SPOILERS for the first three episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu.
So, it’s here. The show that will launch a thousand think pieces (including this one — sorry). Is it true to the book? Is it feminist? Is it prophetic? Will Mike Pence consider it a how-to manual?
Setting aside whether Margaret Atwood is some kind of prophet (since November, I’ve often felt like I’ve been living simultaneously in the early pages of The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake), the show is stunning.
I’ll spare you the fawning over lens filters and camera pans. Though the technical aspects of the show are gorgeous, there are others far more qualified to discuss them.
No, what I really want to talk about is how viscerally real the whole thing felt.
Particularly the scene when June, Moira, and all their female coworkers are summarily fired. While they pack their things, the men who have worked alongside them watch in silence.
It’s a handy shorthand to the rest of the episodes, really — how did they get to that point?
“How many “good men” put their heads down and decide not to make trouble for themselves on behalf of the women in their lives?”
Sure, the characters mention a terrorist attack (real or contrived), and living under martial law before all women’s assets are seized and their identities erased.
But the real story is how many “good men” must have said nothing along the way. How many “good men” put their heads down and decided not to make trouble for themselves on behalf of the women in their lives?
Even June’s husband’s first instinct was, “I’ll take care of you.”
Moira’s response to him was abrupt and scathing, calling him “fucking patronizing.” Moments later, he offers to escort her to the train, and she accepts, referencing the rioting outside. But his response (and more broadly, the response of nearly every man we see on screen) felt terrifyingly familiar to me.
How many times have my male friends and acquaintances offered to walk me home or to my car when it’s late, but stayed silent when their bros made rape jokes? How many times have I sat in a meeting with eleven men, and grimaced while they discussed the various shortcomings of their wives and girlfriends?
Misogyny exists on a scale, and everyday sexist comments are the cornerstone to a society where victimizing women and girls is seen as acceptable.
Staying silent in the face of discrimination and oppression is complicity. Stay silent too long and you become the polite coworker sitting silently at your desk while injustice unfolds before your eyes — or worse.
Of course, this isn’t a dynamic that’s unique to gender. White people, straight people, cis people, ablebodied people, neurotypical people — we all have internalized prejudices to unlearn. And not in the condescending, “I’ll take care of you,” kind of way. But in the “I’ll listen to you,” “I’ll believe you,” “I’ll fight with you,” kind of way.
In The Handmaid’s Tale, I believe that June loved Luke, and that he loved her back — after all, he gave his life to give her a chance to escape with their child. I also believe that all men have women and girls in their lives that they love.
But loving someone doesn’t mean your casual actions can’t hurt them — indeed, it makes callousness that much more harmful. For instance, it’s easy to dismiss Mike Pence as a sexist monster (certainly it’s hard to swallow that he and his ilk control the country, but at least I’m free to hate him).
But when men I consider friends, or men in my family, make casually sexist remarks, when they doubt women’s accounts of misogyny in our everyday lives, that cuts so much deeper.
It’s exhausting on a normal day. But today I watched the logical conclusion of these social norms play out on the television screen in my living room. To say it was chilling would be an understatement. To pretend that it couldn’t happen here is absurd.
“We need to listen to each other, to believe each other, and more than anything, to fight for one another.”
It’s already happening here. There are women being wrenched away from their children right now, because they’re undocumented. There are women being forced into carrying pregnancies to term right now, because of the Hyde Amendment and various TRAP laws. There are women being summarily gunned down in the street, because they’re black.
If we stay silent as these injustices unfold, we’re no better than June’s silent coworkers; we’re no better than the men with machine guns who enforce unjust laws in The Handmaid’s Tale.
We need to listen to each other, to believe each other, and more than anything, to fight for one another. The stakes are too high to be silent any longer.