilead. The paper has also touched on the various instances where power and socio-economic preference are awarded to men at the expense of men. In the Gilead state, it is notable above that woman is seen as of negligible significance to society as their roles are assumed nonessential. For example, the paper illustrates how women get fired from their jobs and all their material belongings take. Besides, they are taken accountable for any societal ‘failure’ that may happen to a given family: an inability to have children. In Gilead, for any family that does not have a child, the woman is taken responsibility for such a menace, and the fertile women are using an object of sex and childbearing. Various thematic concerns have been pinpointed in the paper. For example, Patriarchy and masculinity giving critical examination to the structures of Gilead’s patriarchic system and traditional gender roles. In this context, Gilead is one of the societies that rely on a very complex and gender-based discriminative leadership system. Women have no rights over most of the basic human wants. At the same time, men are the universal holders and controllers of every aspect of society, rendering women powerless in one way or the other.

Moreover, the paper has examined various key characters and their character contributions to the tale, including Offred, Ofglen, Serena, and their contributions to the text. They are protagonist characters upon which a number of the above-stated themes are detachable. As another profound section, the paper expounded on gender performativity in the Gilead society and backed it up with an exploration of various sub-elements of this aspect, including appearance and behavior, women and childbearing, and loss of identity as pertinent aspects. Within these sub-aspects, the perceptive roles of women have been comprehensively analyzed, and their contribution to the plot deduced inclusively with an ultimate locus on the major pivotal protagonist characters not leaving behind Offred, Serena, Commander, Luke, and Ofglen, among other subtle characters.

  • Margaret Atwood and dystopia
    • Margaret Atwood as a feminist author

In retrospect, the Handmaid’s Tale critically analyzes and provides retaliation on the aspect of feminism. Feminism is associated with advocacy of women’s rights in accordance with equality of sexes that is partisan, social, and economic equivalence. Margaret Atwood, in his literature, is depicted as a symbol that pushed for a political and social philosophy that promoted individual freedom and rights. Ideally, it was a process that occurred in stages. Globally, every aspect of life is evolving and advancing, starting from the growth of industries, communal reforms, the trend of dissemination of resources, or even geographical expansion. Subsequently, every individual within the locality owns the right to benefit from such trends. The advocates fixated on political ideologies and, to be specific, the right to vote where there was the discrimination of female nature. Reforms in the state electoral process would win women acknowledgement opportunities, thus endorsing parity.

Women’s recognition was in darkness, and their concerns lacked proper direction.  Their affairs were seldom deliberated over or partially attended to, which was a sign of ignorance from the responsible stakeholders. The mode of treatment women was undergoing pertinently in their family setting indicated isolation from the social environment. It deprived them of the opportunity to engage in social activities that involve several heads, precisely joint meetings or activities. This deliberate lack of involvement of women’s interest and inconsequentiality view of their concerns called for wave-deliberation, designed to enlighten society on women’s social affairs and other relevantly significant issues. The activists based their argument on factual and on the existence of the law to aid in controlling and curbing the headache.

Research has it that individuals were mentally grounded that women were wicked individuals whose views appeared inappropriate, and therefore their views were filtered and discarded. Preferably, the most appropriate approach was to eradicate this perspective from society and ensure the inclusion of women in the power structure to represent the interests of their subjects. Basing on facts, every citizen has the right to vote, and this needed to be given room and work effectively. Lawfully, every individual is imposed to various freedom and rights according to the written constitution. These are some of the activated aspects that advocates were working on hand-in-hand to ensure the success of the liberal process (Sacco and Casey). On the other hand, awareness is a powerful tool to end such impunity within society. As a matter of fact, women were addressed and equipped with the appropriate knowledge regarding their distinctive lives as connected to the political world and how they can enhance active involvement in politics[3].

This negative perspective of women gave rise to the male sex thriving, beginning from minor assets of life to leadership and manning various departments within the society exclusive of women. Atwood as a backer, condemned this and was in to eradicate this poor culture. The advocacy pushed for women’s understanding of their opportunities both socially, politically, and economically that was undermined by cultural myths and misconceptions (Sacco and Casey).  Through numerous approaches, including arty work, they reduced and avoided male-eroded sectors and affairs with the intent of inflicting them negatively to pave the way for the rise of women. They were exclusively concerned with women’s empowerment and provided the adequate and necessary support for their political and leadership development. Margaret labelled women as intellectuals inculcated with uncountable virtues for various leadership positions in society. Women are depicted as constitutional individuals, welcoming when it comes to the handling of the subjects[4].

To some extent, the above sentiments could act as reforms to elevate women in society. Still, as a Feminist, Atwood opposed this grounding on the fact that in as much as struggles are established to rescue the female nature, the strategy should be less biased or completely not biased to the other sex. This technique plotted for the downfall of the male sex to accommodate the female nature.

Importantly, another viable aspect of feminism is separatism which engrossed pertinently on female-based relationships, interactions, and empowerment particularly. Separatism illustrates that women become isolative figures to render maximum sustenance and maintenance to fellow women by creating social business areas to encourage togetherness (New York University Press). This aspect to faced criticization since it did not offer the optimal solution. Typically, men just required some form of rehabilitation and equipment with appropriate knowledge concerning the issue. Their senses will automatically conform to consciousness and thus avert the negative view rather than department them. That could not be a good solution for Atwood.

Similarly, separatism too advocated for an aspect of bitter indignation at having been mishandled (New York University Press). This led to the creation of a negative attitude towards men by the women. According to Atwood’s research, this could not work because the society is already a set-up entailing both the male and the female character. The most vital facet is to enhance cohesion between the two parties.

Radical feminism focused on elaborating gender roles that necessitated equality for every aspect of human life in society. It critically analyzed the roles of both men and women in society, where each role can thrive best when rendered the right opportunity. After bringing this to societal consciousness, it outlined the side effects of women’s subjugation in the society profoundly and therefore sorted to the best approach of restoring cohesion (Feldman-Kolodziejuk and Ewelina). It majorly disseminated basic knowledge to both men and women that could help them fight the challenge and accept one another through equal sharing of the available utility.  Atwood confirmed with radical feminism since it advocated for positivity in both the sexes, which were most apposite[5].


  • Margaret Atwood’s dystopian fiction

Margaret, in her literature, judgmentally gives probe to the impunity in the society regarding the female gender and renders the society as a social setting accompanied with immense suffering and injustice pertinently to the female sex. She gives it a post-apocalyptic view with induced reactivated feeble perception and abhorrence towards women. In this context, the male nature, perceived as the superior character, exercised a high degree of dominance by entertaining strict division between the righteous and inferior in society (religious fundamentalism). The abhorrence has majorly depicted the infliction of a decent censorious attitude regarding the female sex (Rúa). Female nature was undermined, and anything relating to economic, political and social progress and reforms faced a lot of rebellion from men, which was considered null and void. This automatically paves the way for increasingly unsuccessful female reforms. According to her research, women were less important creatures in society and were more vulnerable to hostile treatment[6].

Ideally, this kind of separation system is considered outdated techniques of handling human nature and is considered dehumanizing. She questions the societal customs and regulations in ensuring equality or the constitutional guidelines on issues of gender and the individuals responsible for facilitating the voice of every gender in the existing society.  She pointed out the masculinity practices that stressed dominion and superiority over femininity. It also stimulates the control of men over women and, as a fact, maintained gender discrimination (Rúa). This culture worked to pin women in terms of inferiority, hindering them from advancing. This stimulated the male nature to exercise more domination over women increasingly. Another upcoming issue is the more masculine power erection. This additionally gave way for domination and dissociation in society. The female gender is a sensitive character that requires privacy and respect when embracing their leisure periods. Admittance to vacation was a denial opportunity for the female nature in the society due to inadequate or complete lack of galaxies to provide the leisure itself. This depicts how women exist in an oppressional environment where even the essential needs cannot be considered. As a result, women majorly explored figurative language, which was more persuasive and effective incorporated with figures of speech to express the oppressive nature, especially to the women who were over mistreated in the society.

Apart from domination over, Atwood also explains abuse of power as a critical issue manning the oppression of women in the society (Kulić). This is majorly connected with the unlawful use of supremacy to promote self-interest or induce influence to a particular fraction of employees. Another form of this is coercing subjects to engage in unlawful decision-making. This aspect was also depicted in the bullying of schoolgirls, which is another version of female nature. Bullying is an aggressive form of an illegal act aimed at inflicting harm or attack. Girls with a thirst for formal knowledge faced a wider range of bullying acts, including physical beating and other different forms of punishment[7]. This is a demoralizing act, and researches show that it led to school dropout among girls with bright future due to the unbearable learning environment. Atwood mentioned slavery as a form of degrading women in the society where women were exploited by others and considered as working property or tools. Such individuals were exposed to any kind of available task without regard to the committing factor or the degree of the task (Zarrinjooee, B and Kalantarian). This was inhuman basing on the fact that women are less masculine. In addition to slavery, women were exposed to Salem with trials which are considered as a succession of hearings, proceedings, and prosecutions of individuals suspects of witchcraft in the society. Regarding the Salem nature, the trials were unethical but were aimed at inflicting and suppressing subjects from airing the nakedness of the administrative system. These were extremities safeguarded by soviet schemes, characterized by a single-party system and exercise supremacy over the subjects and above all, the State-controlled everything.

Atwood termed such a society as a wrecked system that imposes many obstacles to the inhibitors and specifically the female nature. There should be a way round to avoid such. A system that limits the women on matters of fertility control information, the services are pertaining to prenatal, delivery, and post-natal care (Rúa). As a society of State, women should be encouraged to regularly visit clinics during such periods for better control and follow up of health issues of the developing baby.  During such stage’s women should be provided with complementary services to enhance smoothness[8].

Conversely, society never minds about the welfare of the upcoming generation, and therefore, poor-quality services are offered to herald suffering among women. This discourages reproducing since it is viewed as a source of suffering rather than a beneficial aspect. Such scenarios exposed women’s life to danger and were considered health deteriorating and risking.


  • Under His Eye – Patriarchy and Masculinity
    • Patriarchy

According to the descriptive definition of feminist theory, women or females are often viewed as profound subordinates to men. The fundamental societal pattern of Patriarchy brings about such a system. Patriarchy is a conspicuous social pattern established and implemented around the community but with unequal leadership and power relations. It is set in such a way that men are of greater power than women. On a broader exploration of this context, Patriarchy is a kind of Greek and roman leadership system of law, where men are considered, treated, and rendered as the heads of households. It is on men that are given the ultimate legal rights and freedom to maintain and control the social and economic systems of the society or the family (Tara). In simple terms, it implies that men are granted these great powers dependents on the women of the society in place.  However, this usage has a great threat to the vital and renowned historical reality. The level to which male dominance in the context of societal make-up ultimately distorts the actual past realities of various communal settings. However, according to Atwood, men are not just given roles based on maybe their capacities but rather based on their gender as males[9].

In other words, the dichotomy of roles and responsibilities depicted in The Handmaid’s Tale generally manifests that males hold power in all the vital sections of the community, the Gilead republic. They have authority over important societal institutions, and conversantly, women are denied the rightful capacity to either access or utilize such power. Women have relatively minute roles and power compared to women in the Republic of Gilead[10]. The level of deprivation of rights and freedom of women is so high that whatever the roles the women play in the society are not considered significant but rather basic. However, it does not necessarily insinuate that the female gender does not have any critical roles to play neither are they powerless no. it simply, in the literal analysis, manifest that the female gender, on a comparative analogy, has relatively lesser rights, freedoms, power, insignificant overall societal influence. They also have relatively limited socio-economic resources compared to men (Amelie). According to the system of governance in the Republic of Gilead, which is ultimately militaristic, men can be generally seen and considered exploitative in one way or the other. According to Sylvia Walby (20), in a patriarchal system, ale dominates women and represses and consequently excessively socioeconomically exploits the female gender. Such a system is concisely articulated on gender roles or rather designed and established on a gender basis. Regardless of whether one is born a man or a female in the Gilead republic, gender is what defines and determines one’s position and role in the general society rendering the Republic of Gilead a complete sexist system altogether[11].

In the Republic of Gilead, Offred is an embodiment of a handmaid. Her major role, as defined by the patriarchal Gilead society, is to sire children. Most uniquely, she provides children to the societally acknowledged men who are considered successful in the community, but their wives are unreproductive or generally infertile to conceive and give birth. The totalitarian system of governance reinforced with the patriarchy pattern issues the handmaids with their selected households (Geetanjali). The novel is a precise depiction of two major characters, Offred and Serena Joy, as major embodiments of female antagonism. The two characters complement each other in a sense they Offred is evidence of a protagonist. In contrast, Serena Joy, despite being a comparatively minor character, is essential in criticism of the societal Patriarchy of the Republic of Gilead. In the Handmaid’s Tale, Patriarchy seems to have followed various stage-wise steps in the Gilead society. Women are unwillingly compelled to function as breeding sites for infertile women. In the novel, Atwood shows that the female gender is an embodiment of societal resources though based on their biological fertility and their occupational capacities pre-patriarchal Gilead. The whole process began when the president was attacked and the congress criticized to homogenize the society both from the social and economic perspective with a profound locus on socio-economic equity. However, the most critical consequence of the proposed trials was seizing women’s belongings and general assets by the Republic of Gilead (Herrera). All their assets were frozen, and their pre-Gilead employers fired all working women. In Atwood (187), “Any account bearing a Female holder instead of Male holder, all the government wanted is to push the buttons a little bit. Women gender cannot hold any assets anymore on the new law.” As for the fertility aspect, fertile women like Offred are given the roles, responsibilities, and duties of handmaids in correspondence to the biblical texts like the story of Rachel and Jacob. Rachel was barren in the biblical text, and as a result, Jacob, her husband, was given Bilhah, who carries on with the procreation roles of Rachel[12].

The patriarchal criteria on how roles were dichotomized in the Gilead society were based on various aspects. For instance, it begins with recognition and appreciation of reproductive women but with the limitation of possessing material belongings. Secondly, a societal organization based on Patriarchy is the fundamental base of any family of Gilead. The next phase involved assigning higher ranks to men, and slavery was initiated and conducted based on gender, with women at higher risks. Then, sexual subordination was established and made ultimately legal order of the day. Besides, women were grouped, and respect accorded in terms of marital statuses with the married women accorded higher respect with the unmarried having no respect from the society- Gilead Republic. According to the Book of Genesis, female sexual statuses without reproducing and procreating are associated with curses and evils. Such infertility-related aspects from the Handmaid’s Tale are evident (Privett). All these are the general patriarchal system of Gilead in the context-Under His Eye.


  • The structures of Patriarchy

Analytically, The Handmaid’s Tale patriarchy has explicit structures logically presented by Atwood, the core author. The patriarchal system is structured into six implicit levels. They include the pattern on housework or domestic chores, occupation or paid work, the government of the State, socio-economic violence, gender and sexuality, and societal culture. These six elements interact differently within the Republic of Gilead and, in so doing, explicitly present different structural forms of Patriarchy. It is conformable that these pertinent structural forms of the Gilead patriarchal system have critical causal implications precisely to each other (Mathews). However, the causal impacts are in such a way that they both initiate reinforcement and socio-blockage situations in a more comparatively unanimous way. In other words, there exists, in the Republic of Gilead. These primary essential structures are vital to identify and co-capture the differences in gender relations and other sociological variations within the Western communities at large, specifically the US[13].

From most of the context within The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood broadly shows the systemic pattern of housework, which is primarily concerned and linked with patriarchal socio-economic intercorrelations within the household in place. Housework patriarchal structure focuses on how the Gilead State perceives and contemplates the production relations in the society. Some of the house chores include preparing meals, housekeeping, taking care of children and other deserving family members, and doing domestic shopping, among other roles of that sort, depicts the primary responsibilities that were left in the women’s sphere of influence. It Is on such roles that the Gilead societal culture divides and specializes in labor on a gender basis in the households (pg. 21). The husbands or men who are considered socially successful in the Gilead community expropriate roles and responsibilities in the patriarchal Gilead State based on the stated factors (Jessica Calvi et al.). Correspondingly, the female gender, including adult women and parents of Gilead state, is only viable to acquire and receive the necessary maintenance within their respective households only under the condition that they unanimously satisfy the above-stated labor system. However, this happens frequently when the women in place are not involved in any form of salaried labor (pg. 21)[14]. From the narrator’s context (pg. 61), it is clear that family is the basic social unit in the patriarchal Gilead society. This unit defines the general social order and overall sustainability and stability. At the family level, women are under ultimate control by the heads of family units. Based on the concept of children respecting and obeying their fathers, women should fear their heads of family units in marriage (Jessica Calvi et al.).

The other structure of Patriarchy is occupation, also called paid work. According to this patriarchal structure, women are not able to secure better jobs in Gilead state. This structure is one of the most complex patriarchal dichotomies of the Gilead society. The female gender is selectively segregated into classes that insinuates worthlessness and being looked down upon. They are categorized as the most unskilled sections of the community and consequently the worst residents (pg. 21). As this system may sound like it is a form of cohesive capitalism working hand in hand with the patriarchal system, there exist extreme social pressures within the Gilead state since there are completely diverging opinions from the societal people concerning the female gender-women (Kiarer). In the Gilead state, when a woman secures an employment contract and is paid wages or salaries, such women are assumed to be having a relatively low workload in their respective households rendering them financially independent from their spouses (pg. 41)[15].

The State is another patriarchal structure of the Republic of Gilead. According to the narrator, State is just as a vital patriarchal aspect of Gilead society as racism and capitalism in the sense that it is a single site for endless struggles under a pre-designed intermittent bias, which works towards the accomplishment of objectives that are patriarchal both in the political context and social actions. However, this has undergone several transitional changes with respect to prevailing situational circumstances, regardless of the direction. In the pre-Gilead, women would only secure job opportunities only to be fired in the long run, especially during WW2 in Great Britain (Hogsette). Besides, on page (51), it is notable that male-based politicized unions emerged and pushed legislation that would ensure the ultimate massive firing of employed women off their workstations, and this was the State of the State.

Fourthly, there is violence as a patriarchal structure. Similarly, male gender violence is so much evidential patriarchal structure in the Gilead state despite its characteristic individualistic and subtle features. In line with this, the female gender frequently encounters and bears various extreme behaviours that manifest even further undesirable conditions in their own lives. On pg. 21, it is notable that violence is experienced at almost every stage of Gilead’s societal life, both in the privately-owned premises and the government-owned or public spheres in a number of varying degrees, levels, and forms. Comparatively, male violence seems to be legal. It is tolerated by society, and this is provable by the State’s ultimate denial and total refusal to initiate a legal probe and mitigate the social menace but does so under gender-based exceptional criteria. In so happening, societal evils such as rape, domestic fights, extreme harassment, among others of the same class, are relatively decentralized and condoned as parts and parcel of the Republic itself (Zarrinjooee and Kalantarian).  However, in most cases, it is perceived as individual practice violence in Gilead against the female gender by the ‘successful men’ depicts the social setting that peripherally conditions and defines the societal relations[16].

Another vital depictable patriarchal structure is sexuality. Heterosexuality in the Gilead state is compulsory in the sense that no woman has a decisional voice on the communal social verdicts regarding sex. In various cases, sexuality has been viewed and contemplated like a taboo, especially when it comes to the practice itself. Regardless, this is not somewhat a private topic of concern altogether. This is because, in the Gilead society, sexuality is something that is not inclined to, let’s say, emotional or psychological system and process, but a patriarchal system that is established and compelled by the State completely on a gender basis (pg. 121). Control of sexuality implies control over a myriad of societal practices. For example, it implies control of institutionalization of heterosexuality cultural norms, control over one’s capability to reproduce and bear children, and control over sexual pleasure (Chadha). The last two relate to how society’s successful males objectify the women in the society[17]. The men look and treat women as ultimate objects for sexual satisfaction, implying that the males in Gilead are patriarchally brought up with a psychological mindset of the same throughout their life and inherits the same practices and norms altogether.

Lastly, there is a Cultural patriarchal structure. Based on this structure, Gilead society is ultimately reliant on religious and various ideological components that drive its practices at large. For instance, even in the ancient social world, patriarchal principles based on the context of cultural structure manifested various unique norms such as female genital mutilation in Africa, Foot-binding cultural practice in China, ad witch-burning in some parts of Europe, and some of today’s Western cultural practices like meaningless gynaecological operations to mention a few diversified examples on the same (Jessica Calvi et al.).  The above-explained six patriarchal structures classify the societal system into either being in private form or public form. From the explorations, it affirmative that Patriarchy is somewhat a male gender’s social world as the males improvise and implement the rules devoid of incorporation of women and only allowing women to present the subtle and insignificant section of the structural setting[18].

  • Masculinity

From the narrator’s perspective, feminist theory defines various components of hegemonic masculinity in relation to society’s patriarchal system. In the last 70s, literature studies based on philosophical explorations and sociological findings began with an ultimate focus on studying gender-based issues. (pg. 14-16). Masculinity presumes gender as the main vertebral background for its development. In so perceiving, this criterion classifies men and females as masculine and feminine, respectively. Besides, masculinity contemplation relies on the intercorrelation between various pertinent aspects that appertains to men and women surrounding key elements like power and societal inequity and inequality (Needham). In other words, masculinity in the Gilead Republic has a lot of vital and recurrently transitioning variables. Some of these masculinity variables in society at large include historical, cultural norms, race and origin/ethnicity, social and economic class, sexuality, and age, among others (pg. 16). However, the individualistic differentiation contemplation of masculinity is something based on an individualistic psychological setting. This implies that it is something based on an individual society’s belief that the male gender is and regardless become a vital and epicentral collective practice of the community. However, it is through the institutionalization of cultural practices altogether (Montenegro).

Masculinity is a complex structural component of the Republic of Gilead explicitly based on its hegemonic nature. From the novel, most instances of masculinities can be labelled and defined to be hegemonic. This aspect, just like any other type of perceptional social masculinity, is not as simple as it may sound; neither is it cohesive and easy to explain, but rather complex in its entirely. This is because masculinity, from The Handmaid’s Tale, has a lot to do with men. However, this is based on a unique and stringent historical context: the Gilead Republic has systemic power positioning and preference on wealth. Besides, it depends on how the society reproduces to accomplish the procreation goals and legalize the socio-economic relationships, which are the epitomes of communal dominance. This is what most sociological and philosophical professionals and researchers, respectively, refer to as homogenous masculinity (Myren). Ideally, this type of masculinity is designed like that in Gilead society and incorporated into everyone’s lifestyle[19]. It is also evident and ultimately embedded in the complex institutions, the Republic, and families. In other words, it has the overall capacity to establish a given subtle descriptive definition of various sub-classes of societal-linked masculinity aspects.

According to the Handmaid’s Tale, it can be generally affirmed that masculinity is entirely based on the context of men rejecting the feminine gender. And, this is manifested in the overall contempt of society’s successful men towards women in Gilead State, and every other thing linked with women is also looked down upon in one way or the other. Correspondingly, there are certain behavioural patterns and inevitable occurrences that no men are expected to be victims of in any case. For example, it is incredible to freely cry when one is a man as men are required to be generally gentle regardless of the prevalent conditions they face. Instances where men lament, weeps, cries, or violate gentleness entirely reflect weakness as such practices or behaviours are presumed feminine but not masculine by society (Tolan). As of the implications of the Handmaid’s Tale, masculinity is linked to protection, potency, and other essentially correlated socio-economic provisions. The male gender is expected to maintain the highest levels of confidence, heroism, overall tenacity, and individualistic courage to provide and protect the family. However, on page 35, there is an evidential relationship between Gilead State’s perception of masculinity and the patriarchic military leadership and other conflicts that emerge in the society. In this context, it is notable that there are profound direct implications of the types of masculinity discussed above.

Consequently, it can be pinpointed that, from the Gilead’s society, where women like Offred have no voice against successful men like Commander, we are analyzing a concept of perceptive social masculinity that has massively escalated and enhanced a lot of societal evils and unethical practices. This is traceable from the colonial world to this time, where we are in the globalized world full of technological advancement, but masculinity is still a big deal altogether. From the analogy of Offred, it is quite open that she is subject to a lot of oppressive, discriminative, repressive, divisive, and other inhuman, violent treatments from the masculine gender (Bahman and Shirin). Like, for instance, her capacity for childbearing is misused by society. She is unwillingly detached from her matrimonial family, that is, her husband Luke and her blood daughter, and compelled to bear children on behalf of the women who are considered barren or do not have the biological reproductive capacity to procreate for their socially masculine husbands[20].  All these occurrences in the life of Offred are brought about by and generally escalated by the communal perceptive understanding and contemplation of the concept of masculinity. Women are generally considered and treated as the minority who have less significance to the community and deserve fewer socio-economic aspects of life in society (Roland).

According to the narrator, male privilege can be defined as the ultimate consideration that men receive profoundly for being male gender, and the closer the males are too socially perceived masculinity. Besides the overall feeling the society has on women, for example, the feeling Commander has on Offred; they generally think that everything to do with women is their legal rights, and no one should compromise that regardless[21]. Regardless of the consciousness and practicability and sensibility of this entitlement, women have got no voice in the Republic of Gilead, rendering most susceptible to undesirable anger, destructive violence, especially when the men’s individualistic and communal expectations are not met and satisfied collectively. Masculinity in men in Gilead State is linked with authority and power, socio-economic benefits, conditional respect, and fear, as well as general control of each society members’ life, peripherally women (Atwood). However, the merits of these masculinity practices come with inevitable costs, some of which may be psychological and physical. From page 38, the narrator shows that the merits and costs are universally distributed on


It is adamantly evident that in every or nay societal setting, roles were assigned based on the sex of every individual. This is very crucial for any society that is focused on successful activities. This is very true, and everyone was recognized, especially in ancient settings, according to the roles that one performs in society. It is customary that roles of the masculine nature differed from the famine nature, and neither could shift to involved in inappropriate roles based on gender aspect. Explicitly, from Offred’s narrative, men are articulated to be dominant over the female character both in the social and political context (Cuesta and del). Women are subsidiary to men and peripherally treated by men. The social concept of masculine illustrates picturizes men as rational, especially the superior male in power. They were involved in the decision-making process that embraced a lot of negativity toward the female nature but intended to satisfy their social, economic, and political needs optimally. Though to some extent, rationality is associated with logical reasoning, which is positive utmost positive indeed. This was contrary to the Republic of Gilead, where women were exploited and made to slavery for male benefits[22]. Men are accorded a powerful nature. This relates to the power structure in the Republic, which was controlled by the Commander in chief, and its hierarchical nature, which was only inclusive of men.

Similarly, the installation of watchdogs within the State that initiated the collection of spy information enhanced power to the male nature. They were influential in Gilead and were involved in most state activities they could preside over. Additionally, men were the leading gender incorporating the aristocratic manner of ruling within the State. A precise instance is a commander in chief of Gilead; therefore, men are accorded the role of leading in society. The protective role is also within the male nature, in which they are viewed as security tools within the society. This is regarded from the perspective of both internal and external protection.

However, the female nature is ventilated as an emotional creature as they are subjected to various forms of hostility. It depicted that all women were considered weaker and had no importance, especially regarding state activities. Furthermore, they could rarely come out to fight and stand firm for their rights and freedoms but rather involve feeble tools such as written materials to stage their democracy[23]. The Gilead societal setting depicts female beings as nurturing creatures involved in siring children for their husbands and, therefore, all women were expected to be fertile for reproduction (Dopp). The traditional gender role aspect of Gilead outlays women as an individual who is compliant and malleable in all aspects.  The women of Gilead were increasing, quell from any aspect of intolerance. Generally, the above perspective and aspects of role portray disparity that was instilled towards women. Despite gender role division, the role should be in a position to impact positively. Still, as depicted, there is some aspect of business in role-taking, and one sex dominates over the other, which should not be the case[24].

Men are presumed to be bold and confident in the societal setting—the expression of the dominating virtue. Confident and bold mean that they should be esteemed and own the ability to stand firm for their gain and, most importantly, for the benefits and rights of the rest of the society positively without violence or distressing status of individuals. This also brings in the ability to influence people in varied ways, and these are some of the factors that explicitly describe a productive man. Inability to acquire dominance over the societal status was considered wickedness since this was a privilege open to every typical man. Traditionally, domination over female nature was the routine of the day. This similarly educated women to be passive and conform to the male authority by all means.

On the other hand, women are endowed to raise, be respectful, and be obedient in society. Therefore, this should bring put the variation that distinguishes men from women. Research shows that conforming to some stated gender roles was greatly regretful as their consequences were adverse and unfavorable. A role in a way should not deny individual rights and freedom, especially when arguing from the essential aspects of life, for instance, denied right to vote in the name of being submissive and obedient.

In the Republic of Gilead, I am described as normative. Every other member of the society is eligible to designating some activities or outcomes permissible or undesirable, that is, the ability to distinguish wrong from good. Most of the actions within the State, especially those regarding women, were negative, for instance, cases of sexual assaults. Men are also brought out as collaborative in that they accept and allow getting involved in several unlawful activities that are morally torturing, especially to the female nature. An exemplary example is inflicting corporal punishment on the girl child[25]. Hegemonic aspects are also depicted in how the Commander in chief utilizes his power; for instance, he is the head of the house and makes orders (Adam).

Similarly, he decides on the punishment form he accords his partner in the case of a mistake. The overall ruler importantly exploits his power to earn his comfortability, for instance, involving Offred in providing sexual favours by forcefully separating her from her daughter and husband. Men are also pictured as beings that can initiate intimate relationships. For example, the case of Luke and Offred and the fact that they are forcefully separated is emotional distress to both of them.


  • The Women of Gilead

 The character Offred

Offred is depicted as one of the champions in the novel, integrated with intuitive, extraverted, and feeling individualized traits. Due to the evocative nature of her past experiences from the scenarios within Gilead, she can narrate the incidences as they are still freshly installed in her mind. According to her narration, all was not a walk in the park, as she was exposed to increasingly unbearable feasible conditions as depicted in her dark sense of humour. The oppressive nature of Gilead made her appear troublesome thus unconsidered in all aspects. Still, above all, she motionlessly expressed heroine with positive virtues of kindness and brilliancy, among others, to service her in manoeuvring through the austere situation (STILLMAN and JOHNSON). Being part and parcel of the female character of Gilead, Offred finds herself in an unprecedented situation[26].

The establishment of the Republic of Gilead integrated with a centralized and directorial form of leadership that expected total submission from them (Johnson).  A precise instance of malefaction is the detachment of Offred from her mutual partner Luke and her blood daughter. Under normal circumstances, this was a brutal act, and it was more of psychological torture and eradication of social relationships within the society. Additionally, the separation led to the elevation of Offred to the Gilead house where she was installed as a servant; Offred was similarly exposed to sexual harassment where her ability to childbearing act was misused. Occasionally she was expected to provide sexual favours to the Commander, which could pave the way for impregnation; as a result, she faced it rough, and survival was just by chance for such women. She complains of the copulating destructive act (Chauhan). As human nature, Offred was not comfortable with her experience, but she couldn’t reveal the truthful nature of her feelings towards her trials. She exercised all forms of compliance with the Republic of Gilead[27].

In the novel, Offred is depicted as an emotional being, which is contributed by the denial of access to her daughter (Laflen). It is a condition of sadness, grief, and dilemmatic, and typically, she would wish to recognize the results of these occurrences. From the biblical creation analogy, God commanded human nature to reproduce and fill the space. Still, from a deep point of view, the Republic of Gilead undermines this fact and destabilizes assets that mutually lead to reproduction. Flashbacks on the experience are not enough to provide viable content whether Luke (Offred’s husband) endured their attempted run-off. Conversely, diminished sources of providing such related information, and therefore, Offred focused on her future survival techniques[28]. As an advocate, Offred attempted to create social relationships with fellow sex natures, for instance, Moira, who she compelled to fighting and remaining firm in the achievement of ‘free from oppression regime’ but later discovers her conformal nature to the autocratic system of Gilead.


  • The character Ofglen

Ideally, Ofglen is articulated as a female-friendly nature, evidenced in the social relationship between Ofglen and Offred. She acted as Offred’s shopping companion, who accompanied one another in almost all their endeavours in broader terms. Most of their conversations were accompanied by stock phrases, which appeared to be a series of dialogues frequently in different fictional acts but convey similar meaning anytime they are articulated (Stoddart). This character is enunciated as an unpredictable being whose role was seldomly understood by the surrounding. This gave rise to varied labelling of ‘trained pig,’ a figurative language with its meaning. Ofglen’s role in the Gilead context imposed a greater challenge in terms of really understanding it[29]. To some extent, she is brought out as a republican spy mole. Contrariwise, she exhibits some unique features of rebellion towards the State’s oppressive nature, which equally diminished the trust among her associates towards her.

At some point, Ofglen can be described as a risk-taker. Initially, she was occasionally active and was not too much into the communicative aspect. But later, she is brought out as an interrogative character in the novel having in mind that Gilead is an authoritarian state that increasingly discouraged women participation. Such instances could permit punitive punishment to the female nature, such as the question of God listening to machines. Offred was unwilling to respond to such risking question being aware of the State of the environment from the literature. This accumulated and gave rise to several doubts about the nature of this character. Still, being that she was the only individual around Offred, they had to make the togetherness continue. Another aspect of Ofglen marked in this context is the information-seeking nature from Offred. Under normal circumstances, any individual who digs information from the rest and, to be specific to the republican of Gilead, does that automatically for espionage acts or treachery purposes, for instance, the sentiment of meeting the Commander of Gilead. The mayday group scene is enough to depict the aspect of courage from Ofglen by attempting to fight back in the face of authority (Sugg). Such acts were considered to be reasonable, being that participant is a woman. But later, Offred realizes that the predominant Ofglen is no more, and she expresses a sigh of relief on her diminish[30].


  • The character Serena

Serena’s joy is pronounced as a frustrated character who earns sympathy from the other characters like Offred. According to the novel, Serena is deeply grounded in biblical teaching from her religious background and was a televangelist (Armstrong). Most of her teaching was biblical equipped her subjects with the retribution associated with the sin. She is brought out as the Commander’s partner. Still, on the other end, her teachings were contrary to her acts as she considered herself righteous and was very inconsiderate to other women of Gilead who were oppressed. She is depicted as a promoter of the State of governance in Gilead, which was very vicious to female nature, thus anti-feminism. Equally, she is depicted as a disappointed queen of Gilead as one of the core roles of women in that republican was to sire children for their husbands. This was an inevitable condition for Serena. Her ability to gain infant expectancy was varnished, labelling her unhappy homemaker[31].

Practically, the Commander induced and initiated an affair with Offred to achieve what he necessarily wanted as a male future. This gave rise to hatred from Serena joy, and she felt offended. But later, she accepts and even encourages Offred to be part of the engagement to assist in siring a child that would be Serena’s. This was more of threatening Offred’s fertility (Charat). Serena promises to help Offred in obtaining her lost daughter if she commits the siring deal. In this perspective, Serena is portrayed as a cruel tool for oppressing and mistreating other female nature in the State of Gilead.


  • Gender performativity in The Handmaid’s Tale
    • Appearance and Behaviour

Ideally, the concept an individual develops concerning themselves, which evolves throughout one’s lifetime, depends heavily on the presentation modes and the perception that generates identity in an individual. Thus, aspects can be depicted both internally and externally. Still, the visible ones (external elements) are predominant, including performances, needs, and gestures. As a result, they tend to create some deceptive impression based on the internal assets of an individual. Researches have it that the performance of the gender calls for recurrence, which is essential in the establishment of identity. An action or an event gets identity with informally grounded meaning when repeated. The handmaid’s tale explicitly illustrates impersonation and recurrence as an aspect of gender actions (Kirkvik, 2015). The repetition of some norms within the Republic of Gilead clearly articulated the ritualized gender acts, which were precursory illustrated by Atwood in her narration. In the State of Gilead, the dressing mode, predominantly female, expressed abundant meanings to the society. Women were brought out as convicts of the community who were seldomly exposed to various opinions to make selections from due to the rigid nature of the autocratic governmental system, which was readily selective, especially when it comes to gender[32].

Regarding the appearance aspect, the handmaid’s tale confesses the view of gender expression through the mode in Gilead. It is very usual within the State; For instance, workers are mandated to put on outfits that are loosely attached to them and cover the whole of their anatomy, sparing on the sense of sight to get an apparent view object in ant vicinity. Critical analysis of the fashion system in Gilead was more of discrimination, which negatively impacted women.  The scene was discouraging, but they were in the world of darkness where they lacked even a single option but to be submissive to the authority.

In the narration of Offred in The Handmaid’s tale, Offred drives individuals into the world of fantasy through her very usual dressing code. Still, later, her dressing code is relaying an actor’s costume, and of which her paired clothing, which matched the basket, was symbolic in that context. At some point, oral expression was equal to a nightmare to the women of Gilead. They were discouraged and impeded from communicating in public both to men and themselves, and any relation-initiated process was considered a crime.  The dialogue between Offred and Ofglen is complex, mainly when Offred describes the characteristics of her friend whom she hardly trusted.  Ofglen is allegedly a stat spy, and even examining her dressing style and speech pattern is more of a costume and symbolic. Atwood brings the concept of conspicuousness in her narration and broadly illustrates distinguishing between being seen and viewing others. In the idea of being seen, an individual can be considered an object or a subject. In this context, visibility is given an impression with the phrase ‘Eye of God’  (Kirkvik, 2015).  In an ideal living situation, ‘Eye of God ‘is factually alleged to restore peace and trust among individuals, which is contrary to the observation and listening in the State of Gilead. The eyes in Gilead imposes anxiety and cynicism on the individuals, especially women who have notably been dragged to agony, distress, and misery with those labelled as secret police in Gilead. Due to fear, Offred is portrayed as a character who shies away from being watched, heard, and does her activities very carefully to avoid any form of rebellion against the State[33].

Furthermore, she employs some form of modesty when called upon to take a snap. This significantly describes the act of submissiveness and fulfilment of state condition out of the enormous shown surveillances. The seeing eye of God in Gilead establishes men as powerful sex with necessary features, which persuades the tendency to launch women as sexual objects. Despite women of Gilead existing under unbearable conditions with all forms of mistreatment in Gilead, they had to ensure the male nature is satisfied sexually. An explicit scene is when Offred would be pushed into helping the Commander’s sexual pleasures. It’s essential to note Offred’s disjunction to change the predominant dressing mode and make-ups to accommodate the male gaze.

Notably, the directorial and tyrannical era in the State of Gilead forcefully drove individuals into believers and conforming to all its aspects. This is because any expressed insurgence or disregard would lead an individual to undesirable life consequences evidential as corporal punishment or even slavery. Owing keen scrutiny amongst women of Gilead, Offred had to contemplate on her representation technique. At the same time, while she was an inhabitant of the statehouses, she embraced aspects of tranquillity, ensuring that all the negative facets she was undergoing are kept internally and for herself. At the same time, she would express a lot of satisfaction and submission to the authority in an extreme mood. All activities committed to her by the State had to be equally done perfectly. On another occasion, Offred gives Ofglen the perception of being non-acceptor to the State, which was considered risking rather than courage, especially among women  (Kirkvik, 2015). She further advises Ofglen to represent herself in a better way since it appeared risky. Ofglen acts appropriately and takes some of her roles significantly compared to other parts that she must be reminded of, which induces Offred’s comfortability[34].

  • Women and Childbearing

Literally, the Gilead state has an ultimately repressive and dehumanizing patriarchic system of governance that takes total control over women’s ability to reproduce and procreate. The worthiness of the feminine is measured with their abilities to bear children, which is brought about by the high level of pollution in the Republic of Gilead that rendered most men impotent and sterile. The available few fertile women in the society, according to the narrator, are converted into the societal handmaids, and Offred is a conspicuous example. She is compelled to deliver children to the Commander, and this is done through non-mutual sexual surrogacy (Atwood). It’s so unfortunate for Offred, and other fertile women in the Gilead society as the entire community views them as containers and elements of childbearing. Offered even says they are called using oppressive and abusive terms such as ‘ambulatory chalices,’ among others. However, the gender biases and challenges are not only limited to women, as in pg. 270-275, Nick, who is Offred’s soulmate, feels wasted and is emotionally affected by the system’s behaviour[35].

The Republic of Gilead acknowledges and understands one’s incapacity to give birth as a women’s fault. In other words, in society, the social importance of children is ultimately linked to womanhood but slightly to manhood, and any family that does not bear and sire child(children), all the faults are laid on the wife/women.  This is manifested on pg. 68-75, where Offred consults a doctor who later informs her that the majority of the Gilead’s men, including the Commander, are impotent and cannot sire children, but the society does not recognize such a thing as a man is incapable of siring a child or being sterile. The Gilead social structure is so that only women are termed barren and sterile and fruitful if they can conceive and procreate (Amelie). In this context, it is notable that the law is explicitly repressive of women’s gender and places all faults on them even when they do not ideally deserve it. The patriarchic Gilead keeps on telling the various Biblical stories to their generations. The most used is the story of Rachel, who was barren in the Bible, and Bilhah was her handmaiden, which implicitly justifies this community[36].

In the first place, it might be thought that these words are Offred’s though not. From the Biblical context, Rachel’s husband has such a sentence, and I quote, “provide me with children, or else I die,” which is also used in various instances in the novel by the narrator besides, this phrase is driven into the handmaids in a more satirical manner. The narrator says that the Commander, during every bedtime, reads out multiple ‘bedtime tales,’ all of which are from the Bible and are linked to women’s roles in childbearing. However, women are not given a chance to read these stories themselves, manifesting some levels of oppression and gender-biased treatments. On page 99, the narrator explains how Commander reads to them the stories of Leah and Rachel, all of which as they took their respective meals at a cafeteria. There is a high level of brainwashing and psychological manipulation of women in the Gilead society, and Offered is seen as very informed about it.  Within the Republic of Gilead, the women who fail or turn down the societal rules are severely punished than castigated in a democratic realm (Atwood). In this context, it is confirmative that the Gilead society has a very complex social system that constantly pressurizes everyone to express and contemplate gender in a more suppressive, depressive, repressive, and oppressive manner with a very little focus on women’s significance[37].

  • Loss of identity in The Handmaid’s Tale

The impression of identity replicates itself in The Handmaid’s Tale regarding gender, opinions, and partialities. The female characters’ individualities have been ransacked and labelled with current rules, modes of dressing, and even beliefs.  Loss of identity is associated with Offred and, in a sufficient number of instances, spells her out as a victim of this. Periodically, she is distanced from her exact personality until she capitulates and finally becomes a believer in Gilead. The contra vassal part of this scene is that despite all these, Offred is undergoing, and she is expected to receive truant benefits as perceived to any kind of favour an individual performs. The narrator had been deprived of the power responsiveness, and this has to be followed to the latter for her survival reasons (Kirkvik, 2015).  Research has it that depending on the prevailing milieu setting, and an individual is mandated to have the propensity to adapt to fit in that environment, and therefore based on this fact, Offred covered her precise nature to help eradicate the memory. For instance, she accepts the fact that her daughter is no more existing. Her husband Luke is departed and permits the sexual roles by indulging in the fishy act with the Commander in chief to help him become expectant and siring a child as his wife was never lucky to conceive, which labelled Offred as a childbearing instrument in the Republic of Gilead.  She continuously and frequently concealed herself in obedience and submission to make herself comfortable in the face of the new world[38].

Other women of Gilead are similarly indoctrinated into activities, and due to lack of voices to and standing firm, they surrender and accept their conditions. They are forcefully pushed to wearing similar garments, which is symbolic in the context. Every other female character conforms to this kind of fashion due to fear of victimization or even severe punishment from the State. Additionally, Offred feels betrayed by her friend Moira as she expected her to portray certain features that were divergent from what Offred saw. She termed this as loss of free will in the societally setting. A new ruling system with an erratic set of regulations needs to be adopted without questioning. The plan was very incorrigible, especially to the female nature, and presenting the male nature as the righteous being with dominant power (Kirkvik, 2015). This kind of dominance further led to the denial of freedom of voting amongst women and the lack of voices in open places. They could not stand for their real individuality.

  • Conclusion

In a nutshell, the Handmaid’s Tale is exceptionally a novel of its kind based on its ultimate reflection on several current global systems of governance of totalitarian and Patriarchy. Various societies in the current dynamic world have raised issues regarding feminism and masculinity and other issues touching on women, all of which are satirically posited in the novel more logically. The novel remains crucial in its integrative structural design that exhaustively intersects governance and gender and sexuality in the US culture and other parts of the world. Through the novel, the origin of feminism can be pinpointed and its relevance on thwarting oppressive treatments and addressing repressively perceptive human rights violations in the name of Biblical readings. In other words, Atwood’s work depicts various social evils in our societies. It gives an impetus to the generation’s society and how they should prevent and deter social inequalities from taking the better of them. Upholding of human rights is an essential aspect in any societal setting, and that is the novel’s epicentral objective.

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