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The Oppression of Women in Handmaids Tale

Within freedom should come security. Within security should come freedom. But in Handmaids Tale by Margaret Atwood, it seems as though there is no in between. Atwood searches throughout the novel for a medium between the two, but in my eyes fails to give justice to a womans body image. Today’s society has created a fear of beauty and sexuality in this image. It is as though a beautiful woman can be just that, but if at the same time, if she is intelligent and motivated within acting as a sexual being, she is thought of as exploiting herself and her body. Atwood looks for a solution to this problem, but in my eyes fails to do so.

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In the Handmaid’s Tale women are supposed to be more secure then they have ever been. Their bodies and their ability to reproduce are worshiped by society. Crimes against women have been erased. There is no longer rape, or domestic physical and mental violence against women. There is also no abortion. For women to exist in a space like this, one would think that they had the freedom to be powerful, strong women. Yet they are enslaved to this idea of being “protected.” Atwood tries to define a womans security as being powerful, but really she just contributes to the idea that women are incapable of taking care of and protecting themselves.

The novel also portrays a space where a womans body is something to fear and hide. “My nakedness is strange to me already. My body seems outdated. Did I really wear bathing suits at the beach? I did, without thought, amoung men, without caring that my legs, my arms, my thighs and back were on display, could be seen. Shameful, immodest. I avoid looking at my body, not so much because it’s shamefull or immodest but because I don’t want to see it. I don’t want to look at something that determines me so completely.”(P.63) Women fear their own bodies, they don’t love themselves. Which is unfortunate because having love for your body can create a very powerful space for a woman. When women learn to love themselves and their bodies and not fear what they can do with them, they gain self-esteem and confidence to do whatever it is they want to do.

A society such as this, defined as having a basis on women, truely, does not. The women in this novel are told that they are different and more intelligent than men but yet, that men cannot control themselves around women. They still have to fear for their lives and their bodies and tip-toe around men. Aunt Lydia states that “Men are sex machines…They only want one thing. You must learn to manipulate them, for your own good.”(P.144) But shouldn’t a society that keeps women safe and protected against the evils that men have created, center around healing the men? Crimes such as rape and domestic violence are not the faults of the women who suffer them, but the men that perform them. They are power crimes, and in this novel, the power still lies with the men. What should be happening is the men should be re-learning their roles in society and present day culture, instead of making women redefine their roles around a mans faults.

Just as in present day society, the Handmaid’s Tale still keeps women oppressed through their body images and fear for their safety. When love for oneself, whether it be a man or a woman, is taken away, the strength of the individual is lost. In a society where both genders are truely equal, men and women would work together on creating a safe space for everyone, not just the women.

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