WARNING: SPOILERS. For real if you haven’t watched the whole series and don’t want things ruined just move along.
As the final episode of Season 1 of the Handmaid’s Tale ended, as the ironic use of Tom Petty’s American Girl, started up my husband turned to me and said, so how do you feel?
How did I feel? I had laughed and sobbed my way through this series. I immediately wanted to start it over again now that it was finished. At the same time I never want to stomach watching what happens to those women again.
In the end I only had one term: Vindicated.
I felt vindicated. I felt heard. I felt recognized. I felt believed. I know I’m always blathering on about the importance of representation. The importance of words. I felt in a very real way that this story talked a lot about what it is to be a woman. Now. Not in the future. But right now in America.
These women are treated as objects. They are denied agency over their own bodies. There are men in congress RIGHT NOW working directly towards those goals.
One of the things that I loved so much was how much the show was filled with microaggressions – the kind that women face every single day. The way the Handmaids are treated like children or pets, both to be scolded and beaten. The way they lose their names and are instead renamed by the men who systematically rape them as other women look on. The way women betray each other, are pitted against each other in the patriarchy so that we’re constantly fighting for whatever little scrap we can find even at the expense of sisterhood. The tone policing. The gaslighting In a flashback scene the baristas calls June and Moira sluts and they laugh it off. What woman hasn’t laughed it off. Because to fight against every microaggression is to die by a thousand cuts. You have to keep moving.
What the show and the book does so well is bring these every day microaggressions out into the open, to show them what it would look like if that treatment were not just canonized but made to rule.
Margaret Atwood didn’t imagine these things. She used history. She used what all women know.
“I made a rule for myself: I would not include anything that human beings had not already done in some other place or time, or for which the technology did not already exist. I did not wish to be accused of dark, twisted inventions, or of misrepresenting the human potential for deplorable behaviour. The group-activated hangings, the tearing apart of human beings, the clothing specific to castes and classes, the forced childbearing and the appropriation of the results, the children stolen by regimes and placed for upbringing with high-ranking officials, the forbidding of literacy, the denial of property rights: all had precedents, and many were to be found not in other cultures and religions, but within western society.”
The slut shaming. The victim blaming. When one Handmaid is made to recount a gang rape she survived, Aunt Lydia asks whose fault it was. The Handmaids then all start chanting “her fault.”
There are so many instances, Cosby, Brock Turner, all these high profile cases built up on the notion that these women did something to deserve what happened. And we believe this. We claim we don’t but we do. We ask what they were wearing. We ask if they had been drinking. We ask if they were alone. It’s the reason we police our daughters, shame them for what they wear. We do not teach our boys not to rape. We teach our daughters not to get raped. We teach them that boys and men cannot be stopped. That they will take whatever they want, including your body, so you must be vigilant. If you are not, you’re the only one to blame.
A hand comes out and strikes the offending Handmaid. That hand belonged to Margaret Atwood.
The Salvaging, a scene depicting the Handmaids attacking a convicted rapist, was one of the most powerful moments in the series for me. It was beautifully shot and perfectly executed. I think that no one watching that could possible miss the irony of Aunt Lydia presenting a rapist to the girls a look of indignation on her face. It is not rape that she finds problematic as she is profiting off a system that encourages state-sanctioned rape. The issue is not that he raped a Handmaid.
The issue is that he touched the Commander’s property.
And the Handmaidens attack with a ferocity not seen before. All the rage and fury that they have finally has an outlet. After having to spend so much time accepting abuse they get to inflict it. And in doing so they become tools of the system they are trying to fight. They are like animals. They are not like humans. They lose their humanity.
All of these things – the way women are manipulated, abused, stripped of their humanity, stripped of their bodily rights, constantly on the receiving end of toxic masculinity’s obsession with power – were so perfectly executed in this series, in both large and small ways.
You see the Handmaid’s Tale isn’t a show about what could be.
It isn’t even a show about now.
It’s a show about ALWAYS.
So how did I feel finishing the Handmaiden’s Tale?
Horribly, painfully, sadly, vindicated.
Chins Up, Claws Out,