The Handmaid’s Tale and Marginalised Resistance

To claim that mainstream media often fails to ensure that marginalised people are given accurate, let alone positive, representation would be an understatement. How often do we come across major, big-budget films and television programmes that present minorities as more than mere tokens, and don’t disregard them as disposable sidekicks for the hero? How often are women regularly given lead roles, without falling victim to an unnecessary romantic sub-plot? This year’s ‘Wonder Woman’ was DC’s first cinematic outing led solely by a female superhero. Marvel Studios, while apparently able to churn out those repetitive, formulaic male-led features a few times a year, are yet to follow suit. Female centric features have recently been announced, such as ‘Captain Marvel’, but these are not expected to be released for another couple of years or so. Meanwhile, ‘Iron Man’, for reasons unknown to me, has been given three of his own films, ‘Captain America’ has completed his trilogy and ‘Spider-Man’ has even undergone three incarnations. So, the marginalised are left to linger on the side-lines, as if we’re supposed to cheer for our ‘heroes’ while we are ignored, relegated to the shadows of ‘great men’. Thankfully, the best television of the year, so far, rejects the tradition of forgetting all about the marginalised members of society. In contrast, it puts them at the forefront of its narrative. I am, of course, talking about ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’. While many major television programmes are still rooted in their overwhelmingly white, heteronormative environments, dominated by male heroes, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ not only gives us a woman to be reckoned with in the form of Elisabeth Moss’ Offred but also presents her best friend Moira, a black, lesbian activist, as a hero of epic proportions. As other shows and films fail to even depict minorities as more than tokens, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ puts us in the driver’s seat. In the face of adversity, Offred and Moira battle oppression in any way they can, be they sweeping statements on the horrors of fascism, or small signs of resistance, such as inwardly refusing to ‘let the bastards’ get them down. Both Elisabeth Moss and Samira Wiley, as Moira, do fantastic work here, as they incite uncontrollable anger in us on their behalf, and encourage us to rebel wherever possible. They convey the wonders that can arise when the marginalised are given a voice, when we resist the idea that we are second-class citizens, and show that we deserve to have our stories told.

The stunning adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s feminist tale couldn’t have arrived at a more appropriate time. As misogyny dominates U.S politics, as women’s healthcare is decided by a bunch of men in suits, and as the rights of women of colour, women of the LGBTQ+ community and disabled women are threatened, the plight of Offred and her fellow women feels increasingly relevant. Atwood’s novel was first published in 1985, amidst the height of the AIDs crisis, and just as second wave feminism drew to a close. Its vision of a totalitarian state ruled by an elitist patriarchy was a brutal one, and while it certainly resonated at the time, many believed that society would, eventually, undergo a progressive change. Few, I feel, could have predicted that it would reflect the political climate of 2017, as Trump, a man that believes he has the right to grab a woman ‘by the pussy’, and a room full of conservative men make executive decisions on the lives of women. In response, what ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ does is warn us of the dangers of allowing misogynists enter into politics. As the women of the programme’s fictional Republic of Gilead are stripped of their careers, of their freedom and are ultimately reduced to their ability to reproduce, frustration festers. Their lives, their movements, their actions, are all dictated by men. There is no agency. Women become nothing more than cattle. Those that engage in same-sex relationships are known as ‘gender traitors’ and are punished for their sexual orientation; a concept not all that dissimilar from the homophobia that still rears its ugly head in our society, evidenced best, perhaps, by the fact that the current Vice President of the United States advocates for the use of conversion therapy in order to ‘cure’ homosexuality. Moreover, where queer women are labelled ‘gender traitors’ in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, they are branded as dykes in the real world, by none other than Steve Bannon, the Chief Strategist of the White House,  one of the most powerful political figures in the world. ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ expertly exposes the injustice that can poison society when sexism, racism and homophobia are allowed to slide, passed off initially as ‘harmless’, often in the form of comments and ‘observations’, as can be seen in the flashbacks that are shown of the former lives of Offred and Moira. This programme is, without a doubt, one of the most socially aware pieces of media to have emerged in recent years and it is absolutely essential to understanding the importance of standing up to injustice wherever we see it, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem. If we fail to do so, then the brutality of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ and its fictitious world may begin to edge closer towards becoming a reality.

by Hannah Ryan

Hannah is 19, lives in Cardiff and is into female protagonists, visually pleasing movies and Star Wars. Her favourite films include Pan’s Labyrinth, Casino Royale and Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy. She generally prefers dogs to people and you can find her talking endlessly about films at @_hannahryan on Twitter.

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