Gilead as a Dystopia for Women’s Sexuality

Margaret Atwood imagined and created a new world to expose the horrors experienced by women in regards to their sexuality during the 1980s. The Republic of Gilead is a totalitarian state formed by a religious cult centered on ideas of intolerance and inequality, especially in relation to gender. This world experienced mass infertility and a decline in birth rate due to severe pollution and the widespread of sexually transmitted diseases. In order to right these wrongs, the new figures of power decided that an extreme form of control over women was necessary, because of course that will solve all the world’s problems right? At first women were stripped of their properties, jobs, money, and voices and soon enough they lost all rights over their identities and bodies. The true prupose of women was transformed as they were meant to act solely childbearing agents to be impregnated by powerful males and birth their children, overturning the declining birthrate and bringing the world back to its fruitful and happy place. This was enforced by the setting up a stratified class and gender system that divided women according to their fertility. Ketterer notes that in Gilead, “women with viable ovaries become ‘two legged wombs’” called handmaids, “post menopausal, unmarried, sterile women” become Aunts who indoctrinate the handmaids in preparation for male assignment, infertile able young women become servants called Marthas, and lastly “women who could not or would not belong to either of these groups and who were not hanged as subversive criminals” become Unwomen, discarded from society like trash. Every role is based around the value and worth of women’s sexuality and the female body as seen by men. The main character of the novel, Offred, a handmaid, explains that before she became part of Gilead she viewed her body as “an instrument, of pleasure, or a means of transportation, or an implement for the accomplishment of (her) will” but she was changed into “a cloud, congealed around a central object, the shape of a pear,” her womb (Atwood 136). The handmaids are seen as physical objects with no power over their bodies and are expected to sacrifice their lives in order to procreate. They are pigeonholed into becoming mothers, sources of fertility, and fruitful wombs, roles all focused on their physicality over their personality. When women are valued only for their bodies, they lose all power and identity but this allows them to be more easily controlled because they lack social influences. The exploitation of female sexuality for the empowerment of men creates a dystopia for all women and this is seen in Gilead as women are not appreciated for both their biological and social significance. The oppression and subjugation of women’s sexuality in “The Handmaid’s Tale” focus on the possible realities for women in cultures that isolate women as mothering agents and sexual pawns.



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